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Tilting at Windmills

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August 31, 2010

IRAQ SPEECH OPEN THREAD.... In about 10 minutes, President Obama will speak from the Oval Office, delivering an address on the formal end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. You can watch the speech right here:

So, what'd you think? The floor is yours.

Steve Benen 7:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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

* It's probably best to keep expectations low: "President Obama plunges into Middle East peacemaking on Wednesday with two days of summitry he hopes will be the first step in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement within a year."

* It was nice to see a little bump in consumer confidence for a change.

* No need to panic: "A U.S. government official says the FBI's investigation of two men detained in Amsterdam is finding that it's unlikely they were on a test run for a future terror attack, even as Dutch authorities continued to hold the pair on suspicion of conspiring to commit a terrorist act. The U.S. official says the two men arrested in Amsterdam did not know each other and were not traveling together."

* Tragic, but not surprising: "A veteran of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division says he'd be surprised if the fire at the site of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. isn't investigated as a hate crime."

* And while Murfreesboro bigots are grabbing headlines, there are some displays of real decency in the community, too.

* Fingers crossed: "The Justice Department has filed its appeal of a federal court ruling that blocked federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, warning that the decision could shut down life-saving research and stall medical breakthroughs."

* On a related note, another hate crime, this time in Seattle, where some moron attacked a convenience-store clerk, saying, "You're not even American, you're Al-Qaeda. Go back to your country." The victim was very likely Sikh, not Muslim.

* A pleasant surprise to see Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) implicitly defend health care reform from a baseless attack from his state's Republican governor.

* On a related note, the popularity of the Affordable Care Act is slipping.

* Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has been disappointing lately, but he swears he's not going into lobbying after leaving the Senate at the end of the year.

* Donald Graham puts his mouth where his money is.

* Great piece from Dahlia Lithwick: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows how feminism is done. Again."

* And finally, the right was none too pleased when CBS News published an estimate of 87,000 attendees to Glenn Beck's still-pointless rally over the weekend. Unlike many conservatives, who continue to insist that several gazillion people were on hand, CBS has published a detailed report, explaining how the estimate was calculated. Sorry, conservatives, the network's count seems legit.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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THE COMPANY BOEHNER KEEPS.... Oh my.

On his nationally syndicated radio program Sunday night, hate radio host Bill Cunningham said that he will broadcast his show from the office of Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) on this November's Election Day, and was invited by Boehner himself. "I'm going to do my show that day from the portico of the Speaker of the House's office in the U.S. Capitol. I've been invited there by the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and I'll be the only radio talk show host in the speaker's office, doing my show from the portico overlooking the Washington Monument," Cunningham said. "And I'm going to do it."

And who's Bill Cunningham? This is Bill Cunningham.

Vituperative remarks about President Obama are a staple of Cunningham's radio show. He has attacked Obama as a racist, alleged that the president wants to "gas the Jews," and invoked "six-six-six" and "the beast" in discussing "Barack Hussein Obama." He's adopted the rhetoric of birthers and even made racially charged remarks about Obama's father, stating, "That's what black fathers do. They simply leave."

The poor are also among Cunningham's favorite targets for attack: He has stated that they are impoverished "because they lack values, ethics, and morals," and advocated "beat[ing] the hell outta" homeless people with "a big old cane, Singapore-style."

Ryan Rudominer, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement, "It says a great deal about John Boehner's arrogance and extreme right wing agenda that as he prematurely measures the drapes, he would roll out the red carpet for hatemonger's like Bill Cunningham, who has a history of making despicable comments about Jews, African Americans, and other minorities."

Nothing says "responsible national leader" like inviting a lunatic shock-jock into a congressional leadership office to broadcast on Election Day.

I was trying to think of an equivalent -- imagine if Nancy Pelosi invited ______ to broadcast his show from her office -- but the left just doesn't seem to have comparable unhinged loudmouths.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE LEGISLATION GAP.... When House members complain about the Senate, it's worth remembering that their concerns have real merit. As recently as February, there were 82 bills that had passed the House, waiting for Senate consideration. The number is considerably higher now.

When the Senate returns from its summer break in September, lawmakers will have quite a full plate of legislation to address: 372 bills, to be exact.

That's the number of bills passed by the House that are awaiting action in the Senate, according to an updated list provided to The Hill.... And with the midterm elections in high gear and partisan rancor already poisoning a potential lame-duck session after November, it's likely most of the House-passed bills will stay on the shelf.

A large legislation gap between the House and Senate is not unusual; the Senate was designed, in the famous description by George Washington, as a cooling saucer. But food left out to cool too long will spoil, and so will federal legislation: By law, if a bill is not passed by both chambers in the same Congress, it must be re-introduced in January.

Also note, it's not just the House that's frustrated -- the White House has sent nominations for judges and administration officials to the Senate, and like the House bills, they've gotten stuck, thanks to scandalous Republican abuses and delaying tactics. It's what happens when one petty minority decides to deliberately break a once-great institution.

Of course, once the new Congress is sworn in early next year, this phenomenon will go from embarrassing to farcical, when GOP gains, and likely control of the House, destroy any hopes of legislating before 2013, at the earliest.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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'YOUNG GUNS' EMBRACE RYAN ROADMAP?.... The House Republican leadership has been reluctant to embrace, at least formally, Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) "Roadmap for America's Future." That's not surprising -- Ryan's plan is both radical and ridiculous, and GOP leaders don't necessarily want to spend the next two months talking about it.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in particular, has been especially reluctant to say whether he's on board with the Ryan proposal. But it's about to get considerably more difficult to separate the GOP leadership from the radical plan.

In a new book to be released next month, three House Republican leaders include many of the policies and ideas that some in their party have promoted over the last year, as well as a controversial plan to drastically cut the country's entitlement spending.

The proposed entitlement overhaul by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), known as the Roadmap for America's Future, is featured with many GOP solutions for the debt, national security and health care in "Young Guns," according to an early edition of the book obtained by Roll Call. Ryan, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wrote the book.

The three divided the majority of the writing into separately authored sections, but the inclusion of the entitlement plan indicates an implied endorsement by at least some of the GOP leadership. [...]

"It's time we stop deferring tough decisions and promising fiscal fantasies," Ryan wrote in the book. "It's time we tell Americans the truth, offer them a choice, and count on them to do what's right."

Works for me. The truth is, Paul Ryan's "roadmap" is a right-wing fantasy, slashing taxes on the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. The plan calls for privatizing Social Security and gutting Medicare, and fails miserably in its intended goal -- cutting the deficit. As Paul Krugman recently explained, the Ryan plan "is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."

When Republican candidates embrace this plan to radically transform governmental institutions and Americans' way of life, they're endorsing a Republican vision of governing more extreme than anything we've seen in the modern political era.

Yesterday, Ryan reminded reporters that his roadmap is not the official position of the House Republican Conference, but how long is this shell-game going to last? Can Eric Cantor, whose political action committee is chiefly responsible for this "Young Guns" book, credibly argue that he only agrees with certain chapters of his own book?

The House Republican leadership's Whip and Deputy Whip are publishing a book touting a specific plan. Must we maintain the pretense that the right-wing roadmap belongs solely to Paul Ryan?

On a related note, the book, "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders," was mocked rather relentlessly on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" earlier, and for good reason.

If you want to see the original, self-aggrandizing video that Cantor's production team put together, it's online here. It's as obnoxiously over the top as anything I've seen from Republicans in quite a while.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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AN UNEASY, UNSUSTAINABLE PARTNERSHIP.... Glenn Beck said the other day, as part of his attacks on President Obama, "People aren't recognizing his version of Christianity."

The irony is, Beck's ostensible allies aren't recognizing his version of Christianity, either.

We've been talking a bit lately about the Beck, who apparently now wants to lead some sort of religious revival, and the discomfort with that within the religious right. The movement is, after all, compromised almost entirely of evangelical Christians, who aren't generally comfortable with Beck's Mormonism.

"I'm a little nervous about that kind of talk," said Janet Mefferd, a nationally syndicated Christian talk show host who said most callers Monday wanted to talk about Beck. "I know he means well and loves this country, but he doesn't know enough about theology to know what kind of effect he's having. Christians are hearing something different than what he thinks he's saying."

If this were simply a matter of politics, it'd be much easier -- Beck, his minions, and the religious right tend to hate America's current leadership in largely the same way, for largely the same reasons. The problem, though, is that their differences are theological -- American theocrats appreciate Beck's madness, but not his LDS membership.

Russell Moore, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's School of Theology, has publicly expressed his strong disapproval of Christians cooperating with Beck's little crusade, and Moore's comments are already causing quite a stir in evangelical circles. He wrote:

A Mormon television star stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial and calls American Christians to revival. He assembles some evangelical celebrities to give testimonies, and then preaches a God and country revivalism that leaves the evangelicals cheering that they've heard the gospel, right there in the nation's capital.

The news media pronounces him the new leader of America's Christian conservative movement, and a flock of America's Christian conservatives have no problem with that.

If you'd told me that ten years ago, I would have assumed it was from the pages of an evangelical apocalyptic novel about the end-times. But it's not. It's from this week's headlines. And it is a scandal....To Jesus, Satan offered power and glory. To us, all he needs offer is celebrity and attention. Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ....

Moore added that it's "sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ." He looked forward to a "new generation" of Christians "who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer."

Ouch.

Meanwhile, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and an active player in D.C. politics, has met in private with Beck, but continues to insist that Mormonism is "not a Christian faith."

The more Beck tries to position himself as a religious right leader for the future, the more these divisions will rise to the surface -- and grow more intense.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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WHEN A PARTY GOES MAD.... There's plenty of interesting data in the latest Newsweek poll, and I've generally focused on what it had to say about President Obama's standing, the generic congressional ballot, and the economy. Sam Stein highlights a tidbit from the results that I'd overlooked.

A majority of Republicans believe that President Barack Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world," according to a survey released on Monday.

That figure, buried at the very end of a newly released Newsweek public opinion poll, reflects the extent to which a shocking bit of smear and misinformation has managed to become nearly commonplace within the GOP tent.

A full 14 percent of Republicans said that it was "definitely true" that Obama sympathized with the fundamentalists and wanted to impose Islamic law across the globe. An additional 38 percent said that it was probably true -- bringing the total percentage of believers to 52 percent. Only 33 percent of Republicans said that the "allegation" (as Newsweek put it) was "probably not true." Seven percent said it was "definitely not true."

It's hard to overstate how truly insane this is. This isn't, by the way, a matter of the public not knowing what "sharia" means -- the question read, "Some people have alleged that Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world. From what you know about Obama, what is your opinion of these allegations?"

Adam Serwer makes the case that "Americans don't have a very good understanding of what Islamic law is." That's no doubt true. For that matter, the poll results, if accurate, may very well be an extension of just reflexive partisan hatred -- people who hate the president suspect he may sympathize with foreign Islamic fundamentalists, not because it's true, but because they hate him so much they're inclined to believe anything. ("Some people have alleged Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Lrrr, the Omicronian ruler of Omicron Persei 8, who intends to come to Earth to enslave humanity. From what you know about Obama, what is your opinion of these allegations?")

But whatever the rationale, it's hard to get over the fact that Obama Derangement Syndrome has become so pervasive on the right, literally most of the nation's rank-and-file Republicans appear to have gone stark raving mad.

If/when there's a GOP majority on the Hill, Republican officials should probably realize now that this party base will simply not tolerate any kind of constructive policymaking with the White House, making the prospects for a functioning political process next year almost laughable.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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CHUTZPAH WATCH -- KOCH EDITION.... There's been a fair amount of attention lately focused on David and Charles Koch, right-wing billionaires going to great lengths, mainly through their "Americans for Prosperity" outfit, to bolster Republicans in 2010.

With that in mind, this report from Igor Volsky is pretty striking.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the "first round of applicants accepted into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program," a $5 billion program established by the new health care law to help employers and states "maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare." According to the agency, "nearly 2,000 employers, representing large and small businesses, State and local governments, educational institutions, non-profits, and unions" applied and have been accepted into the program and "will begin to receive reimbursements for employee claims this fall."

Ironically, one of those employers is the oil, chemicals, and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries, which as Lee Fang has reported, has also spent millions of dollars opposing reform.

Indeed, a year ago this month, Americans for Prosperity organized crazed rallies in opposition to health care reform, in one instance going so far as to compare the Democratic plan to the Nazi Holocaust.

This is the same group that invested $1.7 million in attack ads, blatantly lying to the American public about the reform proposal, falsely telling the country that Democrats were publishing a socialized, Canadian-style system.

And now the Koch Brothers want in on receiving grants through the same law they fought like crazy to kill.

The right's capacity for shamelessness continues to impress.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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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.

* Sen. Lisa Murkowski had a back-up plan if the final ballot tally in Alaska's GOP Senate primary went against her: run as the Libertarian nominee. Yesterday, that avenue closed when the Alaska Libertarian Party decided, in an emergency meeting, to deny Murkowski its slot on the ballot.

* In North Carolina, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Richard Burr (R) leading Elaine Marshall (D), 43% to 38%. The pollster's report explained, "The basic contours of the race remain unchanged. Burr is unpopular, while Marshall is unknown."

* A whopping 66% of Nevada voters who intend to vote for Sharron Angle (R) wish she weren't the Republican nominee.

* Retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark was in Illinois yesterday to endorse Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias (D). Not surprisingly, he called out Rep. Mark Kirk (R) for repeatedly misstating the truth about his military service.

* In the event that anyone in Kentucky cares about the professional backgrounds of their Senate candidates, Jack Conway's (D) campaign is reminding voters that he's been "darn good" at his job as state Attorney General. Conway is facing right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R), who has never served in public office, in November.

* In Minnesota, an MPR News/Humphrey Institute poll shows former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) and Tom Emmer (R) tied at 34% in this year's gubernatorial race. Independence Party candidate Tom Horner is third with 13%.

* Former representative and convicted felon Jim Traficant has collected enough signatures to run as an independent in Ohio's 17th congressional district this year.

* Following a ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals yesterday, the Michigan Tea Party, accused of being a Democratic front, will not be on the ballot in November.

* And in 2012 news, as disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) moves forward with his apparent interest in a presidential campaign, he probably shouldn't ask Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) for an endorsement.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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GIBBS POSES STRAIGHTFORWARD QUESTION ON IRAQ.... The Republican line of the day seems to be that President Obama, when he was Senator Obama, opposed the surge strategy in Iraq -- and as such, the end of combat operations doesn't count as a success. Or something.

We talked last week about why this argument is misguided, even for the GOP, but the president's team is going a step further, asking these same Republicans to answer a straightforward question.

The White House sought on Tuesday to put the pressure on top Republicans to say whether they support the withdrawal of 90,000 troops this month from Iraq.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs questioned GOP leaders -- in particular, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- to say where they stand on the change in mission in Iraq that resulted in the withdrawal of tens of thousands of U.S. troops from the country.

"I think what the American people would like to know with Congressman Boehner is: Do you support the withdrawing of 90,000 troops that the president is marking today?" Gibbs said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

On MSNBC, Gibbs added, "I think it's going to be interesting to hear from Republican leaders on where they stand on the decision to bring 90,000 troops home from Iraq."

It's an interesting rhetorical ploy. As far as the GOP is concerned, there's no such thing as good news -- remember when they characterized the best monthly job totals in years as "disappointing"? -- and giving credit to the president for anything positive is absurd on its face.

But is it that difficult for the president's Republican detractors to at least be a little pleased when U.S. troops come home?

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is crediting Bush/Cheney, insisting that Obama's success was made possible by "adopting the Bush administration's plan."

For anyone who takes reality seriously, it's worth noting the facts. It was Barack Obama's vision of a phased withdrawal that shaped the Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2008, and it was Barack Obama's timetable that has brought the troop levels below 50,000 for the first time since the war began.

The GOP may not like it, but that's what happened.

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

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PLANNING AHEAD FOR A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN.... The last time Republicans had a great midterm cycle under a Democratic president, they proceeded to shutdown the federal government -- twice. The public, with good reason, blamed the GOP, and party leaders took a major hit in the polls.

In his 1996 State of the Union address, then-President Clinton told lawmakers, "Never, ever shut the federal government down again."

Today's Republican Party seems inclined to ignore the suggestion.

Likely Senate candidate Joe Miller (R) in Alaska told Fox News last week that GOP lawmakers must have the "courage to shut down the government" in order to eliminate government programs he doesn't like. Right-wing CNN personality Erick Erickson said with child-like excitement yesterday, "I'm almost giddy thinking about a government shutdown next year. I cannot wait!"

And sleazy GOP consultant Dick Morris told activists late last week that Republicans should do exactly as Gingrich/Dole did 15 years ago, but this time it'll work out better.

"There's going to be a government shutdown, just like in '95 and '96 but we're going to win it this time and I'll be fightin' on your side," Morris said at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation Conference on Friday in Washington. [...]

Morris sounded a similar note in April, suggesting in a speech the Republicans should force a shutdown over health care funding.

Josh Marshall added yesterday, "Obama's veto pen can do a lot of stuff. He can veto a defunding bill too. The key though is that he's got a government to run and he needs a budget. All of which suggests that this ends up pointing in the direction of a government shutdown type standoff."

Last month, I put the odds of a government shutdown, in the event of a GOP majority, at over 50%. I continue to think that's a reasonable assessment. Indeed, it almost seems likely -- Republicans have decided that President Obama is not to be negotiated with, and there is no acceptable compromise between the White House's position and the GOP's.

Besides, if Republicans are rewarded in the midterms after moving sharply to the right-wing, they'll consider it a mandate for unflinching radicalism. I'd be surprised if they didn't shut down the government.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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NEW HAMPSHIRE, TOO?.... Following up on the last item, Republicans' chances of winning back the Senate would clearly be better if stronger candidates were surviving GOP primaries. We've seen this over and over again, with races that should have been easy for Republicans -- Kentucky, Nevada, Alaska -- becoming competitive with extremist nominees. As Delaware helps demonstrate, the list isn't quite done, either.

And then there's New Hampshire. Republicans successfully recruited former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R), who quickly became the frontrunner in the open Senate race. She has a reputation for being something of a moderate, and was well positioned for November.

You can probably guess what happened next. Ayotte found herself in a primary, and quickly shifted to the far-right. All of a sudden, she became open to changing the 14th Amendment; she thought it made sense to reduce the deficit by increasing the deficit; she announced her opposition to Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination for no apparent reason; and she decided that she no longer accepted the notion of man-made global warming.

Asked for one area in which she disagrees with the Republican Party, Ayotte replied, "Nothing comes to mind." So much for being an "independent" voice.

Just as important, though, Ayotte is learning that being merely conservative isn't always good enough when Republicans are demanding very conservative candidates.

This weekend brought a reminder that more insurgents could still sneak through. In a Sunday editorial, New Hampshire's largest newspaper, the Union Leader, endorsed insurgent Ovide Lamontagne, one of four Republicans running in the September 14 primary for the seat now held by Judd Gregg. Lamontagne's bid has seemed hopeless for months, with polls showing him running far behind state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, the state and national GOP establishment's preferred candidate.

But the Union Leader's decision could provide Lamontagne with a spark. The fiercely conservative paper is unusually influential in right-wing circles and it tends to promote its chosen candidates more aggressively than other newspapers do.

The primary is two weeks from today, and the winner will almost certainly face Rep. Paul Hodes (D) in November. If Ayotte falters, Democratic hopes of picking up the seat grow considerably.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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FAR-RIGHT HORDES HOPE TO BRING DOWN CASTLE.... Republicans will need a net gain of 10 Senate seats if they hope to control the upper chamber next year, and by most assessments, it's a tall order. Some pick-ups, however, almost look like sure-things.

In Delaware, for example, Rep. Mike Castle (R) is one of this year's safest bets, especially in open-seat races. This is a relatively "blue" state, but Castle is a popular representative and former governor, and has a reputation for being a GOP moderate. As a result, when Dems draw up lists of key competitive contests, Delaware doesn't make the cut.

But Castle has a primary challenger, and the Republican base has no tolerance for those who fail to toe the far-right line. Suddenly, there's a "possibility" that Castle "could be the next victim of the purity purge inside the GOP tent."

Christine O'Donnell has, by and large, campaigned outside the media and political spotlight so far this election. But on Monday her efforts to take out Castle in the mid-September primary got a major boost when the Tea Party Express, which spent roughly $600,000 on Alaska Republican Joe Miller's challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, pledged to do the same on her behalf.

The announcement was just the latest in a wave of Tea party momentum to build around O'Donnell's candidacy. The right-wing blogosphere has, likewise, either trumpeted or expressed intrigue in her campaign, disturbed, primarily, by Castle's moderate voting record. O'Donnell herself has pushed the meme, going so far as to pursue the endorsement of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) -- the Tea Party validator in the U.S. Senate -- and to include a picture of herself alongside the poster boy of Tea Party-ism: Florida Republican candidate Marco Rubio. This past weekend, in fact, O'Donnell shot footage at Glenn Beck's Lincoln Memorial rally for future use in her campaign ads.

Castle clearly remains the favorite, but it wasn't too long ago that Lisa Murkowski was expected to cruise past Joe Miller in Alaska, and Charlie Crist was once the prohibitive favorite over Marco Rubio in Florida.

In other words, in this environment, strange things happen. And with the Tea Party Express dumping $600,000 into Delaware to push O'Donnell over Castle, Republican leaders are getting nervous.

How nervous? Enough for party leaders to start letting political reporters know yesterday that O'Donnell "owes back taxes, had her home foreclosed on, and never received a diploma because she didn't pay her tuition."

The primary is two weeks from today, with the winner taking on New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) in November. Markos' assessment was exactly right -- if Castle wins the primary, it's a likely GOP pickup; if O'Donnell wins the primary, Dems have reason for optimism.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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HATCH GETS IT RIGHT ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.... If anyone should be sympathetic to the problems facing Muslim Americans right now, it should be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After all, in many respects, Mormons have endured similar difficulties for many years -- resistance to building houses of worship, questions of whether it's a "real" religion, etc.

It's why, as disheartening as the anti-Muslim activism has been lately, it's been especially disappointing to see prominent LDS members remain silent, and in many instances, even embrace intolerance.

It's also why Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the nation's most prominent Mormons, deserves credit for stepping up and supporting a principle that isn't popular right now. Here's what Hatch told the Fox affiliate in Salt Lake City yesterday:

"Let's be honest about it, in the First Amendment, religious freedom, religious expression, that really express matters to the Constitution. So, if the Muslims own that property, that private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have the right to do so. The only question is, are they being insensitive to those who suffered the loss of loved ones? We know there are Muslims killed on 9/11 too and we know it's a great religion.... But as far as their right to build that mosque, they have that right.

"I just think what's made this country great is we have religious freedom. That's not the only thing, but it's one of the most important things in the Constitution. [...]

"There's a question of whether it's too close to the 9/11 area, but it's a few blocks away, it isn't right there.... And there's a huge, I think, lack of support throughout the country for Islam to build that mosque there, but that should not make a difference if they decide to do it. I'd be the first to stand up for their rights."

Good for Hatch. It's easy to defend First Amendment principles when it's popular; one actually has to believe in First Amendment principles to defend them when the political winds blow in the other direction.

I'd add, by the way, that Hatch is the first high-profile Republican official to offer a strong endorsement of the Park51 proposal. My suspicion is, he's also likely the last.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THE GREAT GALLUP FREAK-OUT.... Two national generic-ballot polls were published within 48 hours of one another -- Newsweek showed Democrats and Republicans tied at 45% each, while Gallup showed Republicans leading Democrats by 10, 51% to 41%. Guess which one is causing a massive freak-out in the political world?

Pollsters offered some more glum news for Democrats on Monday night: Republicans have their biggest lead ever on the question of which party voters would support for Congress. Gallup's "generic ballot" - a staple of election prognostication - shows Republicans with a double-digit advantage.

In the latest Gallup polling, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the GOP candidate in their district if the election were held today; 41 percent say they would support the Democrat. That represents the biggest such lead for the Republicans in Gallup polls back to 1942, and it marks the fourth straight week they have had the edge on the Democrats, who are seeking to retain control of the House and Senate.

I suppose the historic nature of the result -- it's the GOP's biggest margin since the dawn of time -- is fueling interest, while Newsweek's even split seems less interesting.

But I'd recommend caution when it comes to the Gallup numbers -- not because I'm discouraged by the results, but because the poll itself strikes me as dubious.

Remember, about a month ago, Gallup's generic-ballot showed Democrats jumping out to an unexpected six-point lead -- and I cautioned at the time that overjoyed Dems were almost certainly overreacting to an erratic poll. I have the same concerns now. (And I'd have the same reaction if, a month from now, the same poll showed the GOP's lead evaporating.)

Looking back over the last several months, Gallup's generic-ballot has been all over the place, with no real rationale. In April, the GOP built up a big lead, which then disappeared. In late May, the same thing happened. In mid-June, it happened again. Then in July, Democrats built up their biggest lead of the year, only to see it quickly fade. This week, the results have swung back in the GOP's direction.

The point is, erratic polls with bizarre swings are necessarily suspect. No other pollster is showing these wild fluctuations. Indeed, no other pollster shows Republicans with a double-digit lead. And while we're at it, it's worth emphasizing that Gallup's generic-ballot poll isn't even a generic-ballot poll in the traditional sense -- it's "aggregated data" from tracking polls.

I'm not suggesting that Dems should just ignore discouraging data -- burying one's head in the sand is never wise. For that matter, even if the political world discounts the Gallup data altogether, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that the GOP has all the momentum with two months left before the midterms. If I had to lay odds, I'd say the smart money is clearly on the GOP taking at least the House.

But I still question the value of Gallup's results, and think the political world freak-out is an overreaction.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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August 30, 2010

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

* Afghanistan: "Two separate roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan killed seven U.S. service members in southern Afghanistan Monday, NATO said. The deaths bring to 14 the number of U.S. troops killed in action in eastern and southern Afghanistan over the past three days."

* On a related note: "Despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001."

* Biden in Iraq: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in Baghdad on Monday to commemorate the official end of the United States combat mission and meet with Iraqi political leaders, who have yet to form a government more than five months after the March election."

* New Orleans: "President Obama on Sunday sought to assure this city, battered by two catastrophic disasters in five years, that federal efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina would not waver even as the city struggles with the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico."

* Consumer spending edges higher: "Americans spent last month at the fastest pace in four months, helped by a jump in demand for automobiles. Consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in July after three lackluster months, the Commerce Department said Monday. Spending fell 0.1 percent in April, rose a tiny 0.1 percent in May and was flat in June."

* Pakistan's flooding crisis also means a food crisis.

* Keeping an eye on Hurricane Earl.

* Agent Orange and veterans: a 40-Year wait.

* We know a fair amount about Bush-era scandals, corruption, fraud, and mismanagement -- but imagine what we'd know if the Bush White House hadn't "lost" so many officials' emails.

* I've been meaning to highlight Jane Mayer's piece on David and Charles Koch, right-wing billionaires going to great lengths, mainly through their "Americans for Prosperity" outfit, to finance Republican efforts in 2010. Frank Rich's column on this yesterday was terrific. (Pay particular attention why comparisons to George Soros are misguided.)

* Daniel Luzer and Justin Peters explore the disclosure/ethics issues involved with the Washington Post's ownership of Kaplan, and its reporting on education policy.

* Fox News had a guest on this morning who believes teen pregnancies stem from lessons on evolution. He was serious.

* And The Onion wins the week with "Local Man Knows Everything He Needs To Know About Muslims." (On a related note, The Onion probably needs to interview the perpetually silly James Tarnato, whose work often defies parody.)

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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'OUT THERE TO TALK ABOUT THE ECONOMY'.... Last week, in the midst of several discouraging economic developments, White House officials recognized the need to sharpen its message a bit. They just weren't sure when.

Yesterday, President Obama was in New Orleans for the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Tomorrow is an Oval Office address on Iraq. Later this week, the focus will be on Middle East peace talks. One official told ABC late last week, "We know he needs to be out there to talk about the economy next week. We haven't yet figured out the way he's going to do that."

So, this afternoon, the president appeared in the Rose Garden to talk up economic policy in general, and chide Republicans for blocking the small-business-incentives bill in specific.

On his first workday back at the White House after a 10-day Martha's Vineyard vacation and a trip to New Orleans on Sunday, Mr. Obama addressed the nation's mounting economic anxieties in brief remarks from the Rose Garden. With the unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent, and the economic recovery all but stalled, he spent part of the morning huddled with his economic advisers.

While he said he and his team are "hard at work in identifying additional measures that could make a difference" -- including extending middle-class tax cuts that are set to expire this year, investing more in clean energy and in infrastructure rebuilding -- the president's most urgent call was directed at members of Congress, who return to work next week.

"This bill has been languishing in the Senate for four months, held up by a partisan minority that won't even allow it to go to a vote. That makes no sense," Mr. Obama said, referring to the small business initiative. He added, "Holding this bill hostage is directly detrimental to our economic growth."

That last point was bolstered by a new USA Today report, which the president made reference to, explaining that about 1,000 small businesses are ready to expand, but are waiting for Senate Republicans to stop playing petty games.

Following up on what we talked about yesterday, though, is there any reason to think the White House may put forward any kind of new economic policies and/or stimulus and/or jobs bill? It's hard to say exactly -- there almost certainly won't be one, ambitious package on the way, but Obama raised the specter of "additional measures."

Specifically, the president said, "[A]s Congress prepares to return to session, my economic team is hard at work in identifying additional measures that could make a difference in both promoting growth and hiring in the short term, and increasing our economy's competitiveness in the long term -- steps like extending the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire this year; redoubling our investment in clean energy and R&D; rebuilding more of our infrastructure for the future; further tax cuts to encourage businesses to put their capital to work creating jobs here in the United States. And I'll be addressing these proposals in further detail in the days and weeks to come."

I wouldn't necessarily interpret this as "new economic plan on the way," but it's something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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COURT SMACKS DOWN CUCCINELLI.... Shortly after taking office, Virginia's comically right-wing attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, decided his time would be well spent launching a witch hunt against a climate scientist named Michael Mann. Even for a Republican official known for pushing the activist envelope, this was pretty offensive.

Mann was a scholar at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005, before leaving to run Penn State's Earth System Science Center. But in the wake of the "Climategate" nonsense, Cuccinelli decided to launch an investigation, demanding "a sweeping swath of documents," to see if Mann had manipulated climate data during his U-Va. tenure. (some of which was funded through state grants).

Was there any reason to suspect Mann of fraudulent research? Well, no. But Cuccinelli wanted to poke around anyway, just to see what he could come up with. Today, a Virginia judge told The Cooch that he's on the wrong track.

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli's subpoena failed to state a "reason to believe" that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic.....

The judge also explained to Cuccinelli that four of the five grants Mann relied on for his research were federally funded, and therefore out of bounds for the state A.G.'s investigation. Cuccinelli will reportedly try again, reworking his subpoena, while considering whether to appeal today's ruling.

Given the threat Cuccinelli's crusade posed to academic freedom, today's outcome is very good news. In a statement Mann said the judge's order "is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests."

As for the bigger picture, I'd add that the list of Cuccinelli's other excesses is getting pretty long. Virginia's A.G. has, after all, been palling around with radicals, recently considered a literacy test for some Virginians wishing to vote, questioned President Obama's citizenship, rescinded legal protections for gays at Virginia universities, argued publicly that it doesn't cost the public any money when he and his office work on a frivolous lawsuit, and, of course temporarily added a modesty shield to Virginia's great seal.

And he's only been in office since January.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MAYBE RICK SCOTT'S RUNNING FOR THE WRONG OFFICE.... Shortly before Florida's gubernatorial primary, disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott (R) wanted voters to know one thing: he's deeply opposed to converting a shut-down clothing store in Manhattan into a community center. What does Florida's governor's office have to do with building permits in New York City? Literally nothing, but Scott nevertheless won the primary.

Now, Scott is transitioning to the general election, but his old habits haven't gone away. Pat Garofalo flags Scott's new message:

"Floridians want an answer: Will Alex Sink stand with Obama and let the Bush tax cuts expire, thereby increasing Floridians' taxes, or will she stand with taxpayers and demand Obama work to extend the Bush tax cuts?"

Scott has also touted his opposition to the Bush tax cuts on both national and local television.

And what does Florida's governor's office have to do with federal policymakers setting federal income tax rates? Literally nothing.

I know Scott is new to the world of public service, but this is pretty silly. Either he's deeply confused about the office he's seeking, or he's counting on voters not knowing the difference.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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WAITING PATIENTLY FOR THE 'GROUND ZERO CHURCH' OUTRAGE.... A radical Christian preacher in Florida named Bill Keller has an idea. Apparently, what lower Manhattan really needs is a "9-11 Christian Center at Ground Zero" that would -- as luck would have it -- be two city blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood.

Justin Elliott reports today that Keller will start preaching two blocks south of Ground Zero this weekend, and hopes to raise $8 million for his proposed building.

To get a sense of where Keller is coming from, consider his project's website, which calls Islam a religion of "hate and death" whose adherents will go to hell. It also says: "Islam is a wonderful religion... for PEDOPHILES!"

Keller is the same pastor who hosted a Birther infomercial that encouraged viewers to send him and a partner donations to advance the Birther cause. His Internet ministry explicitly calls President Obama the new Hitler. He calls homosexuality a perversion. And in 2008, he targeted presidential contender Mitt Romney for being Mormon with a campaign called "voting for Satan."

In short, if critics of the Park51 Islamic community center -- which is explicitly welcoming of all faiths -- truly believe that there is a "zone of solemnity" around ground zero (as Gov. Pat Quinn put it), they should be horrified at Keller's 9/11 Christian Center.

Critics of Park51 insist their opposition is not motivated by anti-Muslim animus. This would seem to offer quite an opportunity, then, for even-handed disapproval. Indeed, it seems like a no-brainer.

Here we have a radical figure, who's lashed out wildly at Americans, intending to build a controversial religious center two blocks from Ground Zero. We don't know where his money will come from, or what kind of zealotry will spread from the building.

I'm entirely comfortable with Park51 and the 9/11 Christian Center being built. If opponents of the former aren't motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry, then the latter should be denounced, too, right?

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RYAN'S RADICAL ROADMAP FINDS SOME GOP BACKING.... Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) wants Republican lawmakers and candidates to show some courage and endorse Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) "Roadmap for America's Future." So does Jonah Goldberg.

For his part, Ryan, the far-right lawmaker who'll head the House Budget Committee if Republicans take the House, knows he's offered a fairly radical budget plan, and recently conceded his colleagues who agree with him are too nervous to say so: "They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this.'"

Amanda Terkel reports today, however, that some aren't staying away from this.

-- Martha Roby, AL-2: On June 4, Roby put out a statement criticizing Democrats for refusing to move forward with a budget proposal. "The American people deserve better. They deserve solutions," said Roby. "Conservative leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan are offering real solutions to cut wasteful spending, such as canceling unspent TARP and stimulus funds, cutting non-defense spending back to 2008 levels, and reducing the government workforce. I endorse these solutions and other common sense approaches to start getting our fiscal house back in order." Roby is one of the National Republican Campaign Committee's "Young Guns," the party's top new prospects.

-- Francisco Canseco, TX-23: In a video posted on July 13, Canesco told a questioner that he supports Ryan's alternative budget proposal. Canseco is also one of the NRCC's Young Guns.

-- Andy Barr, KY-6: In a July 15 radio appearance on WVLK-AM 590, a caller asked Barr whether "we can count on you to support the Republican budget." Barr responded, "Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I'm not in Congress now, of course, and I don't have an opportunity to support a particular budget, but that's certainly preferable -- that budget, a leaner budget -- is certainly preferable to the ones that have been offered by the President and the Speaker of the House."

-- Dan Lungren, CA-3:Lungren is already in Congress, but he hasn't yet co-sponsored Ryan's plan. On Aug. 11, Lungren told Ryan that the roadmap was "the best long-term look at trying to deal with our fiscal insanity right now that anybody has done." He refused to say, however, whether he would officially sign on to the bill before the election.

This is, of course, exactly what Democrats have been hoping for.

If you're just joining us, Paul Ryan's "roadmap" is a right-wing fantasy, slashing taxes on the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. The plan calls for privatizing Social Security and gutting Medicare, and fails miserably in its intended goal -- cutting the deficit. As Paul Krugman recently explained, the Ryan plan "is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."

When Republican candidates embrace this plan to radically transform governmental institutions and Americans' way of life, as these handful have, they're endorsing a Republican vision of governing more extreme than anything we've seen in the modern political era.

That should not only be a crucial component of their campaigns, it reinforces the need for other Republican candidates to state their position on the "roadmap." The question for every GOP hoping to be in Congress next year is simple and straightforward: "The leading Republican on the budget has presented a bold proposal. It's been touted by the Republican leadership, and endorsed by several Republican candidates. Do you agree with that plan or not?"

It's not unreasonable to think voters should have an answer before they head to the polls in November.

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ENERGIZING MORE THAN JUST THE GOP BASE, CONT'D.... NPR reported last week that experts in counter-terrorism believe the controversy surrounding the Park51 proposal may play "right into the hands of radical extremists." Today, Newsweek finds the same phenomenon.

"By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor," Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) "It's providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support."

America's enemies in Afghanistan are delighted by the vehement public opposition to the proposed "Ground Zero mosque." The backlash against the project has drawn the heaviest e-mail response ever on jihadi Web sites, Zabihullah claims -- far bigger even than France's ban on burqas earlier this year. (That was big, he recalls: "We received many e-mails asking for advice on how Muslims should react to the hijab ban, and how they can punish France.") This time the target is America itself. "We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage."

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall -- so tailor-made to show how "anti-Islamic" America is -- that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. "We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantanamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks -- and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York," Zabihullah says. "Showing reality always makes the best propaganda."

"The more mosques you stop," Zabihullah predicted, "the more jihadis we will get."

I saw Jon Stewart had a segment last week, arguing that we just shouldn't care what guys like this have to say. Americans should do what we think is best, and not obsess over how terrorists may or may not react. I'm tempted to agree.

But the tenor and context of these debates really does affect our national security interests. The Taliban, al Qaeda, and assorted terrorist networks are going to try to recruit followers anyway, and they're going to keep targeting us anyway, but there's nothing wrong with the United States making things harder for them. We can't base our judgments on how some monster might exploit a decision, but if we can honor our principles, stay true to American ideals, and deny the Taliban a victory at the same time, then maybe it's an approach with merit.

Our actions reverberate. When we deny Americans their rights, because some decide they don't like those Americans' religious beliefs, we're not just breaking faith with who we are, we're broadcasting a mistake to the world.

Adam Serwer explained, "The kinetic aspects of the fight against terrorism aren't going to hinge on whether or not the Park51 project gets built, but the larger war of ideas is one where the U.S. can't afford to lose any more ground than it already has."

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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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 held its Senate primaries over the weekend. As expected, incumbent Gov. Joe Manchin easily won the Democratic nod, and will face John Raese, who also cruised in the Republican primary.

* Speaking of weekend contests, Louisiana held its Republican Senate primary, which, not too long ago, looked like it might be competitive. It wasn't -- scandal-plagued incumbent David Vitter crushed former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, 87% to 8%. (No, that's not a typo.) Vitter will face Rep. Charlie Melancon, who cruised past minimal opposition in the Democratic primary.

* As of last week, spending on campaign ads has so far totaled $395 million for this cycle. At this point in the last midterm elections, it was $286 million.

* In Vermont's five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, a final tally state shows Sen. Peter Shumlin narrowly ahead, but 0.9% of the vote separates him from the second and third place candidates. State Sen. Doug Racine, just 197 votes behind Shumlin, requested a recount late Friday.

* Late last week, Joe Miller, the apparent Republican Senate nominee in Alaska, compared incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski to a prostitute. Miller, soon after, blamed an aide.

* Patriot Majority, an independent expenditure outfit, has a pretty hard-hitting ad targeting Sharron Angle's (R) Senate campaign in Nevada.

* Speaking of Nevada, the latest Mason-Dixon poll of the state's gubernatorial race shows Brian Sandoval (R) with a big lead over Rory Reid (D), 53% to 31%.

* In New Mexico's gubernatorial race, an Albuquerque Journal poll shows Susana Martinez (R) with a six-point lead over Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D), 45% to 39%. Denish's connection to Gov. Bill Richardson (D), once considered a positive, has become a drag on her support as Richardson's approval rating drops.

* And in exceedingly silly 2012 news, former right-wing U.N. Ambassador John Bolton hasn't ruled out a presidential campaign.

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

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THE SPEED-BUMP ON THE ROAD TO BECK'S RELIGIOUS AGENDA.... The purpose of Saturday's rally at the Lincoln Memorial wasn't exactly clear, but it seemed to have something to do with religion. By one account, the event was "overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons."

"America," Glenn Beck told attendees, "today begins to turn back to God."

Whose God? Well, that's a little trickier. Christian Newswire seemed torn -- they like Beck's hysterical political message, but have real problems with his chosen faith tradition.

Glenn Beck promotes a false gospel. However, many of his political ideas can help America.

Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Mormonism is not a Christian denomination but a cult of Christianity.

The country needs to get back to the simplicity of the Bible. The reason our country is in bad shape is that ministers for the most part do not share the truth. Many endorse false gospels including Mormonism.

Faiz Shakir added that this sentiment isn't isolated.

Brannon Howse, a conservative writer and founder of Worldview Weekend, said, "While I applaud and agree with many of Glenn Beck's conservative and constitutional views, that does not give me or any other Bible-believing Christian justification to compromise Biblical truth by spiritually joining Beck."

"Jesus Christ's Church has universally rejected Mormonism's Anti-Trinitarian theology and its claim that mortals may become God," David Shedlock, an evangelical blogger, wrote on a FreedomWorks forum earlier this month. "Beck asks Christian leaders to 'put differences aside,' but Beck himself daily peppers his broadcasts with Mormon distinctives because he cannot keep his beliefs to himself."

It creates an interesting religio-political dynamic that's worth watching. As we talked about over the weekend, Tea Partiers and related right-wing activists have often been split, just below the surface, between competing factions -- largely secular libertarians who focus on fiscal issues and the scope of government vs. religious-right-style theocrats who are still inclined to fight a culture war. Saturday's gathering seemed to suggest the latter contingent might have the edge.

But then there's the other fissure -- theocrats comfortable with a Mormon's leadership role in their so-called "movement," and theocrats who appreciate Beck's madness, but not his LDS membership.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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EXPECT LIMITLESS, RELENTLESS WITCH HUNTS.... When thinking about what to expect from a Republican takeover of Congress, different scenarios come to mind. Sure, any hopes of advancing meaningful legislation are effectively off the table, and the prospect of a government shutdown seems fairly realistic.

But it's the endless investigations that would get tiresome. Politico reported the other day that Republicans "are planning a wave of committee investigations targeting the White House and Democratic allies if they win back the majority."

Paul Krugman explained today that it's "going to be very, very ugly."

...I'm not talking about the rage of the excluded and the dispossessed: Tea Partiers are relatively affluent, and nobody is angrier these days than the very, very rich. Wall Street has turned on Mr. Obama with a vengeance: last month Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman of the Blackstone Group, the private equity giant, compared proposals to end tax loopholes for hedge fund managers with the Nazi invasion of Poland.

And powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage. Jane Mayer's new article in The New Yorker about the superrich Koch brothers and their war against Mr. Obama has generated much-justified attention, but as Ms. Mayer herself points out, only the scale of their effort is new: billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife waged a similar war against Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media are replaying their greatest hits. In the 1990s, Mr. Limbaugh used innuendo to feed anti-Clinton mythology, notably the insinuation that Hillary Clinton was complicit in the death of Vince Foster. Now, as we've just seen, he's doing his best to insinuate that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Again, though, there's an extra level of craziness this time around: Mr. Limbaugh is the same as he always was, but now seems tame compared with Glenn Beck.

And where, in all of this, are the responsible Republicans, leaders who will stand up and say that some partisans are going too far? Nowhere to be found. [...]

It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we're still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can't afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that's what we're likely to get.

I'd just add one related thought. The Politico piece on the expected witch hunts, highlighting right-wing lawmakers "quietly gearing up for a possible season of subpoenas," offered a list of "six possible committee investigations if Republicans take back the House in November." The possibilities are probably predictable to those who follow current events: a job offer to Joe Sestak, rescuing the auto industry, the New Black Panther Party, ACORN, etc.

That's no doubt accurate, but it's missing a relevant detail: some of the likely investigations will cover stuff that's just made-up. In the Clinton era, House Republicans held hearings on garbage that was manufactured out of thin air, and subpoenas were issued just for the sake of issuing subpoenas.

There's every reason to believe it would be worse in 2011 and 2012.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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SMALL BUSINESSES WAIT FOR GOP TO STOP PLAYING GAMES.... A month ago yesterday, there was reason for optimism on the small-business bill pending in the Senate. The aid package included tax breaks, new incentives, and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks, and with 59 supporters, the Democratic majority only needed one GOP vote to overcome yet another Republican filibuster.

They didn't get that vote. Shortly before the Senate broke for its recess, Republicans threw a bit of a tantrum over the number of amendments they were allowed to consider, and unanimously blocked the chamber from voting on the bill.

The consequences of GOP game-playing are as discouraging as they are obvious.

Small businesses have put hiring, supply buying and real estate expansion on hold as they wait out the vote on a small-business-aid bill that stalled in the Senate earlier this summer.

The much-debated legislation offers tax breaks and waived loan fees. But it also comes with more divisive components, such as a $30 billion fund that would help community banks give loans to small businesses.... Many small businesses had hoped the legislation would pass the Senate by the end of July. With two weeks left until Congress reconvenes, those firms are in a holding pattern.

"I'm still waiting for Congress to sign off on the bill," says Amarjit Kaur, who runs a convenience store and gas station in Wood Village, Ore. She leases her property but has a chance to buy it. With the waived-fee provision, Kaur says she could save about $35,000 on her pending loan.

Keep in mind, the bill doesn't add to the deficit. The only reason Republicans blocked a vote was because they demanded that they be able to offer amendments to the small-business package that have nothing to do with small businesses -- including measures related to border security and Bush tax cuts. They don't really expect the amendments to pass, but GOP leaders hoped (a) that the votes would put Dems in an awkward spot; and (b) the process of considering them would take up more floor time, and make it impossible to consider other legislation this year.

The Democratic leadership balked, so the vote on the bill was put off. And as a result, about a thousand small businesses are ready to expand, but are instead just sitting there, waiting for our political system and the Republican Party to be less ridiculous. (Whether the GOP did this deliberately, worried that small-business expansion before the elections might help the economy and interfere with Republican election plans, is unclear.)

Often, when the political world considers the GOP's scandalous obstructionism on Capitol Hill, we're reminded of an exasperatingly dysfunctional policymaking process. But it's worth remembering from time to time that the nonsense carries with it real-world consequences.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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ANGLE EVEN OPPOSED KATRINA RELIEF FUNDS.... In September 2005, with the nation still stunned by the devastation in Louisiana caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Senate took up a $62 billion package in relief funds for the region. The GOP-led chamber -- the Republicans enjoyed a 55-seat Senate majority at the time -- approved the aid bill unanimously.

Had Nevada's Sharron Angle been there, that would not have been the case. She boasted at the time, in the midst of a failed congressional campaign, that she would have voted "no" on post-Katrina relief. Jon Ralston has the story.

During an interview on conservative KLAV radio in 2005, which she once had up on her site, Angle invoked Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who she claimed said he was voting "no" because the Katrina money was not carefully accounted for. [...]

But Pence actually voted FOR the $62 billion. His "yea" is right there in the congressional record after someone named Pelosi.

The day after the Sept. 8, 2005, vote, even House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told The Wall Street Journal: "It's too important to play politics with. It's too important to second-guess."

I realize the Katrina crisis was five years ago, and for some in Nevada, the disaster has probably faded from view. But Angle's response to the worst national disaster in American history says a great deal about her priorities and values, and should signal what kind of senator she'd be.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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THE CRAZY CAUCUS WELCOMES A NEW MEMBER.... Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Ken Buck, Rob Johnson, and Pat Toomey help compose one of the nuttiest slate of extreme Senate candidates we've seen in a very long time, but there can be no doubt that Joe Miller's application to the Crazy Caucus has already been approved.

Miller, of course, provided one of the year's most unexpected results last week, apparently beating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Republican Senate primary. (The official results aren't available just yet, but by all accounts, Miller is favored to prevail once absentee ballots are counted.) If he is the nominee, Miller's extremism pushes the ideological envelope in new directions.

It's easy to check off most of the routine garbage -- Miller has birther tendencies, demands the elimination of all abortion rights (even in cases of rape or incest), wants to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, rejects global warming science, wants to "transition out" Social Security, and is eyeing cabinet agencies for elimination, including the Department of Education.

But it's his constitutional beliefs that help set Miller apart. In July, he rejected the very idea of unemployment benefits, insisting that they're not "constitutionally authorized." This does, by the way, make him more radical than Angle and Paul, who've denounced extended aid to the jobless, but haven't rejected the policy itself as illegal.

Yesterday, on CBS's Face the Nation, Miller went even further. (TP has the video)

BOB SCHIEFFER: You have also taken some fairly controversial, some would say, very extreme positions. First, you say you want to phase out Medicare. You want to privatize Social Security. I have to say there are a lot of people in Alaska who are on Medicare and are getting Social Security. Isn't that position going to be a problem for you in the election, in this general election?

JOE MILLER: Well, yeah, and I would suggest to you that if one thing said the Constitution is extreme then you would also think that the founders are extreme. We just simply want to get back to basics, get -- restore essentially the constitutional foundation of the country, and that means the federal government becoming less onerous, less involved in every -- basically every item of our lives. And what that means is there does have to be some transition.

It's hard to interpret this as anything but Miller characterizing Social Security and Medicare as being at odds with the Constitution -- a position that positions him on the far fringes of American political thought.

I don't want to get too far ahead of the official results -- he's ahead, but there's a chance Miller may not win the primary -- but it's worth pondering whether this guy will actually become a United States senator. At this point, he's the frontrunner.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows the right-wing lawyer leading Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, 47% to 39%. It's worth emphasizing, though, that this offers yet another example in which the radicalized GOP base has created a competitive race where there would otherwise not be one -- Miller's lead is in the single digits, while a Murkowski primary win would have made this race unwinnable for Democrats.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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POTUS GETS BACK TO WORK.... President Obama sat down with NBC's Brian Williams yesterday, covering a fair amount of ground over the course of 22 minutes. Before I saw the interview, I saw a headline: "Obama blasts lies, disinformation." That's sort of true, but it's not quite how I'd characterize the discussion.

After talking at some length about the problems afflicting the Gulf Coast in general and Louisiana in particular, Williams noted public opinion polls showing significant numbers of Americans questioning the president's faith and birthplace. Obama more or less just shrugged off the nonsense. "The facts are the facts," he said, adding, "I'm not going to be worrying too much about whatever rumors are floating on out there. If I spend all my time chasing after that, then I wouldn't get much done.... I can't spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead."

The president, in other words, treated this is a silly, trivial distraction, which it is.

Asked about the right-wing rally on Saturday, Obama acknowledge that folks are free to "exercise their rights" to speak out, just like everyone else. But the president added that trying times often lead some segments of the population to be susceptible to dubious appeals, so "it's not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country."

As for the economy, the president gave no reason to think any new, major economic initiatives will be unveiled anytime soon, but nevertheless expressed optimism about the U.S. recovery. I wish I shared the optimism.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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August 29, 2010

THERE IS NO SECRET 'BIG ECONOMIC INITIATIVE,' BUT THERE COULD BE.... The lead New York Times editorial today begins, "If President Obama has a big economic initiative up his sleeve, as he hinted recently, now would be a good time to let the rest of us in on it."

I agree with the latter half, but I'm not sure White House has hinted about any upcoming economic plan. I'd love to be wrong, but the evidence seems to suggest the president and his team are prepared to move forward with existing policy, coupled with some small-but-worthwhile measures still pending in Congress. The "hint" came on Wednesday, when we learned that Obama and his economic team held a conference call to discuss "the next steps to keep the economy growing," but a closer look suggested those "next steps" are limited to the existing tax-rate plan and the bill with small-business incentives.

Indeed, Jake Tapper reported Friday that the president's team believes, under the circumstances, "there aren't any more major initiatives the administration will push in further attempts to revive the sputtering economy."

With this in mind, the NYT editorial board has some suggestions for the president to consider.

Mr. Obama ... needs to inspire Americans who have been ground down by the economic crisis and Washington's small-bore sniping. He needs to rally the nation around a big idea -- a project that is worth sacrificing for, worth paying for, worth working for. One that lets them know that there is more ahead than just a return to a status quo of lopsided growth in which corporate profits surge while jobs and incomes lag.

That mission could be the "21st century infrastructure," that Mr. Obama mentioned on a multi-city trip this month, "not just roads and bridges, but faster Internet access and high-speed rail." It could be energy independence, with high-tech green jobs and a real chance for addressing global warming. Either of the above would make sense, economically and politically.

Mr. Obama and his economic team had clearly hoped for an economic rebound in time for the midterm elections. They are not going to get it. The economic damage they inherited was too deep, and the economic stimulus they pushed through Congress, for all of the fight, was too small. Standing back is not doing the country or his party any good. We believe Americans are ready for hard truths and big ideas.

Substantively, this sounds right to me. But when it comes to messaging, I'd go just a little further.

If the president were to come out tomorrow to announce an ambitious infrastructure/energy/stimulus plan, focused solely on job creation, Republicans would immediately denounce it as fiscally irresponsible -- we couldn't possibly increase the deficit to pay for this, they'd say.

But in many respects, recent developments have strengthened the hand of stimulus proponents, and it's a dynamic the Obama White House could take advantage of. For one thing, recent polling suggests Americans much prefer investing in job creation to focusing on deficit reduction. I'm suggesting, then, that the president and his party, shortly before the elections, push a popular idea. In theory, that shouldn't require too much arm-twisting.

For another, literally every member of the House Republican leadership -- Minority Leader, Minority Whip, and Conference Chairman -- just this month argued publicly that the economy is more important than the deficit, at least right now. They were talking about defending tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, but the underlying point was the same -- given the fragile state of the economy, growth and jobs matter more than deficit reduction.

So here's a radical idea: why not call their bluff? If GOP leaders are willing to increase the deficit to improve the economy, the White House can take them up on their offer -- but take every penny Republicans want to devote to tax cuts and invest that money in job creation.

It creates an either/or for the political world and voters to consider. Both sides plan to increase the deficit, so that's no longer the issue. The question is whether it's better to devote the resources to tax cuts for the very wealthy, or use the same resources on infrastructure, energy, and stimulus.

A jobs agenda vs. a Billionaire Bailout.

I realize that the likelihood of Congress passing anything in this environment is, to put it charitably, remote. If Republicans aren't willing to let the Senate vote on extended unemployment benefits, and House Republicans were willing to lay off tens of thousands of school teachers, then winning a vote on job creation is almost certainly impossible.

But why not have the fight anyway? Why not force Republicans to fight against a jobs bill two months before the elections? Why not let the public see exactly what both sides want to do to give the economy a boost, and determine which is preferable?

Why not ask voters which they prefer -- a jobs agenda or a Billionaire Bailout?

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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THE KIND OF 'QUESTION' YOU'LL ONLY HEAR ON FOX NEWS SUNDAY.... Fox News' Chris Wallace featured guest this morning was Fox News' Glenn Beck -- there's something wrong with this incestuous picture -- and the interview eventually covered the activist/rodeo-clown/snake-oil salesman's presidential ambitions.

Wallace brought up the subject, noting "blog traffic" about a "Beck-Palin" ticket. Beck dismissed it out of hand, saying "Not a chance.... I have no desire to be president of the United States, zero desire. I don't think that I would be electable and there are far too many people who are far smarter than me to be president."

But Wallace didn't drop the subject:

"When you've got hundreds of thousands of people showing up to see you, Glenn, that's something, that's worth something... that's people putting their trust in you."

Yes, the host of a Sunday morning public-affairs show, someone with decades of experience in American journalism, seemed to be urging a deranged media personality to consider a national campaign.

Putting aside the dubious nature of the "hundreds of thousands" claim, I thought it was Chris Wallace's job to help explore whether people should "put their trust" in someone like Glenn Beck. Somehow, "Fox News Sunday" didn't get to that one.

When the lines are blurred, if not eliminated altogether, between activism, journalism, celebrity, and commercialism, standards cease to exist.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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WORDS OF WISDOM FROM BRODER.... From time to time, I note my frustration with David Broder columns, so I suppose it's only fair to give credit where credit is due. His piece today was actually quite wise.

Broder noted that he couldn't make it to Beckapalooza yesterday, but nevertheless shared his memories of having been at the same location 47 years ago, covering the civil rights march for the now-defunct Washington Star.

The columnist noted that, in 1963, there was quite a bit of uncertainty about what to expect that day -- in the media, in the Kennedy administration, throughout "white establishment Washington" -- knowing that protests can "get out of hand" sometimes.

Broder, a 33-year-old beat reporter at the time, quickly realized "that the mood of the day would be fellowship and the spirit one of brotherhood." Attendees, he found, "came to affirm their solidarity and, if you will, their humanity."

Even before a word was spoken -- let alone the eloquent words that have echoed down through history -- it had become absolutely evident from the people themselves that achieving civil rights would be the way to heal, not damage, the country.

I went back to the Star wondering what it was we had been afraid of. And I've remembered this many times since, when people have tried to teach us to fear certain things, such as someone else's marriage or place of worship.

Well said.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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BIGOTS TORCH RELIGIOUS SITE IN TENNESSEE.... Opponents of Park51 in New York like to maintain the pretense that their anti-Muslim animus is related directly to 9/11. It's not the community center they're worried about, the argument goes, but rather the proximity to the site of the fallen Twin Towers.

That is, of course, nonsense, as is evident when we see fierce opposition to Muslim Americans elsewhere.

Federal officials are investigating a fire that started overnight at the site of a new Islamic center in a Nashville suburb.

Ben Goodwin of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department confirmed to CBS Affiliate WTVF that the fire, which burned construction equipment at the future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, is being ruled as arson.

Special Agent Andy Anderson of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told CBS News that the fire destroyed one piece of construction equipment and damaged three others. Gas was poured over the equipment to start the fire, Anderson said.

"No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don't want it. I don't want them here," Evy Summers told the local CBS affiliate. "Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity."

Saleh Sbenaty, a member of the center's planning committee and a professor of engineering technology at Middle Tennessee State University, noted that Murfreesboro's Muslim Americans have been part of the community for 30 years, largely without incident. But the proposed center has apparently driven local bigots to violence.

Glenn Greenwald, who originally flagged the story, explained, "The arsonists undoubtedly will be happy to tell you how much they hate Terrorism. And how there's a War on Christianity underway in the U.S. The harm from these actions are not merely the physical damage they cause, but the well-grounded fear it imposes on a minority of the American population. If you launch a nationwide, anti-Islamic campaign in Lower Manhattan based on the toxic premise that Muslims generally are responsible for 9/11 -- and spend a decade expanding American wars on one Muslim country after the next -- this is the inevitable, and obviously dangerous, outcome."

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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A SHIFT FROM THE SECULAR?.... Almost immediately after Tea Party groups started organizing events last year, there's been an underlying tension between two main contingents. A secular libertarian-minded faction emerged, which focuses almost exclusively on fiscal issues and the size of government. The other is a more religious-right-style bloc, with an emphasis on more socially conservative issues.

There have been simmering tensions between the two for quite a while, but if yesterday was any indication, one side seems to be edging ahead. I still have no idea what, exactly, the far-right zealots actually want, but it now seems to have something to do with religion.

An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech 47 years ago to the day.

"Something that is beyond man is happening," Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the crowd thronged near the memorial grounds. "America today begins to turn back to God." [...]

[T]he program was distinctly different from most Tea Party rallies. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism and not risk alienating people by talking about religion or social issues, the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.

Mr. Beck imbued his remarks on Saturday and at events the night before with references to God and a need for a religious revival.

This wasn't a conservative message with religious appeals sprinkled in for effect; it was the other way around. Indeed, Beck and his cohorts laid it on thick. (That Beck is a Mormon -- a faith many Christian evangelicals find theologically problematic -- may not have been widely known.)

But what I think bears watching is whether this shift in emphasis is what activists actually want. A few days ago, when former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman announced that he's gay, the NYT reported that the response was muted because the right is focused on the economy, not the culture war. If that's true, does the right want to be told that the new goal is to turn America "back to God"?

The Tea Partiers' agenda has always been rather fluid, but at a minimum, their priorities have tended to emphasize secular issues like taxes, debt, entitlements, and health care reform. These activists not only showed less of an interest in religious issues, in many instances, they deliberately ignored them. Indeed, for over a year, the theocratic elements of the conservative movement were openly disgusted by the shift in focus.

"There's a libertarian streak in the tea party movement that concerns me as a cultural conservative," the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said in March. "The tea party movement needs to insist that candidates believe in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage."

Yesterday didn't tell us much in the way of substance, but the rally certainly wasn't about taxes and the deficit. The question then becomes whether far-right activists are comfortable with being footsoldiers in Glenn Beck's army, bringing America to Glenn Beck's vision of God.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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JUST HOW BIG WERE THE 'THRONGS'?.... By all accounts, turnout at yesterday's far-right rally at the Lincoln Memorial was pretty strong, but that observation tends to lead to another question: how strong was it?

To underscore how tricky this is, consider two reports from McClatchy. One article said "tens of thousands" of people showed up for the rally, while another said "hundreds of thousands." Same news outlet, same day, covering the same story.

No wonder the National Park Service gave up on offering crowd estimates years ago.

As far as I can tell, the only outlet to publish an even vaguely-scientific headcount was CBS News.

An estimated 87,000 people attended a rally organized by talk-radio host and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck Saturday in Washington, according to a crowd estimate commissioned by CBS News.

The company AirPhotosLive.com based the attendance on aerial pictures it took over the rally....AirPhotosLive.com gave its estimate a margin of error of 9,000, meaning between 78,000 and 96,000 people attended the rally. The photos used to make the estimate were taken at noon Saturday, which is when the company estimated was the rally's high point.

I imagine the right will find this number deeply unsatisfying, but a crowd of 87,000 people really isn't that bad. We are, after all, talking about a rally in late August, held by a media personality with declining ratings, which had no clear purpose or rationale.

It's not a tally that should necessarily strike fear in the hearts of the nation, but it's nothing for conservatives to be ashamed of, either. When 87,000 folks show up for an NFL game in Washington, it's considered pretty good turnout. It looks puny up against the numbers for, say, President Obama's inauguration last year, but the president enjoys far more support than a deranged media personality.

The problem, though, is that supporters exaggerated expectations in the wrong direction. Organizers told the National Park Service they expected 300,000 people to attend. The head of Freedom Works, an allied right-wing outfit, said on Friday he expected between 400,000 and 500,000.

One of these days, these folks will learn how to play the expectations game. For now, they're surprisingly bad at it.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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August 28, 2010

MOVEMENTS ARE ABOUT SOMETHING REAL…. I tried to keep up on today's festivities at the Lincoln Memorial, but as the dust settles, I find myself confused.

For a year and a half, we've seen rallies and town-hall shouting and attack ads and Fox News special reports. But I still haven't the foggiest idea what these folks actually want, other than to see like-minded Republicans winning elections. To be sure, I admire their passion, and I applaud their willingness to get involved in public affairs. If more Americans chose to take a more active role in the political process, the country would be better off and our democracy would be more vibrant.

But that doesn't actually tell us what these throngs of Americans are fighting for, exactly. I'm not oblivious to their cries; I'm at a loss to appreciate those cries on anything more than a superficial level.

This is about "freedom."

Well, I'm certainly pro-freedom, and as far as I can tell, the anti-freedom crowd struggles to win votes on Election Day. But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we're told, not that kind of freedom.

This is about a fight for American "liberties."

That sounds great, too. Who's against American "liberties"? But I'm still looking for some details. Might this include law-abiding American Muslims exercising their liberties and converting a closed-down clothing store into a community center? No, we're told, not those kinds of liberties.

This is about giving Americans who work hard and play by the rules more opportunities.

I'm all for that, too. But would these opportunities include the chance for hard-working Americans to bring their kids to the doctor if they get sick, even if the family can't afford insurance? No, we're told, not those kinds of opportunities.

This is about the values of the Founding Fathers.

I'm a big fan of the framers' generation, who created an extraordinary nation. But if we're honoring their values, would this include their steadfast commitment to the separation of church and state? No, we're told, not those values.

This is about patriotic Americans willing to make sacrifices for the good of their country.

That sounds reasonable; sacrifices can be honorable. But if we're talking about patriots willing to sacrifice, does that mean millionaires and billionaires can go back to paying '90s-era tax rates (you know, when the economy was strong)? No, we're told, not those kinds of sacrifices.

This is about a public that, at long last, wants to hear the truth from those who speak in their name.

What a great idea. Maybe that means we can hear the truth about global warming? About the fact that health care reform wasn't a socialized government takeover? About Social Security not going bankrupt? About how every court ruling conservatives don't like doesn't necessarily constitute "liberal judicial activism"? No, we're told, not those truths.

Movements -- real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time -- are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change -- transformational change that sets nations on new courses -- is more than vague, shallow promises about "freedom."

Labor unions created a movement. Women's suffrage was a movement. The fight for civil rights is a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution. There was no mystery as to what these patriots were fighting for. Their struggles and successes made the nation stronger, better, and more perfect.

The folks who gathered in D.C. today were awfully excited about something. The fact that it's not altogether obvious what that might be probably isn't a good sign.

Steve Benen 7:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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SMART POLICY, SMART POLITICS.... For much of 2009, polls pointed to a discouraging perception among Americans. Given a choice between economic growth and deficit reduction, large majorities -- over and over again -- said policymakers should focus on the latter. There was no real rationale for the majority of the public to be so wrong about this, but different pollsters in different times of the year found the same misguided result.

There were meaningful consequences for the public's wildly flawed priorities. As lawmakers on the Hill saw the polls, for example, the political appetite for investing in economic stimulus disappeared. Nervous Democrats started echoing Republicans about spending cuts, and key legislation wouldn't even get a fair hearing unless the bills were fully paid for. Under the economic circumstances, this was bizarre. But under the political circumstances, lawmakers felt like they had no other choice.

It's worth noting, then, that there's at least some evidence that attitudes have shifted in a more constructive direction. This question in the newly-released Newsweek poll bears special attention:

"Which one of the following do you think should have the higher priority for policy-makers in Washington right now:

37% Reducing the federal budget deficit
57% Federal spending to create jobs
6% Don't know

This strikes me as very encouraging. For many Americans, the "deficit" has become an amorphous concept that they've been conditioned to viscerally reject, and the polling last year suggested this knee-jerk reaction was so strong, deficit reduction was actually perceived as more important than the economy itself.

But the Newsweek poll -- yes, I know, it's only one poll -- wasn't close. Asked which should be a higher priority, the deficit or spending money on job creation, the latter won by 20 points.

Dems on the Hill are afraid to make economic investments because they expect a public backlash. They're nervous enough about the midterms and aren't in the mood to hear another round of "government spending is bad." But here's data showing that spending on job creation is actually quite popular. Republicans would respond by saying the deficit matters more, but that's not where the public is right now.

So why not borrow the money and invest in job creation? Like, immediately?

As for the rest of the poll, President Obama's approval rating is at 47%, the parties are tied on the generic ballot at 45%, and more than twice as many Americans blame Bush than Obama for the country's economic problems.

As for the fight over Bush-era tax rates, a 52% majority believes "Congress should allow the Bush tax cuts for persons in the top two percent income category to expire," while 38% support the Republican line.

I can understand Democratic panic about pushing an agenda that doesn't poll well. But when the majority is already with them, the apprehension is tougher to appreciate.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a push in some religious circles to allow publicly-financed, faith-based service groups to receive taxpayer money -- and still discriminate when hiring.

More than 100 religion-based organizations are protesting a provision in pending legislation that would prohibit them from receiving federal money if they consider a job applicant's religion when hiring.

In a letter sent Wednesday to all members of Congress, the groups contend that the provision would dilute protections they have under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as under the Constitution.

"Those four lines in the legislation would be a seismic change in bedrock civil rights law for religious organizations," said Steven McFarland, chief legal counsel at World Vision USA, a Christian aid organization that is leading the protest. "The impact would be huge and severely affect our ability to help children and others in need."

The provision is in legislation to reauthorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which makes grants to nonprofit social service organizations.

This gets back to a fight we saw in the mid-'90s over a policy called "charitable choice," which was included in the welfare reform package. Religiously-based social service groups -- those who run soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc. -- can apply for public grants to fill public needs. The groups, however, don't want strings attached -- they want taxpayer money, but they also want to be free of employment-discrimination laws.

So, if the Southern Baptists wanted public funds to run a soup kitchen, for example, they might also want to only hire Southern Baptists to work there.

Faith-based groups could always hire and fire whomever they pleased, but this is a little different, because it involves taxpayer money. A church that only wants to hire fellow adherents is fine; a church that discriminates with our money is more problematic.

Expect the fight to pick up in earnest when the House reconvenes and has to vote on the funding bill.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* It's quite ridiculous that steps like these are needed: "Dozens of high-profile Christian and other denominational leaders are defending Obama's profession of faith and criticizing those who would question it. Those leaders, whose ranks include prominent pastors T.D. Jakes and Kirbyjon Caldwell, wrote in an open letter: 'We are deeply troubled by the recent questioning of President Obama's faith. We understand that these are contentious times, but the personal faith of our leaders should not be up for public debate.'"

* As anti-Muslim bigotry seems to spread, and far-right opposition to mosques becomes more common, incidents like these seem more predictable: "The Fresno Bee reports that a brick was thrown through a window of the Madera Islamic center last Friday. There have been repeated instances of hate directed against this particular mosque. Signs have been left at the Islamic center carrying inflammatory messages."

* In Utah, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate this year, is calling for tougher graduation requirements, including a stronger emphasis on math and science. Incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert (R), in a rather shameless display, said Corroon's plan would make it more difficult on Mormon students looking for seminary time. (Utah schools have "release time" programs where students, as an elective, go to nearby churches for religious training.)

* And James Dobson's retirement seems surprisingly active: "James Dobson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based ministries Focus on the Family and Family Talk, announced plans on his 'Family Talk with James Dobson radio show Thursday to form a political action group similar to Focus' CitizenLink." (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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FRC HAS IS IT ALL FIGURED OUT.... Interest in former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman's announcement that he's gay seems to have come and gone fairly quickly, but the religious right isn't about to let this go.

Take the Family Research Council, for example. Yesterday, the D.C.-based religious right powerhouse made the bizarre case to its supporters that Republicans would have done better in the 2006 and 2008 elections if only Mehlman had been straight. From its message to FRC backers:

This unfortunate confirmation helps explain the scandalous failure of many in the Republican establishment to vigorously uphold the values and policy positions expressed in the party's platform in 2004 and 2008, particularly the need to protect the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman nationwide. While grassroots activists succeeded in passing marriage amendments in dozens of states across the country, they received little support and even outright resistance from Party officials at the national level, which contributed to the GOP's electoral failures in 2006 and 2008. Now we know one of the major reasons why.

Yes, if only Republican officials hated gay people just a little more, Democrats -- buoyed by unpopular wars, a failing economy, and GOP scandals -- wouldn't have done so well.

That support nationwide for gay rights is growing, not shrinking, is probably a minor detail that the FRC prefers to ignore.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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TWO VERY DIFFERENT DREAMS, STRIVING FOR VERY DIFFERENT MOUNTAINTOPS.... I have a meeting this morning that's going to delay my Saturday posting schedule a bit, but in the meantime, as throngs of anti-government zealots assemble at the Lincoln Memorial, I thought I'd take a moment to consider the word "we."

"We," Glenn Beck recently told his minions, will "reclaim the civil rights movement." "We," he added, are "on the right side of history." After all, it was "we" who launched the civil rights movement "in the first place."

It's not altogether clear who counts as part of "we," though presumably it's limited to those who share Beck's twisted view of reality.

Leonard Pitts Jr. explained this week that this isn't just shameless nonsense: "It is obscene. It is theft of legacy. It is robbery of martyr's graves."

Beck was part of the "we" who founded the civil rights movement!? No. Here's who "we" is.

"We" is Emmett Till, tied to a cotton gin fan in the murky waters of the Tallahatchie River. "We" is Rosa Parks telling the bus driver no. "We" is Diane Nash on a sleepless night waiting for missing Freedom Riders to check in. "We" is Charles Sherrod, husband of Shirley, gingerly testing desegregation compliance in an Albany, Ga., bus station. "We" is a sharecropper making his X on a form held by a white college student from the North. "We" is celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Pernell Roberts of Bonanza, lending their names, their wealth and their labor to the cause of freedom.

"We" is Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, Cynthia Wesley, Andrew Goodman, Denise McNair, James Chaney, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, shot, beaten and blown to death for that cause.

"We" is Lyndon Johnson, building a legislative coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to defeat intransigent Southern Democratic conservatives and enshrine that cause into law.

And "we" is Martin Luther King, giving voice and moral clarity to the cause -- and paying for it with his life.

The we to which Glenn Beck belongs is the we that said no, the we that cried "socialism!" "communism!" "tyranny!" whenever black people and their allies cried freedom.

The fatuous and dishonorable attempt to posit conservatives as the prime engine of civil rights depends for success on the ignorance of the American people... This, then, is to serve notice as Beck and his tea party faithful gather in Lincoln's shadow to claim the mantle of King: Some of us are not ignorant. Some of us remember. Some of us know very well who "we" is.

And, who "we" is not.

Beck and his confused followers are claiming a legacy they don't understand. They're trying to lift a mantle that doesn't fit on their shoulders. They're adding their names to the same scroll they tried and failed to destroy.

Beck and his minions don't quite appreciate why they're an embarrassment to themselves, and that's a shame. They can't comprehend why King was a giant, and Beck is a small, sad cynic. They have no idea why America is so much better and stronger than their hate-filled demagoguery.

But as Eugene Robinson explained, "Saturday night, when the event is done, the Lincoln Memorial will still be the place where King gave one of the most memorable speeches of the 20th century. People who came to the rally in search of answers will still be looking. And Glenn Beck will still be a legend in his own mind."

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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BECK'S FAVORITE RABBI.... Before the show at the Lincoln Memorial could get underway, deranged media personality Glenn Beck helped get the festivities started last night with a "Divine Destiny" religious revival meeting at DC's Kennedy Center. He was joined by the Republican Party's favorite rabbi.

Tonight, at his "Divine Destiny" religious revival, Glenn Beck hosted right-wing Rabbi Daniel Lapin -- presumably as part of his effort to "restore honor."

If restoring honor was the goal, Beck probably should have picked a more credible rabbi.

Daniel Lapin isn't exactly a household name, but in conservative and religious-right circles, he's extremely well known as a go-to guy -- when the right needs a rabbi to bolster its agenda, Lapin is ready to lend a hand, no matter how odious the request. (In one of my favorite examples, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson wrote a book based on post-World War I anti-Semitic conspiracy theory tracts. Robertson sought cover from a Jewish leader, and Lapin obliged.)

Lapin really made his name with the Jack Abramoff Republican lobbying scandal.

Abramoff had been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, an exclusive social organization in the nation's capital. He was worried. Most members have received prestigious awards, and Abramoff lamented that he had not. Would it be possible, Abramoff asked Lapin in an e-mail, for Lapin's group, Toward Tradition, to bestow an award upon him? Abramoff sought "something like Scholar of Talmudic studies" and noted that it would "be even better if it were possible that I received these in years past."

In other words, Abramoff sought awards that he had not earned -- and wanted them back dated. Lapin was happy to comply.

In 2005, the Washington Post explained that Lapin had perfected a type of theological prostitution: "For conservatives searching for biblical foundations for their political positions, Lapin is validation from the original source. His specialty is finding support in the Torah for what turns out to be the current Republican platform: lower taxes, decreased regulation, pro-traditional family policies."

And Beck partnered with this guy as part of an effort to "restore honor."

At some point, hopefully in the near future, some of the well-intentioned folks who've been caught up in this Beck nonsense may realize they've been taken in by a carnival huckster selling snake-oil. They'll feel a little humiliated, which will be the appropriate reaction.

Update: Oh, and don't forget that the radical Rev. John Hagee was also on hand to help Beck "restore honor." He's the end-times preacher who said Hurricane Katrina should be blamed on gay people.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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August 27, 2010

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

* There seemed to be widespread relief in some corners today that the Fed will save us all, but that's not quite what Bernanke said: "The Federal Reserve will take new action to bolster the economy only if conditions worsen further, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Friday, adding that he expects a continued economic recovery."

* Pakistan's devastating flooding: "Even as Pakistani and international relief officials scrambled to save people and property, they despaired that the nation's worst natural calamity had ruined just about every physical strand that knit this country together -- roads, bridges, schools, health clinics, electricity and communications. The destruction could set Pakistan back many years, if not decades, further weaken its feeble civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military."

* Former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea to negotiate the release of American Aijalon Mahli Gomes. Carter was successful.

* A Mississippi middle school recently approved a policy whereby class presidents had to be white. Today, the school board changed direction. Good move.

* Where will all the money from Glenn Beck's rally go? That seems like a fair question.

* I liked it better when fire-department budgets were considered untouchable: "Fire departments around the nation are cutting jobs, closing firehouses and increasingly resorting to 'rolling brownouts' in which they shut different fire companies on different days as the economic downturn forces many cities and towns to make deep cuts that are slowing their responses to fires and other emergencies."

* California's state university system may be struggling, but one campus wanted Sarah Palin for a speaking engagement. She demanded $75,000 plus expenses, a hotel suite, first class airfare or a private Lear jet, pre-screened questions, and "bendable straws." She got it, and spoke for about a half-hour.

* Birthers claim to want the president's birth certificate. What do we call those who want proof of the president's baptism?

* Bill O'Reilly admitted, in print, that Fox News is "anti-liberal." Isn't he supposed to maintain the facade that the Republican network is "fair and balanced," regardless of ideology?

* The Weekly Standard's anti-intellectualism seems more sad than offensive.

* Saving for college really isn't cheap.

* Some worthwhile follow-up on the CBO's letter to Sen. Crapo on health care reform repeal.

* And Ahmed Sharif, the NYC cabbie who was attacked this week, said yesterday he's still glad to be a New Yorker. "I feel like I belong here," he said. "This is the city actually [for] all colors, races, religion, everyone. We live here side by side peacefully." Cheers to that.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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HISTORY NEED NOT BE REWRITTEN....As anti-government zealots assemble in the nation's capital for a rally intended to glorify a deranged, self-described rodeo clown, it's worth emphasizing a simple truth: Glenn Beck would have really hated Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beck recently told his minions, "Damn it, we will reclaim the civil rights [movement]. We will take that movement because we were the people who did it in the first place!"

It's hard to overstate how blisteringly stupid this is.

King's "I Have A Dream" speech was 47 years ago tomorrow, and over the years since its delivery, King has taken his place in the pantheon of legendary American heroes. His iconic status was hard-earned, and well deserved. But to argue that the civil rights movement that King helped lead was a product of right-wing activists who hate government and domestic social programs, is to stray so far from reality that it's hard to even capture it with words.

Americans wisely revere the King legacy now, but a half-century ago, Beck's conservative predecessors loathed the civil rights leader. The right-wing snake-oil salesmen whose shtick Beck is borrowing now used words like "communist" and "radical" to dismiss King and his movement.

Ben Dimiero posted a report this week that reminded us not to let history be rewritten.

King forcefully advocated for drastic action by the federal government to combat poverty; supported "social justice"; called for an "economic bill of rights" that would "guarantee a job to all people who want to work"; and stated that we must address whether we need to "restructure the whole of American society" -- all ideas that Beck has vilified.

Beck accuses progressives of trying to rewrite history and implores his followers to read original sources, but a review of King's own words clearly shows that Beck's insistence that he and his followers are the custodians of King's dream and legacy is nothing more than a lie.

Eugene Robinson, in a column that almost expresses pity for the "egomaniacal talk-show host," also reminds us that "Beck's version of history is flat-out wrong."

The full name of the event at which King spoke 47 years ago was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." Among its organizers was labor leader A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a vice president of the AFL-CIO, who gave a speech describing the injustice of "a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty."

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), then an official of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the youngest speaker at the march. "We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here -- for they have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages," he told the crowd. Referring to proposed civil rights legislation, Lewis said: "We need a bill that will provide for the homeless and starving people of this nation. We need a bill that will ensure the equality of a maid who earns five dollars a week in the home of a family whose total income is $100,000 a year."

From the beginning, King's activism and leadership were aimed at securing not just equal justice but equal opportunity as well. When he was assassinated in 1968, King was in the midst of a Poor People's Campaign aimed at bettering the economic condition of all underprivileged Americans, regardless of race.

"We will take that movement because we were the people who did it in the first place"? If a more pathetic political lie has ever been told, I can't think of it.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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CHRISTIE GETS HIS STORY STRAIGHT.... Like most states, New Jersey sought Race to the Top education grants from the federal government, but much to Gov. Chris Christie's (R) dismay, his state just missed qualifying for $400 million in funding. That, however, isn't the interesting part.

As it turns out, New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler submitted mistaken data to federal officials, which appears to have cost the state its grant. Christie this week condemned the Obama administration, saying it was the president's bureaucracy that prevented New Jersey from qualifying.

We later learned that the governor didn't know what he was talking about. The Christie administration claimed that Schundler caught the error, and tried to correct it during a presentation to the U.S. Department of Education, but those mean ol' Obama administration officials wouldn't let him fix it. In reality, as a videotape proved, that was backwards -- the Obama administration caught Schundler's error and asked him to fix it. He didn't, so New Jersey lost out on the funding.

Christie, now having been caught misleading the entire state about what transpired, got rid of his education commissioner today.

And then there's the interesting part.

[Schundler] said he was asked to resign, but he requested to be fired instead so he could collect unemployment insurance.

"I have a mortgage to pay and a daughter about to start college," he said.

So, to summarize, Schundler, a far-right Republican, screwed up and cost New Jersey $400 million in education grants. But his top concern, upon being shown the door, is qualifying for unemployment benefits -- which his far-right brethren don't think should exist.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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BROOKS IGNORES ALL THE RELEVANT DETAILS.... Looking back at the debate from early last year, the New York Times's David Brooks wasn't exactly on board with the Republican economic strategy. At the time, President Obama was pushing a major stimulus package to respond to the crisis, while GOP lawmakers wanted a five-year spending freeze.

In early March 2009, Brooks said on national television, "A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane.... [T]hat is just insane."

A year and a half later, Brooks' wisdom on these issues has faded considerably. Consider today's column, for example.

During the first half of this year, German and American political leaders engaged in an epic debate. American leaders argued that the economic crisis was so bad, governments should borrow billions to stimulate growth. German leaders argued that a little short-term stimulus was sensible, but anything more was near-sighted. What was needed was not more debt, but measures to balance budgets and restore confidence. [...]

This divergence created a natural experiment. Who was right? The early returns suggest the Germans were.... The U.S. tried big, but is emerging slowly. The Germans tried small, and are recovering nicely.

Oddly enough, on Tuesday (almost certainly before Brooks' column was written), of his NYT colleagues was describing this very argument as "foolish." From Paul Krugman's blog:

Basically, here's the German story: it's an economy that didn't have a housing bubble, so it wasn't caught up directly in the bust. But it's very export-oriented, with a focus on durable manufactured goods. Demand for these goods plunged in the early stages of the crisis -- so that Germany, remarkably, had a bigger GDP decline than the bubble economies -- but has bounced back since summer 2009.

Be sure to check Krugman's chart.

What's more, Brooks boasts that Germany's unemployment "has come down to pre-crisis levels." What he doesn't mention is that Germany embraced a policy in which the government subsidized employers to keep workers on the payroll, at reduced hours and only slightly reduced pay, instead of laying them off. It's the kind of thing that keeps unemployment rates very low, but Brooks ignores the policy -- a step the U.S. would never consider -- as if it were irrelevant.

Brooks has no excuse for not knowing about this -- it was explored in his own newspaper two weeks ago. The one policy that played a key role in improving the German job market had nothing to do with austerity or balanced budgets, and everything to do with a big-government program called "short work," that would have caused widespread conservative apoplexy if Democrats even considered.

Did Brooks ignore this because it was a factual detail that interfered with his thesis, or did he just not read up on the subject?

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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LIMBAUGH AIMS AT WRONG FOES.... Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh condemned what he sees as President Obama's "arrogance," and said the president is like "some" African Americans who say the "Fourth of July ain't no big deal to me, yo."

I often feel like I need a decoder ring when translating Limbaugh's nonsense, but this one was especially odd. I've never heard anyone, of any race, say the "Fourth of July ain't no big deal to me, yo." I can only assume this is Limbaugh's way of saying African Americans aren't as patriotic as other Americans -- an argument that is as ugly as it is stupid.

But hearing the clip reminded me of something Tom Schaller has written about -- for quite a while, in parts of the deep South, folks just didn't celebrate the Fourth of July. It was apparently a Yankee holiday.

Well into the 20th century, [South Carolina] was the state where black citizens observed the Fourth of July mostly alone. Why? Because -- get this -- the vast majority of whites preferred instead to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, May 10, a practice that continued into the early 50s, which means there are some very senior South Carolina citizens who skipped a few Fourths back in their early years. (Why isn't Sean Hannity asking them to brandish their flag pins?)

Nearly as annoying as Limbaugh's racism is his ignorance.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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REPUBLICANS LET RALPH REED OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX.... I realize it's been a couple of years -- and some Republicans have surprisingly short memories -- but the Abramoff lobbying scandal left Ralph Reed a humiliated disgrace. It wasn't just some embarrassing misunderstanding; the scandal ruined him. Permanently.

At least, it seemed that way at the time. In a couple of weeks, Reed will host a right-wing gathering called the "Faith and Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing" in Washington. The former Christian Coalition chief is calling it the "the political equivalent of NFL minicamp."

Yesterday, Reed alerted supporters to the guest list he lined up to speak at the event. It included a lengthy list of heavy-hitters from the media (Tucker Carlson, Erick Erickson, John Fund), GOP strategists (Grover Norquist, Ed Goeas, Patrick Ruffini), Republican members of Congress (J. Randy Forbes, Thaddeus McCotter, Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price), GOP congressional candidates (Teresa Collett, Anna Little, Star Parker, Tim Scott, Jackie Walorski), two former senators (Jim Talent, Rick Santorum), a sitting governor (Bob McDonnell), a vote-suppressing loyal Bushie (Hans von Spakovsky), and, of course, Karl Rove.

Now, I should note that this is an announced guest-list. Reed may or may not have secured commitments from all of these Republican luminaries, though the materials certainly make it seem as if these are confirmed guests.

And if so, that's crazy. Indeed, let's take a quick stroll down memory lane. Remember this one, from June 2006?

Yet another delightful characterization of Ralph Reed, courtesy of today's McCain report on the Abramoff scandal. This one comes courtesy of Jack Abramoff himself, via his discussion with Marc Schwartz, a public relations representative for the Tigua tribe in Texas.

Let's pick up the report on page 148. Schwartz was evaluating whether the tribe should hire Abramoff as its lobbyist: To Schwartz, Abramoff appeared to have the right credentials. Abramoff claimed to be a close friend of Congressman Tom DeLay. He also discussed his friendship with Reed, recounting some of their history together at College Republicans. When Schwartz observed that Reed was an ideologue, Schwartz recalled that Abramoff laughingly replied "as far as the cash goes."

Or, how about this one?

Ralph Reed, email to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 1998: "Hey, now that I'm done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts."

Or this?

E-mails and testimony before McCain's panel showed that Reed, who once branded gambling a "cancer" on society, reaped millions of dollars in tribal casino proceeds that Abramoff secretly routed to him through various non-profit front groups. Abramoff, a lobbyist for the tribes, paid Reed to whip up "grassroots" Christian opposition to prevent rival tribes from opening casinos.

By any reasonable measure, Republicans should avoid taking this guy's phone calls. Instead, Karl Rove, a Republican governor, five Republican congressmen, and five Republican congressional candidates have apparently agreed to speak at Reed's right-wing shindig.

It's a reminder that there is literally nothing a conservative can do to be permanently excluded from polite company.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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DOES BOEHNER REALLY WANT TO DEBATE IRAQ AND THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY?.... As the next phase of the U.S. presence in Iraq begins, and Operation Iraqi Freedom comes to a formal end, it's fair to give some credit to President Obama. It was his vision of a phased withdrawal that shaped the Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2008, and it was his timetable that has brought the troop levels below 50,000 for the first time since the war began.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, has a different take.

House GOP leader John Boehner said on Friday the administration is taking credit for ending the combat mission in Iraq, but that it's the troop surge -- which President Obama opposed as a senator -- that made it possible.

Previewing a speech he'll give on Iraq next week, the Ohio Republican published an op-ed on the conservative Human Events website and released a Web video that credits the troops and the 2007 troop "surge" for turning around the security situation -- and ultimately allowing the withdrawal of combat troops. Boehner argued that Democrats, such as Obama, then-Sen. Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who argued against the surge at the time, were "on the wrong side of history."

There are a couple of angles to keep in mind. The first is that the surge was not solely responsible for improved conditions in Iraq. There were a number of factors -- the Sunni Awakening, which pre-dated the surge; a ceasefire announced by Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr; the success of ethnic cleansing efforts in much of Iraq -- that contributed simultaneously. Boehner tends to get confused by policy arguments that don't fit on a bumper-sticker, but to argue that "surge = success" demonstrates a serious lack of depth.

The second is just as important. Boehner thinks he's on the "right side of history" because he supported escalation in 2007. That's among the most ridiculous things Boehner has ever said. Boehner got the war wrong from the beginning. "History" has made clear that this misguided war was a mistake, and Boehner spent seven years as its cheerleader.

Indeed, Boehner, always a little slow on the uptake, was still linking Iraq to 9/11 as recently as 2007. Asked about the thousands of American troops who died in Iraq, fighting an unnecessary war, Boehner called their deaths "a small price to pay." As recently as 2006, Boehner was insisting that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and played a supporting role in executing the 9/11 attacks.

And now the foolish Minority Leader wants to attack those who got the war right as being on the "wrong side of history"? That's pathetic, even by Boehner's standards.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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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.

* As things stand in Alaska's Republican Senate primary, Joe Miller leads Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) by 1,668 votes. There are, however, more than 20,000 absentee and disputed ballots that have not yet been counted, and that process will begin on Tuesday.

* In Florida, state Attorney General Bill McCollum is unwilling to endorse Rick Scott, the scandal-plagued health care executive who defeated in him in a Republican gubernatorial primary.

* A Mason-Dixon poll in Nevada shows Sen. Harry Reid (D) with the narrowest of leads over Sharron Angle (R) in this year's Senate race, 45% to 44%.

* In Wisconsin, Senate candidate Ron Johnson (R) is basing his campaign on opposition to spending and government intervention in private industry. He keeps getting caught, however, having sought and received federal aid for his business enterprises.

* In Missouri, a new poll shows Robin Carnahan (D) and Roy Blunt (R) tied in this year's Senate race, but there are some legitimate questions about the methodology, which may be inflating the Democrat's support. (thanks to B.G. for the tip)

* Does Sen. David Vitter (R) have anything to worry about in his Republican primary? Not really -- Public Policy Polling showing him easily trouncing his challengers, including retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, who seemed like a potential threat.

* Sharron Angle's new attack ad in Nevada goes after Democrats for George W. Bush's mistakes.

* And in Iowa, Rep. Leonard Boswell's (D) opponent seems to have an ugly past: "Republican congressional candidate Brad Zaun was the mayor of Urbandale, Iowa, when he went to an ex-girlfriend's home in the middle of the night, pounded on the windows and called her a slut, according to a 2001 police report."

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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ANGLE REFUSES TO WALK BACK 'DOMESTIC ENEMIES' LINE.... On Sharron Angle's list of greatest hits, it has to rank right up there. During an interview in which a right-wing radio host said there are "domestic enemies" serving in Congress, Angle replied that she agreed with the sentiment. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) argued this week, "If she is going to use such rhetoric, she has an obligation to name names and explain to the American people exactly who she thinks is a domestic enemy."

But while the controversy arose a couple of days ago, the interview happened last year. Angle even had a readily available defense -- she could simply try to argue that the provocative remarks came from the host, not her.

Yesterday, the extremist Senate candidate had a chance to walk the whole mess back. As Greg Sargent reported, she declined.

HARRIS: They have gone back to almost a year ago, dug through a conversation you had with my buddy Bill Manders up there in Reno, the big talker up there, where he said that we have domestic enemies and he thinks some of them are in the walls of the Senate and Congress, and you agreed with him. Did you agree with him?

ANGLE: Well, we were talking about what's going on in Congress, of course, and the policies that have come out of Congress, and those policies as we've all seen over the last 18 months have definitely hurt our country.

HARRIS: Yeah, well I agree with you by the way, but I wanted to make sure you got you a chance to clarify that, because I'll tell you the truth, Sharron. I do think we actually do have folks in Congress who truly want to do us harm and see us change from the nation we are now.

ANGLE: There is no doubt that the policies that have been coming out in the last 18 months have injured us, and injured us most specifically here in Nevada.

It would have been so easy for Angle to make this go away. She could have denounced the policies she disagrees with, while adding that she doesn't believe her opponents literally want to harm America.

But that's just not what Angle believes. In her twisted worldview, those who disagree with her are very likely treasonous.

So, I suppose Reid's challenge still stands. If Angle believes there are anti-American traitors shaping federal policy in Washington -- officials deliberately "injuring" the country -- then she would seem to have a responsibility to identify them for public scrutiny.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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GETTING 'OUT THERE' ISN'T ENOUGH.... Economic growth in the second quarter (April through June) was initially estimated to be pretty weak. This morning, the figure was revised downward -- from 2.4% to 1.6%. It's not only evidence of anemic growth, it points to a trend moving in the wrong direction, after two stronger quarters preceding it.

What's more, it's discouraging news that comes on top of other discouraging news. Just over the last couple of weeks, the reports on home sales were awful, and recovery in the manufacturing sector is also stalling.

On Wednesday, President Obama organized a conference call with his top economic advisers, reportedly considering "the next steps to keep the economy growing." But the White House agenda in the short term is not focused specifically on the economy -- on Sunday, Obama will be in New Orleans for the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and on Tuesday, the president will deliver an Oval Office address on the war in Iraq. Later in the week, the focus will be on Middle East peace talks.

A White House official told ABC's Jake Tapper, "We know he needs to be out there to talk about the economy next week. We haven't yet figured out the way he's going to do that."

I think the sentiment is only partially true. A White House focus on the economy certainly makes sense, and "figuring out" a way to convey that to the public seems wise.

But getting Obama "out there to talk about the economy" isn't necessarily the answer -- that is, unless the president has something new to say. By all accounts, he doesn't.

The White House is pushing its $30 billion small business lending initiative and other measures to stimulate economic growth, such as the elimination of capital gains taxes for small business investments. But advisers say there is little appetite on Capitol Hill for any new spending programs, and limited time in the congressional calendar, suggesting that they feel there aren't any more major initiatives the administration will push in further attempts to revise the sputtering economy.

And that, I fear, is the problem.

The president can get "out there to talk about the economy," and he has a reasonable message to offer -- his policies prevented a catastrophe, created millions of jobs, and made economic growth possible. Had Republicans been in charge at the moment of crisis last year, the evidence is incontrovertible that we'd be in a much worse place.

But the message is also underwhelming. Obama is right, as a factual matter, to tout his economic successes, but in terms of real-world implications, it's wholly unpersuasive to struggling, anxiety-ridden Americans.

I don't want to see the president "out there to talk about the economy"; I want him out there with an ambitious agenda to improve the economy. He won't do that, however, because Republicans won't allow a vote on additional recovery efforts, and panicky Dems thinks voters will punish them for trying to do what works.

I guess that leaves the Fed?

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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PASTS, PROLOGUES, AND PORTMAN.... Of all the statewide candidates doing well this year, I consider Ohio's Rob Portman, the Republican leading in the open U.S. Senate race, one of the more surprising.

While Dems make some efforts to tie various GOP candidates to Bush/Cheney, the task with Portman is altogether different. Portman didn't just occasionally vote for the Bush agenda in Congress, Portman's most recent experience in government was serving as Bush's budget director. When we consider an era in which the Republicans turned huge surpluses into massive deficits, Portman was at the center of the policymaking process.

For that matter, he was Bush's trade rep, in a state where Bush's trade policies aren't exactly popular.

"Rob Portman is the No. 1 George Bush look-alike in the country," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said this week. "I just can't believe the voters are going to choose the candidate who more than anybody else in the whole country represents what got us into this situation."

I can believe it; polls show Portman ahead, despite his background of failure. But what I find the most interesting is Portman's response to the criticism.

After a tour here of the Andersons Inc., a diversified grain, rail and retail company that is a mainstay in northwestern Ohio, Mr. Portman dismissed suggestions that his time in the Bush White House and his image as a trusted adviser to the former president would be a significant liability or that voters would even be concerned about the past.

"What the people in this plant want to know is what you are going to do for me going forward," Mr. Portman said. "That is all they care about, and frankly that's what voters care about."

"The world has moved on," he added. "Maybe the Democrats haven't."

I find this endlessly fascinating. Most candidates seeking high office tell voters, "Look at all that I've accomplished, and vote for me." Portman is telling voters, "Please overlook my record of public service, and vote for me anyway."

"The world has moved on"? I wish we could, but we're still cleaning up the mess Portman helped leave.

The whole strategy is almost comical. I'm trying to imagine an accused thief standing trial, and telling a judge, "Your honor, what matters is what I can do going forward. It's best if we just moved on."

Somehow, I don't imagine that would go over well. I'm not sure why voters in Ohio should be any more persuaded.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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VITTER FEELING A LITTLE TOUCHY ABOUT CRIMINAL AIDE.... I can see why Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) would be concerned about coverage of Brent Furer, but that's no reason for the far-right senator to try to intimidate Louisiana newspapers.

To briefly recap, Furer is the aide Vitter kept on his taxpayer-financed payroll, despite Furer having held his ex-girlfriend hostage, threatening to kill her, and attacking her with a knife. The right-wing, scandal-plagued senator knew about this, and not only kept Furer on his staff, but tasked him with helping oversee women's issues for the Senate office. Making matters worse, Vitter, when asked about this, appears to have lied. More recently, we learned Vitter used taxpayer dollars to send Furer to Louisiana, apparently so he could defend himself against some of his criminal charges.

Today, Brian Beutler reports that the senator's office seems to have spent some time lately, pressuring local newspapers not to be so harsh about the Furer story.

Vitter gone to great pains to avoid commenting on the scandal, and has sought to publicly distance himself from Furer. But privately, he's been trying to intimidate newspapers into giving Furer what he considers fair coverage.

In what Redman describes as a "somewhat hyperbolic" letter, Vitter's attorneys attacked The Advocate for not dancing around Furer's history.

"We said that Mr. Furer did something -- that he slashed his girlfriend -- and the police report alleges that and when he finally went to court, he ended up pleading down to lesser charges," Redman said. "Furer was never actually convicted of slashing his girlfriend.... We missed an alleged or an accused of."

The Monroe News Star told Brian about a similar recent experience.

This strikes me as a misguided strategy. Vitter has to hope voters are willing to overlook the scandal, and the more he and his team signal their panic over the controversy, and demand "clarifications" from journalists, the more coverage it will receive.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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'THESE PEOPLE COULD BE IN CHARGE'.... We've seen Democrats experiment with a variety of campaign themes in recent months. "Party of No" was a longtime favorite, but became less effective when the GOP seemed to like it. "Bush Republicans" and "BP Republicans" have been used, but didn't stick.

With about nine weeks to go before the midterm elections, the DNC is today rolling out what's likely to be its final message. To summarize, the pitch effectively tells the public: Republicans aren't just wrong, this year, they're kind of crazy.

Democrats unveiled this video, titled "These People Could be in Charge," this morning, shining a light on a variety of high-profile GOP candidates. All of those featured appear to be, to varying degrees, stark raving mad.

The point isn't subtle -- voters are supposed to start connecting "Republican" and "crazy." This is a party that doesn't just want to turn back the clock to the Bush/Cheney era; this is a party that wants to scrap New Deal-era pillars of American society, repeal constitutional amendments, eliminate cabinet agencies, purge the GOP of moderates, etc.

That this effort is being launched the day before right-wing, anti-government zealots gather at the Lincoln Memorial is not, I suspect, a coincidence.

What's more, the larger significance is very likely intended to push back against the very nature of the cycle. For months, the Republican plan has been to make the elections a referendum -- if you don't like the status quo, vote for the GOP. The Democrats' task has been to present the midterms as a choice -- you can choose to move forward with Dems, or you can go backwards with a radicalized Republican Party.

It's a direct response to the best scenario Democrats could have hoped for. The GOP brand is still deeply unpopular, but presented with a key opportunity for massive gains, the party has nominated some real nutjobs. Voters who may have been inclined to vote Republican this year may think twice when they consider the weirdo whose name is on the ballot.

At least in theory, that is. We may be looking at a dynamic in which there's just nothing more Dems can do. With a struggling economy and a listless base, GOP lunatics may be poised to win in November no matter how compelling the Democratic message is.

But on the whole, I consider this the Dems' strongest pitch. If the American mainstream is already inclined to be suspicious of the Republican pitch, it's wise to reinforce those doubts by demonstrating just how ridiculously right-wing the GOP has become.

As E.J. Dionne Jr. noted yesterday, "Democrats ... have every interest in turning the election into a philosophical contest, arguing that even unhappy voters cannot trust their fate to a party in the grips of a right-wing revolt."

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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HOPING FOR A CUMULATIVE EFFECT.... The New York Times notes today that there were plenty of "shrugs" in response to Ken Mehlman's announcement that he's gay. That Mehlman, the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign manager and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, relied on anti-gay bigotry as an election strategy makes the news at least somewhat noteworthy, but the NYT report argues that the muted GOP response is the result of a party that cares more about fiscal issues right now.

I'm not at all sure that's true. For one thing, I've seen very little evidence that Republicans' alleged commitment to fiscal issues is in any way sincere. (Indeed, just the opposite is true -- they've repeatedly opposed measures that reduce the deficit, and keep pushing tax breaks for millionaires that would increase the deficit.) For another, the religious right elements of the GOP base was well aware of the Mehlman news, and they weren't happy about it.

That said, what's driving the generally muted response to the news? I suspect it's the result of a changing electorate. If Republicans thought there would be a political upside to bashing Mehlman, they'd bash Mehlman. But Americans -- as evidenced by recent polling on marriage equality and DADT repeal -- aren't responding to these appeals the way they used to.

When the blade of a wedge issue gets dull, it's no longer used.

The angle to this story that I care about is the increasing mainstreaming of the push for equality. William Saletan had this item yesterday.

This is a big deal. Mehlman managed President Bush's re-election campaign in 2004 and chaired the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007. Many influential Republicans have worked with him and respect him. He makes it harder for them to think of homosexuality as a behavior. They now know somebody who is gay. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, they now know that they know somebody who is gay. [...]

Ed Gillespie, the RNC chairman who preceded Mehlman, tells Ambinder that "it is significant that a former chairman of the Republican National Committee is openly gay and that he is supportive of gay marriage." Gillespie acknowledges "big generational differences in perception when it comes to gay marriage and gay rights as an agenda, and I think that is true on the Republican side." Discomfort with abortion isn't going away, but discomfort with same-sex marriage is fading. Homosexuality is becoming normalized.

I think that's true, and it's about damn time. To be sure, it's hard to believe we'll find Republicans responding to the news by saying, "Oh, Ken's gay? In that case, I'm prepared to rethink my position on the issue."

What I'm hoping for, however, is a cumulative effect. Dick Cheney supports marriage equality. So does the man who managed the 2004 Republican presidential campaign and the man who managed the 2008 Republican presidential campaign. George W. Bush isn't on board, but his wife is. The same goes for John McCain.

The point is, this is no longer some kind of radical, scandalous position. When Democrats announce their support for marriage equality -- and here's hoping more of them do -- they have far less to fear in terms of a political backlash. They can characterize their perspective as being entirely mainstream, because it is.

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

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August 26, 2010

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

* Reversing a month-long trend, the initial weekly jobless claims dropped this week, even beating expectations. While a good week is at least somewhat heartening, the numbers are still way too high.

* Monsters who want struggling families to suffer even more: "The Pakistani Taliban called the presence of foreign relief workers in this flood-ravaged country 'unacceptable' on Thursday and suggested that militants could carry out attacks against members of aid groups."

* What a mess: "The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency.... Mr. Salehi's relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration's policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it."

* Michael Enright, who allegedly attacked a New York cab driver on Tuesday in an insane hate crime, "kept a personal diary filled with anti-Islamic rants."

* Truly nauseating: "In the latest in a spate of anti-Muslim incidents over the last two days, an intoxicated man entered a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and proceeded to urinate on prayer rugs, New York police officials said. The man, identified as Omar Rivera, reportedly shouted anti-Muslim epithets and called worshippers who had gathered for evening prayer 'terrorists.'"

* Last August featured town-hall events that became something of a national embarrassment. This August, not so much.

* I'd feel better about Blue Dogs if they didn't joke publicly about Speaker Pelosi's mortality.

* The controversy over how much Sarah Palin was paid by California State University, Stanislaus, earlier this summer continues to simmer, and a state judge wants disclosure on how much the former half-term governor was paid.

* Ed Chen, the former president of the White House Correspondents Association, thinks it was a "travesty of a decision" to award Fox News a seat in the front row of the briefing room.

* Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is now a Fox News personality, believes the U.S. State Department, working with a moderate American imam on Middle East diplomacy, constitutes "bailing out imams." I'm beginning to think maybe Huckabee isn't very bright.

* E.J. Dionne Jr. on the party of crazy: "The paradox is that a Republican Party in the grips of ideology needs to shift the campaign in a less ideological direction, hoping that voters simply cast protest ballots against hard economic times. Democrats, who are more doctrinally diverse, have every interest in turning the election into a philosophical contest, arguing that even unhappy voters cannot trust their fate to a party in the grips of a right-wing revolt. Once again on Tuesday, Republican primary participants seemed determined to give Democrats that opportunity."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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'NUTPICKING' HASN'T GONE AWAY.... I'd hoped we were past this.

Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported news that a Muslim cab driver in New York City had been assaulted by a passenger simply because of his faith. [...]

Today on Fox News, right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin discussed the incident and argued that the real story is not about the hate crime, but rather, the progressive blogosphere. "Something really ugly happened," she said. "Time and again, when something like this happens -- any random incident of violence -- there are people on the left with a knee-jerk impulse to indict the right." As evidence, Malkin pointed to comments left on ThinkProgress.

Note, Malkin wasn't offended by what ThinkProgress wrote; she was offended when she dug through the comments section and found reactions she found distasteful.

Ben Armbruster highlights the fact that Malkin insists she bears no responsibility for what people say in her own comments section, making her entire line of argument rather odd.

But when I say we should be past this by now, I mean this is an old trick for right-wing bloggers that ceased to be interesting years ago.

For a long while, it was a standard strategy -- trawl through liberal comments sections in the hopes of finding provocative remarks. The right then would then take those comments to "prove" that the left is made up of intemperate meanies.

The practice has always been rather self-defeating. In fact, four years ago this month, on this very blog, Kevin Drum came up with a sensible maxim: "If you're forced to rely on random blog commenters to make a point about the prevalence of some form or another of disagreeable behavior, you've pretty much made exactly the opposite point." Eventually, the practice was even given a name: "Nutpicking."

The practice seemed to die down for a while. I guess Malkin is trying to bring it back?

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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LOOKING FOR INTELLECTUAL CONSISTENCY IN THE STEM-CELL DEBATE.... A federal court order this week threw a massive curveball at stem-cell research, and it's going to take some time and effort to sort things out. As you may have heard, the ruling will be appealed and Congress will likely hold some hearings, and Nina Mendelson, a professor of administrative law at the University of Michigan Law School, has some helpful insights into what, exactly, the judge did.

In the meantime, the underlying issue is back in the news, and Michael Kinsley notes some of the key inconsistencies in the position taken by those who insist that embryos are people in need of protection.

Half of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, usually in the first couple of weeks, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. A miscarriage destroys an embryo. If you believe that every embryo is the moral equivalent of a fully-formed human being, miscarriages are like a perpetual natural disaster like a flood or an earthquake, and you should be urging a massive effort to reduce miscarriages as the best way to save millions of human lives a year. As far as I know, there is no such effort going on in the United States or elsewhere.

But perhaps your concern is not the number of slaughtered embryos, but rather the morality of intentionally killing them or -- worse, in your view -- intentionally creating and then killing them. In that case, your attention should be directed to fertility clinics, which routinely create multiple embryos for each human baby they wish to produce. They pick and choose among the embryos that seem healthiest, and typically implant several in the hope that one --and not more than one -- will survive. Every year tens of thousands of human embryos are created and destroyed (or pointlessly frozen) in the everyday work of fertility clinics. There is no political effort to stop this work. President George W. Bush even praised the work of fertility clinics in his speech announcing the policy that virtually halted stem cell research for eight years. Advanced fertility techniques have brought happiness to thousands of couples who otherwise would probably be childless. They are a godsend that no politician would dare oppose.

Of the tens of thousands of embryos discarded by fertility clinics every year, a few are used for stem cell research. Extracting the stem cells involves destroying the embryos, which would be destroyed anyway.

I've long looked for consistency -- intellectual, moral, ethical -- among opponents of stem-cell research, and I've never found any. If someone believes a fertilized egg that has grown to a few dozen cells is a full-fledged human being, deserving of the full protection of the law, then IVF would constitute nightmarish science. Conservatives would be compelled to protest at fertility clinics, and condemn families that try to have babies through the procedure. After all, the IVF process is designed to include discarded embryos.

But no one is making that argument. There's a high degree of comfort level with discarding embryos at fertility clinics, but intense conservative opposition to medical research involving embryos that offer the promise of life-saving science. I've never understood this.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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REPEAL THE ACA, INCREASE THE DEFICIT.... Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Healthcare, recently wrote to the Congressional Budget Office with a question. With the midterm elections coming up, and the Republican desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act still simmering, the far-right Idahoan wanted the CBO to flesh out some details about health care reform and the budget.

I don't imagine he was pleased with the response.

This week, the CBO explained to Crapo in some detail that scrapping the law would add nearly half a trillion dollars to deficits over the next decade.

"[Y]ou asked what the net deficit impact would be if certain provisions of PPACA and the Reconciliation Act that were estimated to generate net savings were eliminated -- specifically, those which were originally estimated to generate a net reduction in mandatory outlays of $455 billion over the 2010-2019 period. The estimate of $455 billion mentioned in your letter represents the net effects of many provisions. Some of those provisions generated savings for Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program, and some generated costs.

"If those provisions were repealed, CBO estimates that there would be an increase in deficits similar to its original estimate of $455 billion in net savings over that period."

This is significant, of course, to the extent that Republicans are making promises to voters that don't make any sense. The GOP is allegedly committed to deficit reduction, and at the same time, is committing to scrapping the entire Affordable Care Act, which would in turn increase the deficit.

For some Republicans who really don't know what they're talking about, they'll even combine these contradictory positions simultaneously. Kelly Ayotte, an often-confused Republican Senate candidate in New Hampshire, recently told local reporters that the federal budget deficit is "the biggest threat to our country" right now. Putting aside the fact that this position doesn't make sense, she was then asked how she'd reduce it. Ayotte replied she'd repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In other words, she'd try to reduce the deficit by increasing the deficit.

In related news, Republicans believe accelerators make cars slow down, lighter fluid puts fires out, and light bulbs make rooms darker.

I realize when the GOP talks about deficit reduction, the party's candidates don't really mean it. But as they continue to hit the campaign trail, Republicans should probably at least pretend to explain how they'd go about addressing what they claim to be an important issue. If they say they can achieve deficit reduction through ACA repeal, someone ought to point out how backwards this is.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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EGOMANIA ON AN UNHEALTHY SCALE.... Glenn Beck's "Restore America" event is itself an extraordinary display of self-aggrandizement. This deranged media personality picks the site and anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech to present himself as the leader of a grand movement that will save civilization. Beck even claims, out loud and without humor, to be acting as a vessel of God.

But that was before he released this video to his website, which takes the megalomania to a whole new level. It's four minutes of head-shaking entertainment, and if you're worried about your colleagues hearing you laugh out loud at the unintentional hilarity, you may want to wait until after work to watch it.

Ben Dimiero explained, "Beck humbly places the rally in the context of the moon landing, the Montgomery bus boycott, Iwo Jima, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and other landmark historical events. It also not-so-subtly suggests that Beck is following in the tradition of Martin Luther King (which is a farce), Abraham Lincoln, most of the Founding Fathers, Martha Washington, the Wright Brothers, and other notable historical figures."

Set against music trying a little too hard to be stirring, the voiceover tells viewers, "Every great achievement in human history has started with one person. One crazy idea."

The message isn't subtle -- the one person is Glenn Beck, and the one crazy idea is Saturday's ridiculous rally.

It concludes, "It's time to restore America. Restore the world. It's time to believe again."

Atrios added, "The slightly interesting thing Beck is that he appears to be an insane megalomanic who is self-aware enough to be aware of that fact. It's what allows him to be a huckster clown on top of it."

I'd just add one related thought. I'm trying to imagine what the response would be among conservatives if, say, Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 had tried to do something similar. Imagine if the campaign had organized an event at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech, and then released a video comparing the Obama-led effort to the Founding Fathers, the Moon landing, the civil rights movement, and the invention of airplanes.

Imagine if that same Obama campaign video told viewers, "It's time to restore America. Restore the world. It's time to believe again."

The right would consider this egomania on an unhealthy level, and they'd be right.

And yet, here we are, with Beck, Palin, and 300,000 zealots showing up in D.C. on Saturday.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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THE OFF-AGAIN/ON-AGAIN LOVE AFFAIR WITH EARMARKS.... Periodically, the political world's obsession with earmarks becomes fashionable. The word itself is, at least in some corners, synonymous with "waste" and "abuse." John McCain's presidential campaign made it seem as if the elimination of earmarks -- which represents a tiny fraction of the federal budget -- would single-handedly restore fiscal responsibility to Washington.

Indeed, this year, House Republicans announced a self-imposed, one-year moratorium on earmarks, in which all GOP members were supposed to prove their commitment to spending cuts by forswearing the nasty buggers.

In reality, some House Republican requested earmarks anyway. And next year, if there's a GOP majority, the moratorium against earmarks will be over.

House Republicans have banked on voter anger, a sputtering economy and an unpopular president to propel them ahead of Democrats in the polls so far this year.

But now they're trying to lay the foundation for how they would actually govern.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said a House GOP majority will focus on aggressive oversight of the Obama administration, will work to defund the agencies responsible for implementing health care and will push a "zero tolerance" ethics policy. He also said Republicans may roll back their ban on earmarks, as long as the spending items have "merit."

Oh, I see. Good earmarks are fine. It's those bad ones Republicans will frown upon.

The larger significance is appreciating just hollow the GOP's anti-earmark rhetoric really is. Right-wing Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) in Colorado is basing much of his campaign on his opposition to pork-barrel spending, and he's even pledged to refuse earmarks if elected. But this is the same Buck who "has requested at least $5 million in earmarks and grants" for taxpayer-financed projects in the county where's he's been a prosecutor.

Sam Stein reports today on several similar situations with other high-profile Republican candidates.

The right-wing Club for Growth, responding to Republicans' new-found tolerance for earmarks, posted an angry item on its blog: "So now they think they can take back the majority and revert to their old ways and everything will be lovey dovey with the conservative base? Think again."

To be clear, I don't much care either way -- earmarks are not, by definition, wasteful or abusive, and the right's preoccupation with the subject is pretty silly.

But the right should start realizing now that Republicans probably aren't serious about their own rhetoric on this.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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CLYBURN WON'T VOTE FOR GREENE.... Whether South Carolina Democrats like it or not, Alvin Greene is and will be the party's nominee for the United States Senate in November. He'll face incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who is now the single safest bet for re-election in the country.

The choice for Dems, then, is whether to vote for someone who, by any objective measure, is not qualified for the job. South Carolina's most powerful, most respected Democrat announced yesterday that he would not.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-.S.C.) said Wednesday he will vote for write-in candidate Mazie Ferguson for Senate instead of Alvin Greene, the state's Democratic nominee.

The AP reports Clyburn will refuse because Greene has been indicted on a felony charge.

Clyburn told reporters a vote for Greene, who was arrested in November on charges of showing pornographic images to a female student at the University of South Carolina, would be inconsiderate to the women in his family.

"Look, I have three daughters and a granddaughter. I think it would be an insult to them if I did that," he said.

There was no wiggle room -- Clyburn told reporters, "No, I'm not going to vote for Mr. Greene."

That seems like a reasonable position for a party leader to take. It's not realistic to think officials of one party are suddenly going to endorse the candidate of the rival party -- that's just not going to happen given the way party politics works. But when responsible patriots look at their candidate, and realize that he/she has no business getting elected, the sensible, conscientious thing to do is announce that this candidate will not receive their support. Clyburn no doubt realizes this will only improve the Republican's vote total, but has concluded he's doing the right thing anyway.

What's noteworthy, then, is how this isn't happening among Republican leaders, who probably realize that candidates like Angle, Paul, and Buck are nearly as ridiculous as Alvin Greene, but who nevertheless enjoy the GOP's enthusiastic support.

I'm not suggesting the NRSC has a patriotic duty to endorse Harry Reid's re-election campaign. But it is interesting that Dems distance themselves from their fringe, unqualified Senate candidates, but Republicans aren't interested in doing the same.

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

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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. Lisa Murkowski (R) is trailing in primary bid in Alaska by about 1,500 votes, with at least 8,000 more still to be counted. If she ends up losing, Murkowski has the option of pulling a Lieberman and running as a third-party candidate. She told her supporters yesterday that "it ain't over yet, folks" and that she would wait until the absentee ballots are counted before making decisions about her short-term future.

* In Vermont's five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, just 1% of the vote separate the top three candidates, with all of the precincts reporting. For now, state Sen. Peter Shumlin leads by 213 votes over his next closest competitor.

* Florida Republicans were forced to scrap their "party unity" event yesterday, after GOP candidates decided they still hate each other. On a related note, Bill McCollum still isn't interested in endorsing Rick Scott in the gubernatorial race, citing questions about "his character, his integrity, his honesty" and his fraud scandal.

* In Wisconsin, right-wing Senate hopeful Ron Johnson (R) is vehemently against government assistance to private entities -- except when his own business sought and received a government-issued loan to expand its factory.

* In Ohio, former Rep. John Kasich's (R) gubernatorial campaign presented a plan to streamline business regulations. There's one problem: it's nearly identical to the plan Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland approved two years ago.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D) campaign unveiled a hard-hitting new ad this morning, using Sharron Angle's own words to make the Republican candidate look like a lunatic.

* In Colorado, the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Republican extremist Ken Buck leading Sen. Michael Bennet (D) by nine, 49% to 40%. The Democrat's campaign will reportedly unveil an internal poll today showing Bennet up by four.

* In Pennsylvania, a new Franklin & Marshall poll shows former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading the U.S. Senate race by nine, and state A.G. Tom Corbett (R) leading the gubernatorial race by 11.

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

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OTHER THAN TAX CUTS, PENCE WANTS TAX CUTS.... House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) chatted with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren this week, leading to an interesting exchange.

Van Susteren wanted to get a sense of what Americans could expect from Pence's Republican Party, other than "the usual," when it comes to the economy. She noted that Republicans obviously support Bush-era tax rates, but wondered, other than that, what else Pence might push to improve the economy. He replied:

"Yes, look, the enemy of our prosperity is uncertainty ... the greatest uncertainty right now is -- and you just heard -- you heard the Vice President again kind of defend it in passing, their tax cuts -- their tax increases on the rich -- is this administration actually thinks that it would be a good idea to allow a tax increase on job creators on January 1st, 2011. You know, higher taxes never got anybody hired."

So, asked what the GOP supports in terms of economic policy, other than Bush's tax policy, the chairman of the House Republican Conference responds by reiterating his support for Bush's tax policy (which, by the way, failed miserably to produce the predicted economic nirvana).

It's as if someone bought an ipod, uploaded one song, and hit "shuffle."

Ben Armbruster added, "Given that Pence has been asked repeatedly for new ideas on the economy -- and hasn't been able to offer any -- one would imagine that he could think of something other than "tax cuts," but apparently not.

Remember, Republicans tend to consider Pence one of their sharpest, most important leaders. Seriously.

Steve Benen 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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WE DON'T NEED BECK TO 'RESTORE' OUR 'HONOR'.... Deranged media personality Glenn Beck will headline a rally on Saturday, which he says is intended to "restore honor" to America. Funny, I didn't realize American honor had disappeared -- or that we were dependent on a self-described rodeo-clown and his easily manipulated minions to "restore" it for us.

Regardless, Beck chose the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream Speech" for his get-together, and if that weren't quite audacious enough, Beck is also holding his rally at the same location -- the base of the Lincoln Memorial -- where King spoke. (Even one of Beck's Fox News colleagues thinks the choice of locations is wrong.)

Wait, it gets better. Beck not only considers himself a modern-day MLK -- he says he and his followers can "reclaim" the civil rights movement for themselves -- Beck also considers himself as a vessel for the Almighty. The media personality explained on his radio show two weeks ago that his rally is being orchestrated by God to unleash revival upon America. The Restoring Honor event, Beck said, "is Divine Providence. This is the Lord's hand at work. This is a miracle."

This is a delusional, Messianic freak.

But it will likely be a huge success anyway. When organizers applied for their permit with the National Park Service, they said they expect 300,000 people to attend. That may very well happen.

Conservative activists, meanwhile, promise that the rally will show their unity and voice, as last year's 9/12 event did. Jamie Radtke, founder of the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots, predicted an event as much as twice as large as last year's, based on the number of buses that local tea party organizers have chartered. The Richmond Tea Party alone is sending 15 buses -- up from seven last year, she said. [...]

Beck, the third-highest-rated radio personality, has promoted the event relentlessly to his enormous audience. FreedomWorks, the tea party group that staged 9/12, is lending its organizational muscle and grass-roots network.

The numbers don't translate to merit, necessarily, and even if turnout falls short of expectations, Fox News will simply announce that 17 gajillion people showed up anyway.

Either way, the event itself will shine a bright light, once again, on hysterical right-wing zealots and their bizarre leaders. The party that's been taken over by the extremists is feigning ignorance.

Operatives at virtually every Republican committee in Washington claimed little or no knowledge of the event.

They might well have cause to be squeamish: Beck has accused Obama of reverse racism and of having "a deep-seated hatred of white people," and his plan to celebrate the lessons of the civil rights era creates the possibility of confrontations. It could also result in damaging imagery, similar to the photos that emerged from some early tea party gatherings, which Democrats could use to paint Republicans as extreme. That may explain why the event is being met with near-total silence by Republicans.

"In general, people coming to Washington, being organized and active is a good thing," said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele. "But I gotta be honest with you -- I don't know about any Glenn Beck event."

Democrats aren't passing up the chance to tie the GOP to the rally. "Republicans for well over the past year have firmly embraced the tea party and some of these right-wing fringe groups that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have rallied around, and these are becoming serious campaign liabilities in the general election," said Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The fact that they're trying to plead ignorance is just completely absurd."

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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THE WRONG RESPONSE TO A SHOCKING CRIME.... Details of what happened and why are still coming into focus, but from what we now know, on Tuesday night, 21-year-old film student Michael Enright got into Ahmed Sharif's taxi cab in New York City. Enright asked about Sharif's background and faith, before mocking Ramadan. Soon after, Enright starting talking about checkpoints, withdrew a Leatherman knife, and stabbed the driver in the throat, face, arms, and hands.

Sharif, fortunately, appears to be doing fine after receiving more than two dozen stitches. Enright was quickly apprehended by police, and has been charged with second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime, first-degree assault as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon. He faces a possible 25-year sentence.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) invited Sharif to City Hall today, and said, "This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to."

Gov. David Paterson's (D) reaction was less encouraging. Among other things, the governor said:

"The potential for this kind of violence is one of the reasons why I have called publicly for a respectful and unifying conversation about the Park51 project. I continue to offer my assistance for an open dialogue that I believe will help to bring New Yorkers together."

Of course, Paterson has said he wants to accommodate the demands of the Park51 critics, even considering state land for the project. In this context, his statement made it seem as if the controversy and the stabbing are connected, and moving the community center would make things better.

As Ben Smith put it, "The argument here: The mosque must be moved because its opponents are crazed, violent bigots who need to be appeased. Sounds like a good compromise."

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Rep. John Fleming (R) of Louisiana was campaigning alongside Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) this week, speaking to a Republican women's group near Shreveport. Fleming did his best to frame the midterm elections in a very specific way.

"We have two competing world views here and there is no way that we can reach across the aisle -- one is going to have to win," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. [...]

"We are either going to go down the socialist road and become like Western Europe and create, I guess really a godless society, an atheist society. Or we're going to continue down the other pathway where we believe in freedom of speech, individual liberties and that we remain a Christian nation.

"So we're going to have to solve that argument before we can once again reach across and work together on things."

There's all kinds of fascinating angles to this remarkable nonsense, but let's note some of the highlights.

First, for all the talk from pundits that Democrats need to do much more to reach out and compromise with congressional Republicans, Fleming's wildly foolish comments are a reminder that there's just not much Dems can do with the modern-day GOP.

Second, there's nothing in the Democratic agenda that calls for an "atheist society"; Western Europe is filled with countries that have official state churches; and it doesn't make any sense to simultaneously claim to protect "individual liberties" and a "Christian nation." The United States separates church from state. Fleming may want a Christian-style theocracy -- maybe an Iran for the West -- but that's just not how Americans do things.

And finally, Fleming was campaigning with David Vitter. Voters are supposed to chose righteousness by backing the right-wing politician who hires prostitutes?

Postscript: Brian Beutler notes that the godless Democratic heathens have nominated David Melville to run against Fleming in November. Melville is a Methodist pastor.

Update: A friend emails: "Would Vitter be subjected to stoning in Fleming's Christian nation?"

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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FEAR CAN (AND SHOULD) BE A POWERFUL MOTIVATOR.... The lead Politico story this morning reports on the borderline-panic among leading Democrats about the midterm elections. It's not a pretty picture.

Top Democrats are growing markedly more pessimistic about holding the House, privately conceding that the summertime economic and political recovery they were banking on will not likely materialize by Election Day.

In conversations with more than two dozen party insiders, most of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly about the state of play, Democrats in and out of Washington say they are increasingly alarmed about the economic and polling data they have seen in recent weeks.

Hopes earlier this year that economic conditions would noticeably improve by the fall have given way to a discouraging reality. Dems thought to be in relatively "safe" districts are now seen as vulnerable. The article quoted an unidentified Democratic pollster saying the party's House majority is "probably gone."

The dread is not universal -- some leading party strategists said the crushing pessimism is mostly "inside-the-beltway chatter" -- and the campaign committees are taking steps to help mitigate losses. Politico added, "Republicans have been out-raised and out-spent at the national level and in many of the key races."

But it's nevertheless safe to say that the political winds are picking up, and they're not at the Democrats' backs.

None of this, however, is new. Indeed, many of us could have sketched out the entire article in our heads before reading it. The question the Politico didn't get to is what Democrats plan to do about their predicament.

The article said there are competing strategies about the elections, but Dems "mostly agree there are few good options beyond grinding it out in each individual race."

There may be limited "good options," but there are options. For example there are Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and Dems could use the limited legislative calendar to push strong bills -- job creation, small businesses, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," energy -- that voters might like, and which might motivate the Democratic base to turn out.

Sure, Republicans will oppose everything, and will very likely prevent votes in the Senate. But there's nothing wrong with putting up a fight, showing voters the party's priorities, forcing the GOP to cast tough votes shortly before an election, and giving the party something to be excited about.

It's better than hoping for the best.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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MCCAIN IS GONE AND HE'S NOT COMING BACK.... As recently as April, there was some polling suggesting that Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) primary race was down to single-digits. Understandably nervous, the Republican incumbent did what he had to do -- he spent like crazy.

When the dust settled, McCain's strategy worked. He'd spent $21 million on the primary, and ended up getting 56% of the Arizona Republicans' vote. As ridiculous as this may seem, the "septuagenarian maverick paid approximately $74.64 per vote."

Nevertheless, with the primary behind him, McCain can take some comfort in knowing he's very likely to win a fifth term. As for what he might do with this opportunity, David Broder has some advice.

What [the Senate needs] badly is adult leadership, and it's now incumbent on McCain to demonstrate that he is prepared to fulfill this role for both his party and his country. [...]

[N]ow, as the 73-year-old senator prepares for what may well be his final term in a congressional career that began in 1982, the time has come for McCain to look to his legacy -- and conditions are right.

In a Congress in which Democrats have pitiful approval ratings and Republicans even worse, McCain is one of the few names that does not draw instant contempt from the voters. The reputation he established for independence -- for being his own man, no matter what the pressures -- has survived the vagaries of an exceptionally long career.

Sigh.

Over the course of several years, there were so many "what happened to John McCain?" columns that the observation became a cliche. Pundits who adored the conservative senator and showered him with praise struggled to come to grips with McCain's descent into a becoming a bitter, confused, hard-right hack.

If Broder's column is any indication, we should perhaps brace ourselves for a new Village push: "maybe the old John McCain can come back to us?"

He won't. McCain has transformed his persona more than once during his lengthy political career, but by all appearances, the angry, cantankerous ideologue that emerged several years ago is the one we're stuck with. Broder seems to believe this was merely a facade, necessary to win a GOP primary in a "red" state, and now that the primary is over, the previous incarnation of John McCain can once again grace us with his presence.

But there's simply no reason to even hope for yet another transformation. Just last year, McCain seemed like a lock for re-election -- there was no meaningful talk of a primary opponent -- and he nevertheless acted like a spoiled, stubborn, hyper-partisan child. This was, in other words, the real personality.

The McCain that Broder is pining for is gone. Waiting for his return is a fool's errand.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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August 25, 2010

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

* Coordinated attacks in 13 Iraqi towns and cities kill dozens: "Insurgents unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks across Iraq on Wednesday in a demonstration of their ability to strike at will."

* Really not good: "Sales of U.S. new homes unexpectedly dropped in July to the lowest level on record, signaling that even with cheaper prices and reduced borrowing costs the housing market is retreating."

* Really not good, Part II: "New orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods excluding transportation equipment posted their largest decline in 1-1/2 years in July while overall booking rose far less than expected, pointing to a slowdown in manufacturing."

* Relief trickles in for victims of Pakistan flooding.

* The anti-Muslim stabbing of a New York City cabdriver is so shocking, and the details about the alleged attacker so bizarre, one hardly knows where to start.

* President Obama will visit Fort Bliss, Tex., on Tuesday to meet with U.S. troops returning from Iraq. That night, he'll deliver an Oval Office address about the end of combat operations in the country.

* Yemen remains a focus of serious attention: "For the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, CIA analysts see one of al-Qaeda's offshoots -- rather than the core group now based in Pakistan -- as the most urgent threat to U.S. security, officials said."

* Alan Simpson, the co-chair of President Obama's Fiscal Responsibility Commission, apologizes for his ridiculous email this week. Paul Krugman isn't persuaded.

* Republicans made dire predictions about the Obama administration's drilling moratorium. As is often the case, they were wrong.

* A Korean cult leader, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, apparently wants the conservative Washington Times back.

* Congrats to Nate Silver and his team on FiveThirtyEight's transition to the New York Times.

* Daniel Luzer: "The recession has caused parents to save more for college, though apparently it's not working out so well."

* Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) believes political figures who use the word "retarded" in a private meeting should be fired. She also believes political figures who use the "N-word" on national broadcasts should be protected. I wonder why that is.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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WHITE HOUSE CONSIDERS 'NEXT STEPS TO KEEP THE ECONOMY GROWING'.... President Obama's vacation still has a few days to go, but a president is never fully on vacation, and developments still demand his attention.

Take the economy, for example.

U.S. President Barack Obama held a conference call with his top economic advisers on Wednesday to discuss recent data reports, global markets and economic growth, the White House said.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House advisers Christy Romer and Larry Summers took part in the call with Obama, who is vacationing on the Massachusetts islands of Martha's Vineyard.

"The economic team provided an update on the next steps to keep the economy growing, including assistance to small businesses and the extension of tax cuts to the middle class," the White House said in a statement.

The statement added that the discussion "focused on recent data reports, global markets and economic growth." That's not exactly a detailed summary, but then again, I don't expect one under the circumstances.

What seems noteworthy here is that recent events made the call necessary in the first place. The president is, not surprisingly, aware of reports this week that cast the economy in a negative light, and arranging a discussion with his team not only makes sense, it also suggests a degree of concern.

Good. There should be concern. There should be lots of conference calls and strategy sessions and brain-storming and creative thinking. Ideally, there'd be all kinds of indications that leading officials are actively engaged in crafting a compelling economic plan for the very near future.

The White House statement said Obama heard about "the next steps to keep the economy growing." I don't have a sense of what those "next steps" might be, exactly, but here's hoping there are lots of them.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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A BASE THAT PUNISHES COOPERATION.... Time will tell what the outcome is in Alaska's Republican Senate primary. Tea Partier Joe Miller appears to have the edge, but given the margin, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski may yet prevail.

But if the upset occurs, and pundits are looking for the larger meaning, they should start with Jonathan Bernstein's insights today.

[N]o matter what the final result, but especially if Miller wins: these primaries are sending a very strong message to GOP pols about the dangers of ever allowing any space to develop between themselves and movement conservatives. And that's true whether or not that's a message that Alaska's primary voters are intending to send (it may be, as I said last night, that the explanation for this election has more to do with the reputation of the Murkowski name in Alaska along with general voter discontent with the economy than it has to do with her actual actions in the Senate): the interpretation everyone's going to hear and believe is that ideological deviation, even very mild deviation, is extremely dangerous to one's electoral health.

Whether it's the New START treaty, or a compromise deal on the budget if the GOP controls at least one House of Congress next year, or any other issue, you can be sure that Republican pols who have to cast tough votes are going to remember Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski (and Arlen Specter, for that matter).

Agreed. For all the talk about endangered incumbents, alienated establishment types, and gender advantages in the Republican primaries this year, it seems the most meaningful takeaway of 2010 so far is the willingness of the Republican base -- everywhere -- to punish those open to compromise and constructive policymaking.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R) lost in Utah, in large part because his willingness to work with a Democrat on health care policy was deemed unacceptable to the party's base. Rep. Bob Inglis (R) was trounced in South Carolina because he expressed a willingness to work with people he disagreed with. Florida's Charlie Crist and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter were driven out of the party altogether because they considered it part of their responsibilities to play a constructive role in policymaking.

Also note the inverse. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was growing increasingly unpopular with his party's base, but he cruised to an easy primary win after assuring Republicans he would not cooperate with anyone who doesn't agree entirely with everything he already believes.

I might quibble a little with Jonathan's specifics -- I don't think the GOP base cares enough about New START to punish Republicans over it -- but the larger point seems entirely accurate. Murkowski wasn't a moderate, but she was one of a handful of Senate Republicans who Democrats considered at least somewhat approachable. And now, her career may very well be over.

The message from the base to Republican lawmakers who might consider constructive lawmaking: don't do it. Party activists don't want responsible leaders who'll try to solve problems; they want hard-right ideologues. No exceptions.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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A MORE PRAGMATIC IDEOLOGY.... In a "Daily Dish" item yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf explored the ways in which someone like Matt Yglesias approaches public policy. Friedersdorf emphasized that Matt does not, conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, having a reflexive preference for larger government:

The desired end of Matthew Yglesias isn't to grow the American state. On some issues, he sees a bigger state as a necessary means to an end he desires (like using subsidies to increase the percentage of Americans covered by some form of health insurance), and on other issues he favors taking power away from the state. It is useful to understand these distinctions, even if you think, as I do, that the federal government should be much smaller than Mr. Yglesias would have it.

It prompted Adam Serwer to note one of my favorite observations.

[T]he idea that conservatives don't understand that liberals aren't ideologically committed to the expansion of government the way conservatives are ideologically committed to the shrinking of government is indicative of the fact that conservative conversations about liberals take place in an alternate reality. Liberals believe that government has a responsibility to help people, especially those at the margins, cope with the exigencies of the free market, but that doesn't mean we're going to support a local height requirement in Washington, D.C., that artificially inflates the price of living space because it prevents the construction of housing with greater density. The means and outcome of policy matters, rather than the size of the role government ultimately plays. Yglesias is hardly unique in that sense.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I believe that conservatives don't really understand the difference.

I continue to see this as one of the fundamental differences between the left and right -- one considers smaller government an end unto itself, while the other cares infinitely more about policy outcomes than the size of government. Liberals and conservatives don't only disagree on political goals, they differ on the kinds of goals worth pursuing.

Paul Krugman had an item on this in April: "On the right, people are for smaller government as a matter of principle -- smaller government for its own sake. And so they naturally imagine that their opponents must be their mirror image, wanting bigger government as a goal in itself. But it's not true. I don't know any progressives who gloat over increases in the federal payroll or the government share of GDP. Progressives have things they want the government to do -- like guaranteeing health care. Size per se doesn't matter. But people on the right apparently can't get that."

No, they really don't. The liberal worldview is not about necessarily increasing the size of government or raising taxes; those mechanisms are only valuable insofar as they reach the desired end-point. For the right, it's the other way around -- the ideological goal is the desired end-point.

I can imagine a scenario in which the president hosts a big meeting with all the congressional leaders, and suggests it's time to review the economic recovery efforts of the last year and a half, looking closely at what worked and what didn't, and then working on what to do next. For Dems, the task would be fairly straightforward -- let's do more of what was the most effective, and less of what was the least effective.

For Republicans, it doesn't work quite that way -- they have ideological ideals that outweigh evidence. GOP leaders could be shown incontrovertible evidence that the most effective methods of creating jobs and improving the economy are aid to states, infrastructure investment, unemployment insurance, and food stamps, and they'd still say tax cuts for millionaires is the better way to go. Why? Because their ideology dictates that government spending is bad, government intervention in the economy is bad, and tax cuts are good.

Jon Chait had a terrific piece on this larger dynamic several years ago.

We're accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people's lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people's lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity.

The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy -- more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition -- than conservatism.

Now, liberalism's pragmatic superiority wouldn't matter to a true ideological conservative any more than news about the medical benefits of pork (to pick an imaginary example) would cause a strictly observant Jew to begin eating ham sandwiches. But, if you have no particular a priori preference about the size of government and care only about tangible outcomes, then liberalism's aversion to dogma makes it superior as a practical governing philosophy.

Those on the right want to cut taxes, because tax cuts are necessarily good. They want smaller government, because smaller government is necessarily good. They want to privatize public programs because privatization is necessarily good.

The left has no parallel ideological desires (wanting bigger government just for the sake of having bigger government).

The left starts with a policy goal (more people with access to medical care, more students with access to college, less pollution, more Wall Street safeguards) and crafts proposals to try to complete the task. The right starts with an ideological goal (smaller government, more privatization, lower taxes) and works backwards.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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MAYBE SIMPSON SHOULDN'T COUNT AS A 'SERIOUS PERSON'.... Ashley Carson, executive director of the National Older Women's League, recently wrote an item for the Huffington Post, criticizing former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) for his approach to Social Security. As the co-chair of the White House's bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- a deficit commission considering changes to Social Security -- Simpson's perspective is of particular relevance right now.

Four months later, the Republican responded to Carson's piece in a frank email to its author. That appears to have been a very bad idea.

His email is peppered with exclamation points and condescension. At one point he urged Carson to read a certain graph, "which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs."

Simpson concludes by implying that leading a major organization dedicated to the interests of middle-aged and elderly women is not "honest work."

"If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know," he writes. "And yes, I've made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know 'em too. It's the same with any system in America. We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow
with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!"

As a substantive matter, this is ridiculous. As a political matter, it's hard to imagine what Simpson was thinking. And as a matter of basic decency and respect, Simpson's email is a reminder that the former Republican senator probably should have stayed in retirement.

This isn't the first time Simpson's approach to Social Security policy has come into question, but it is the most offensive time. "310 million tits"? Really?

I can appreciate the White House's difficulties when shaping the deficit commission's membership. The goal was to find credible, knowledgeable, sincere officials -- "elder statesman" types, I suppose -- who'd be willing to work in good faith on a bipartisan compromise. It was deemed important for President Obama to choose two co-chairs, one from each party, and all things being equal, Simpson probably seemed like a reasonable choice.

It's unfortunate, but the "bench" of serious Republicans available for a role like this one is depressingly thin.

Six months later, though, it seems increasingly clear that Simpson lacks the judgment and temperament for the job.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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ANGLE EYES 'DOMESTIC ENEMIES'.... A couple of years ago, the national scene began to appreciate just how unhinged Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) really is during an appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball." The right-wing lawmaker said there should be an investigation to determine which members of Congress are "pro-America or anti-America" -- offering one of the more blatant examples of modern-day McCarthyism.

Sharron Angle (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, is apparently thinking along the same lines.

Yesterday, Greg Sargent reported on a radio interview Angle did on the day she launched her campaign last year. During the appearance, Angle "clearly and unequivocally agreed with an interviewer who asserted flatly that there are 'domestic enemies' and 'homegrown enemies' in the 'walls of the Senate and the Congress.'"

That's obviously pretty crazy stuff. As Jed Lewison noted, "[D]oesn't this put her comments about 'Second Amendment remedies' in an even more sinister light?

Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), already pushing the line that Angle is far "too extreme" for the American mainstream, is connecting these revelations to the larger observation.

"Sharron Angle's rhetoric is irresponsible and over the top. Let me be very clear. While I may have some differences of opinion with my Republican colleagues in the Senate, I have never questioned their patriotism. For Sharron Angle to agree that any of them -- Republican or Democrat -- is an enemy of the state is not only an insult to every United States Senator, it's a disgrace to our country. If she is going to use such rhetoric, she has an obligation to name names and explain to the American people exactly who she thinks is a domestic enemy."

That sounds about right. If Angle really is convinced Congress has "homegrown enemies" shaping federal policy, she should elaborate a bit on who these dastardly politicians are. In fairness, the exact words were the radio host's, not the candidate's, but Angle clearly endorsed the sentiment and said she agreed with the charge. Given her other public comments, Angle wasn't just popping off to win some primary votes -- she believes this stuff.

But there's also the larger question of when, exactly, Republican leaders might be willing to put some distance between the GOP and its more ridiculous candidates. E.J. Dionne Jr. noted the other day, "What the current right has [to] offer is far worse than anything Bush put forward, which means that this election isn't even about whether we'll go back into the ditch. It's about whether a movement that's gone over a cliff will be rewarded for doing so. A victory for this style of conservatism will be a defeat for the kind of conservatism the country needs. And that's a worthy matter to put to the voters."

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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UNEXPECTED RESULTS IN THE LAST FRONTIER.... Very few political observers expected a credible contest in Alaska's GOP Senate primary. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski had all the advantages, and her opponent was an obscure lawyer, Joe Miller, with Tea Party backing.

As of right now, with 97.9% of the precincts reporting, Miller leads Murkowski by 1,960 votes. We may not get a final resolution for a couple of weeks -- and with recounts, maybe longer -- but it appears that Alaska may be home to one of the year's biggest upsets.

We have some sense as to how Miller managed to do so well, but if reader emails this morning are any indication, there are two larger questions on the minds of many: Who's Joe Miller? And if Murkowski ends up losing, is this Senate seat in play in November?

On the former, Miller, if he is the nominee, would quickly join the ranks of Angle, Paul, Buck, Toomey, and Johnson as the Republicans' "Bizarre Brigade" of 2010. Amanda Terkel had this report a couple of days ago.

In a June 24 interview with local KTVA-Channel 11, Miller avoided answering questions about President Obama's religion and citizenship, simply saying that he isn't running on a "birther platform":

Q: President Obama: Is he an American citizen? And is he a Christian?

MILLER: (Laughter) No comm- Look, President Obama's been elected. I'm not running on any type of birther platform. I will tell you that I am an Alaskan by choice though, and I'm going to put my documents up on the website.

Miller wants to ban all abortion rights, repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, including measures protecting consumers with pre-existing conditions.

And what about the Democrat? Some higher-profile candidates likely skipped the race, assuming Murkowski would run and win, but Scott McAdams, mayor of the town of Sitka (population: 9,000), easily won the Democratic nomination yesterday, and is likely about to receive considerably more attention than he's used to. Christina Bellantoni had this report:

National Democrats tell us privately the Alaska Senate race wasn't even on their radar, until today when Miller's showing stunned Washington. [...]

Democrats tell me that at this point they don't expect to spend money or devote resources to Alaska given they are on the defense in states that are likely to be far more competitive this fall. But don't forget, Mark Begich winning statewide in Alaska in 2008 at one point seemed like a pipe dream. Anything's possible.

Something to keep an eye on.

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

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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.

* As Florida's gubernatorial campaign gets underway in earnest, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Alex Sink (D) leading Rick Scott (R), 41% to 34%. Independent Bud Chiles is third with 8%.

* Speaking of Florida, remember David M. Rivera, the scandal-plagued Republican House candidate? He won his primary yesterday.

* In Arizona, the Republican establishment rallied behind former state Sen. Jonathan Paton as the strongest candidate to take on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) in November. GOP primary voters ignored Paton and nominated Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly, much to the delight of the DCCC.

* A state judge will have to decide fairly soon whether the "Michigan Tea Party," which may or may not be a sham organization set up by Democrats, will be on the state ballot in November.

* In Colorado, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has launched its first ad, going after Republican nominee Ken Buck's remarks supporting repeal of the 17th Amendment.

* In Maryland's gubernatorial rematch, a new poll shows incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) leading former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), 47% to 41%.

* In Louisiana, Sen. David Vitter (R) is engulfed in multiple scandals, but voters haven't heard much about them. A new survey from Public Policy Polling will show the ethics-challenged incumbent leading Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), 51% to 41%.

* And while disgraced former Ohio Rep. Jim Traficant (D) has been ruled ineligible for November's ballot, he still has supporters who intend to push his candidacy in court.

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

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FRIVOLOUS HEALTH CARE LAWSUIT FAILS TO BOOST STATE AGS.... Almost immediately after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, several Republican state attorneys general -- all ambitious, all with higher office in mind -- decided that filing a lawsuit challenging the new law would boost their careers.

Among them were: South Carolina's Henry McMaster (R), Florida's Bill McCollum (R), and Michigan's Mike Cox (R). All three ran for governor this year, based at least in part on their "leadership" roles trying to undermine health care reform. As Ben Smith noted today, things didn't turn out well for them -- all three lost in their respective primaries.

McMaster lost to Nikki Haley, whose reform message trumped his series of ads touting his health care fight. Cox, who also put his health care suit on air, lost to a wealthy businessman who ran on a non-ideological platform under the slogan, "one tough nerd." McCollum lost to Rick Scott, and there the message may not be as clear -- Scott was also a leading national foe of the health care bill.

But the suggestion to take from this, I think, is that the "throw the bums out" sentiment shouldn't be mistaken for an argument solely, or even primarily, about policy -- even about health care.

In fairness, the larger pattern doesn't hold up for all of the state AGs involved in the suit. In Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett (R) joined the lawsuit, for example, and he remains the favorite in the state's gubernatorial campaign.

But in March, there was an assumption, especially in Republican circles, that opposition to the Affordable Care Act was political gold -- and the bigger one's role in fighting the Democratic reform package, the larger the political reward. Five months later, those assumptions are looking pretty shaky.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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NOT ONE OF THE CHOICES.... When it comes to a debate over last year's economic stimulus, there are a few options available to those offering critiques. One could argue, for example, that the stimulus was a strong package that prevented an economic collapse and worked as intended, but should have been bigger and more ambitious to create a more robust recovery.

Or one might argue that the Recovery Act was just fine the way it was shaped; a bigger one never would have passed Congress; and that the economy will slowly but surely keep growing.

As for the right, which didn't want any stimulus and pushed a five-year spending freeze at the height of the crisis, the choices are more nuanced. A conservative could argue, for example, that the stimulus was pointless and the economy would be in the identical shape it's in now had the Recovery Act never passed. A Republican might also argue that a different kind of stimulus -- i.e. using that money exclusively for tax cuts -- would have been more effective. These arguments are demonstrably false, but presumably one could make them with a straight face.

Arguing that the stimulus actually hurt the economy, however, isn't one of the choices -- because it's just too crazy. And yet, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed to make this exact argument yesterday in his big economic speech in Cleveland.

"Right now, America's employers are afraid to invest in an economy stalled by 'stimulus' spending....

"By trying to build a recovery on government 'stimulus' spending -- and failing -- Washington has kept the private sector in bust while manufacturing a boom for the public sector."

I can appreciate how and why the Recovery Act has faced criticism -- I'm in the "way too small" camp, myself -- but Boehner's critique really doesn't make a lick of sense.

The stimulus "stalled" the economy? In what universe is that true? The economy is, to be sure, on shaky ground, but literally just hours after Boehner's remarks, the Congressional Budget Office said the stimulus boosted overall economic growth in the second quarter by as much as 4.5%. Boehner's on firm ground complaining about a "stalled" economy, but blaming that on the stimulus is insane.

Likewise, his remark about the stimulus having "kept the private sector in bust" is just gibberish. Private-sector job growth was in freefall before the stimulus, but started recovering soon after the Recovery Act became law. So far in 2010, 630,000 private-sector jobs have been created -- which obviously isn't enough, but is nevertheless a reality at odds with Boehner's nonsense.

A few months ago, ABC News ran a piece on some economic experts weighing in on the merit of the stimulus -- some were fans, some weren't. But how many economists did ABC find who said the Recovery Act actually hurt the economy? None. It's just not a credible position.

Someone probably ought to let Boehner know. His credibility seems to be getting worse all the time.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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I CAN'T BELIEVE HE LOST TO THAT GUY.... When it comes to issues and policies, I think Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) is wrong about nearly everything. I can't help, however, feel a little bad for him right now.

After 20 years in Congress, McCollum ran for the Senate in 2000, and lost. He ran for the Senate again in 2004, and lost again. In 2010, McCollum looked like he had the gubernatorial field all to himself, and polls showed him as the favorite in November. Then, disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott launched a bizarre primary challenge.

McCollum looked like he was closing strong, and enjoyed the support of the Republican Party and the state's business community, but he came up short anyway -- losing his third statewide bid in a decade, this time to a borderline-criminal who's never shown any interest in public service.

Millionaire businessman Rick Scott's surprise win in the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday left both parties scrambling over how to cope with a candidate who possesses both glaring flaws and considerable assets.

Scott's three-percentage-point victory over state Attorney General Bill McCollum transforms what would have been a relatively bland general election contest between two establishment politicians into a race that will offer a test of outsider strength in a season of intense voter anger.

Rick Scott is, of course, best known as the former head of the Columbia/HCA health-care company that got caught up in a massive fraud scandal in the 1990s -- and nothing says victory in Florida like "Medicare fraud." Scott's firm later pleaded guilty to charges that it overbilled state and federal health plans, and agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines, a record penalty for a health care company. The fines covered fraud perpetrated under Scott's watch, and he was forced out of his job as a result of the scandal.

More recently, Scott used his personal fortune to hire the Swiftboat liars' p.r. firm, and proceeded to launch a breathtakingly deceptive right-wing ad campaign in opposition to health care reform. He is, by the way, also at the center of an ongoing scandal stemming from his alleged fraud in the '90s.

And now he's also the Republican gubernatorial nominee in one of the nation's largest states.

As for McCollum, in his concession last night, he noted that "no one could have anticipated the entrance of a multi-millionaire with a questionable past who shattered campaign spending records and spent more in four months than has ever been spent in a primary race here in Florida."

McCollum has not pledged his support for Scott, and the GOP nominee probably shouldn't be waiting by the phone.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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MAYBE BOEHNER LEFT OUT THE GOOD PARTS.... If House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) goal was to get plenty of attention by delivering a speech on the economy yesterday, it was something of a success. Boehner's remarks were widely noted, especially the made-for-the-headlines appeal that President Obama replace his economic team.

But if the goal was to demonstrate competence -- or better yet, present a coherent vision of how his caucus would handle economic policy if given a majority -- Boehner fell far short. Indeed, he ended up embarrassing himself a bit.

There's no shortage of thorough fact-checking items -- Boehner, surprisingly clueless about the nation's most pressing issue, said a lot of things that weren't true -- and I'd encourage folks to check out takes from the White House, Wonk Room, Bill Scher, and Media Matters.

But Boehner's problems go well beyond obvious errors of fact. Ruth Marcus' takedown was very compelling.

There are times when I flirt with the notion that the country would be better off with divided government.

If Republicans took control, say, of the House, there would be pressure on both parties to behave more responsibly. The GOP would be pushed to stop carping and posturing, and start governing. Democrats would have political cover to make hard choices on entitlement spending, taxes and the like. As every politician knows, bipartisan cliff-jumping is a safer sport than going solo.

That's the theory. Then there's John Boehner.

The man who would be speaker outlined his agenda Tuesday in a speech to the City Club of Cleveland -- economic policy reduced to, literally, five easy tweets. The Ohio Republican offered up a depressing blend of tired ideas, tired-er one-liners ("We've tried 19 months of government-as-community-organizer") and cheap attacks.

She concluded with a sentiment that I've thought countless times in recent years: "Democrats -- and the country -- would benefit from a responsible opposition party. I'm still looking for evidence of one."

Marcus wasn't the only one who noticed. Politico's Jake Sherman described Boehner's remarks as a "continuous battering of the president's advisers, policies and legacy" and "an attack strategy that is thus far short on Republican vision and long on bashing Democrats."

Yesterday offered Boehner a real chance -- with the spotlight to himself, he could prove he's capable of seriousness; capable of presenting a coherent policy agenda; capable of getting past tired cliches and talking points, and demonstrating a real grasp of substantive policy. It was, then, a missed opportunity for a man who clearly isn't ready to lead.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE LINGERING CONSEQUENCES OF E COLI CONSERVATISM.... You've likely heard about the egg recall that's currently underway, in the wake of at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer. The Washington Post noted this week that the outbreak highlights the need to fix "the holes in the country's food safety net."

As we learn more about the story, we see that the salmonella problems stem from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. Democrats in Washington are nearing approval of a new food-safety bill, but Jonathan Cohn takes a closer look this morning at pending egg regulations, which have been lingering for quite a while.

Cohn notes that the "saga of these standards seems like a case study in how conservative politics and conservative politicians have weakened federal regulation, exposing the public to greater health risks."

It begins ... with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan's team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn't share Reagan's antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration's posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005, told Cohn the Bush White House simply wouldn't let the FDA act, because Bush's team was "very hostile to regulation."

This isn't quite new -- we've seen related outbreaks a little too often in recent years, and much of it stems from insufficient government safeguards. Relevant companies are doing what the industry is expected to do -- exploiting loopholes to cut corners and save costs -- but if policymakers simply let the free market guide the food-safety process, the results include the salmonella illnesses we're seeing now.

The answer, then, is a political one -- federal officials need to intervene to do what American consumers cannot do for themselves, in this case, imposing stricter safety regulations. For all the Republican hatred of government regulation -- "I don't want Obama's hands in my eggs!" -- recent developments should turn the anti-government crusade on its head.

A few years ago, Rick Perlstein coined the phrase "E. Coli Conservatism." The importance of rejecting that ideology keeps getting stronger.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MULTI-STATE PRIMARIES DEFY MEDIA NARRATIVES.... In political punditry, the desire to identify trends, themes, and patterns is pretty strong. But as the year unfolds, pesky voters keep making the task more difficult.

It's an anti-incumbent year, except for all the incumbents who are doing fine. Tea Party favorites fare well, except where they don't. Candidates with establishment backing are in trouble, except when they keep winning. The candidates with more money excel, except when they're trounced. For every narrative, there are counter-examples that render it largely useless.

And while pundits no doubt find this challenging when telling the public What It All Means, I'd argue it makes for a more interesting election season. Yesterday, for example, offered all kinds of surprises. Let's take the states one at a time.

Florida

Arguably yesterday's marquee match-up was Florida's Republican gubernatorial primary, where polls showed state Attorney General Bill McCollum closing strong. The polls were largely wrong -- disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott won by three points, and will face Florida CFO Alex Sink (D) in November. While Scott's very deep pockets will help Republicans statewide, Dems in the Sunshine State seemed pleased with the outcome. "Florida Republicans nominate for governor a corrupt health care CEO that defrauded taxpayers," said Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee. "Thank you, Tea Party!"

Florida's other big match-up was the Senate Democratic primary, where Rep. Kendrick Meek easily defeated rich guy Jeff Greene, winning by 26 points, despite Greene's aggressive and expensive ad campaign. Meek will take on Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Marco Rubio (R) in the fall.

Elsewhere in Florida, Blue Dog Rep. Allen Boyd (D) faced a stiff primary challenge from state Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson. Boyd outspent his challenger 10-to-1, but barely eked out a victory, 51% to 49%.

Arizona

The Republican Senate primary was, at one point, expected to be fairly competitive, but Sen. John McCain spent heavily to crush former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, and it paid off -- McCain won by 24 points. (I'd argue the infomercial controversy stopped any momentum Hayworth might have had.) Similarly, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was, a while back, supposed to face a tough primary challenge, but the state's anti-immigrant law propelled her to Republican stardom, and she cruised to an overwhelming primary victory yesterday.

Elsewhere in Arizona, Ben Quayle managed to win a multi-candidate GOP primary in retiring Rep. John Shadegg's (R) district, despite multiple controversies.

Alaska

In what may prove to be the most important primary yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, expected to easily win her Republican primary, was actually losing to Tea Partier Joe Miller as of early this morning. With 84% of the state's precincts reporting, Miller led, 52% to 48%. Though it's still too soon to call the race, Dave Weigel had an interesting take on how the upset became possible.

Vermont

In one of the nation's most competitive contests, five viable Democratic gubernatorial candidates faced off yesterday, and with 89% of the precincts reporting, it's still unclear who'll win. State Sen. Peter Shumlin leads with 25.1%, followed very closely by state Sen. Doug Racine with 24.9%. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is hot on their heels with 23.8%, and former state Sen. Matt Dunne is a competitive fourth with 21%. This one might take a while to sort out.

So, what's the larger lesson from all of these results? I continue to believe the moral of the story is that there is no moral to the story.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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August 24, 2010

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

* Ugly: "Sales of previously built single-family homes plunged in July to their lowest level since May 1995 as job fears trumped low mortgage interest rates and relatively affordable home prices." The drop was 27.2% from June -- twice as bad as economists expected.

* Frank Ahrens tries to make us feel better: "Painful as it is to take in the short term, today's news about the plunge in home sales is exactly what this economy needs for the long run. Think of it as an economic colonic. Not pretty, but necessary."

* Deadly attacks in Mogadishu: "Somali insurgents disguised in government military uniforms stormed a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday and killed at least 30 people, including six lawmakers, laying bare how vulnerable Somalia's government is, even in an area it claims to control. The insurgents methodically moved room to room, killing hotel guests who tried to bolt their doors shut, Somali officials said. When government forces finally cornered the insurgents, two blew themselves up with suicide vests."

* Here's hoping this news out of the Gulf is accurate: "Petroleum-eating bacteria - which had dined for eons on oil seeping naturally through the sea floor -- proliferated in the cloud of oil that drifted underwater for months after the April 20 accident. They not only outcompeted fellow microbes, they each ramped up their own internal metabolic machinery to digest the oil as efficiently as possible."

* Former President Jimmy Carter is headed to North Korea in the hopes of freeing Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 31-year-old Boston resident who was sentenced in April to eight years at a hard labor camp for illegally crossing North Korea's border with China.

* There are now fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the lowest since the 2003 invasion.

* Shirley Sherrod has turned down a job offer at the Agriculture Department. I can't say I blame her.

* Atrios speaks the truth: "10-year Treasury at 2.51. As I keep saying, at rates this low it's a crime not to borrow crazy amounts and spend it on SUPERTRAINS and fixing bridges and whatnot."

* During her work at the Bush State Department, Karen Hughes worked with Feisal Abdul Rauf -- except she no longer remembers that.

* Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has described Rauf -- an American, a moderate imam, and an ally of the Bush administration -- as "a jihadist." What a buffoon.

* Anyone relying on right-wing blogger Pamela Geller as a reliable source of information is making a foolish mistake.

* Have I mentioned lately how confusing Jonah Goldberg is?

* Daniel Luzer: "Guess who's most likely to finish college? Oddly and surprisingly, it's heavy Facebook users."

* Tea Party activist Mark Williams' bigotry appears to get even worse.

* And finally, a Tea Party group has advised activists visiting D.C. this weekend which parts of the city to visit -- and which parts not to visit. Rachel Maddow and Eugene Robinson took a closer look at the advice in an amusing segment last night.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE STEPS ALL OVER BOEHNER'S MESSAGE.... In his exceedingly silly speech on the economy today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) proudly proclaimed, "All this 'stimulus' spending has gotten us nowhere."

And almost immediately thereafter, the CBO made Boehner look pretty foolish.

The oft-criticized stimulus plan boosted the economy in the second quarter by as much as 4.5%, the Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday.

In a report published the same day as Minority Leader John Boehner's criticism of President Obama's economic policy, the CBO said the stimulus law boosted the economy by between 1.7% and 4.5%, lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points and increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million.

This seems pretty significant, so let's look at it from a few different angles.

First, as a real-world matter, economic growth was pretty slow in the second quarter (April to June), but the CBO report makes clear that without the stimulus, it wouldn't have grown at all. In other words, a stimulus helped lead to tepid growth -- the absence of a stimulus would have been significant economic contraction.

Second, this CBO data, like reports from the Council of Economic Advisors and the Office of Management and Budget, should effectively end the debate about whether the Recovery Act did what it set out to do. The stimulus effort was too small -- criticism from conservative Republicans is completely backwards -- but as designed, it was intended to give the economy a significant boost, and save and create millions of jobs. It did exactly that. Anyone who argues otherwise is either not paying attention or is being willfully dishonest.

Third, the White House would be smart to trumpet the CBO report pretty loudly, especially today, but the same political dynamic that's existed for months continues to be a problem -- the stimulus prevented a catastrophe, and Republicans were spectacularly wrong at the moment of crisis, but the economy is still hurting badly. Saying "it would have been much worse" is entirely accurate. It's also entirely unpersuasive in a country burdened by fear and high unemployment.

And finally, by way of a reminder as to how truly nonsensical our politics can be, also note that the economy could use another boost to prevent it from slipping even further backwards. The CBO makes abundantly clear that the stimulus worked in generating growth and creating jobs. So, does that mean we'll get another stimulus to generate more growth and create more jobs? Of course not -- Republicans choose not to believe the data, want less of what worked, and won't allow a vote on the most effective elements of the policy. Voters say they want less spending -- even though more spending would improve the economy -- and congressional Democrats are unlikely to even try to push for more recovery efforts, fearing a public backlash against sound policies that work.

The stimulus worked, and we need more. The country is convinced it failed, and demands less.

We know what the economy needs; we know how to make it happen; and our politics just won't let us get from here to there.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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ENERGIZING MORE THAN JUST THE GOP BASE, CONT'D.... As conservatives become more animated in their demands that Muslim American face discrimination, it's becoming increasingly important to appreciate the consequences of the right's hysteria. As we talked about yesterday, it's not just the Republican base feeling energized by the "debate."

Frank Rich had a very good column over the weekend, noting, "After 9/11, President Bush praised Islam as a religion of peace and asked for tolerance for Muslims not necessarily because he was a humanitarian or knew much about Islam but because national security demanded it. An America at war with Islam plays right into Al Qaeda's recruitment spiel. This month's incessant and indiscriminate orgy of Muslim-bashing is a national security disaster for that reason -- Osama bin Laden's 'next video script has just written itself,' as the former F.B.I. terrorist interrogator Ali Soufan put it."

NPR reported today that experts in counter-terrorism believe the controversy surrounding the Park51 proposal may play "right into the hands of radical extremists." (thanks to B.A. tip)

The supercharged debate over the proposed center has attracted the attention of a quiet, underground audience -- young Muslims who drift in and out of jihadi chat rooms and frequent radical Islamic sites on the Web. It has become the No. 1 topic of discussion in recent days and proof positive, according to some of the posted messages, that America is indeed at war with Islam.

"This, unfortunately, is playing right into their hands," said Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks these kinds of websites and chat rooms for Flashpoint Global partners, a New York-based security firm. "Extremists are encouraging all this, with glee.

"It is their sense that by doing this that Americans are going to alienate American Muslims to the point where even relatively moderate Muslims are going to be pushed into joining extremist movements like al-Qaida. They couldn't be happier." [...]

Extremists and radical clerics posted a stream of "I told you so" messages: After years of telling followers that Islam was under attack by the West, the harsh reaction to a simple community center seemed to prove it.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the failed Christmas Day attempt, recently released an appeal to disaffected American Muslims, who may be feeling ostracized by American society. Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation, said the fear is Awlaki will gain more credibility.

"Over the past nine to 12 months, Anwar al-Awlaki has tried to promote this notion that the West, and particularly the United States, will turn on its Muslim citizens," Fishman said. "And some of the anti-Islamic tone that has been going around the country in connection with the mosque debate feeds into this notion that people like Anwar al-Awlaki can take advantage of."

Opposing efforts to improve the economy, willingly providing fodder to our enemies, demanding sweeping changes to our Constitution ... I'm not sure what the United States did to offend conservative activists so much, but for all of our sake, I wish they'd reconsider.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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TOOMEY HAS BIG PLANS FOR SOCIAL SECURITY.... For all the talk about the various radical candidates seeking statewide office this year -- Angle, Paul, Johnson, Maes, Emmer -- it's easy to overlook former Rep. Pat Toomey, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania this year.

One recent analysis found that Toomey, based on his voting record, is "considerably" more conservative than Rick Santorum was during his tenure, and had a record more ideologically in tune with notorious North Carolinian Jesse Helms.

To help drive the point home, consider his approach to Social Security, an issue we're apparently not supposed to talk about, and which GOP leaders like to suggest they won't privatize. Toomey was asked yesterday at the Pennsylvania Press Club whether he stands by the privatization scheme he's long favored. "I've never said I favor privatizing Social Security," he replied.

A dramatic flip-flop? No, the issue here is that Toomey just prefers to define "privatization" in a way that doesn't make sense. He doesn't support privatization, Toomey just wants workers to take their money out of the Social Security system, and invest it on their own in private accounts -- subject to swings on Wall Street -- which will support them during their retirement. Toomey even wrote a book with a chapter called, "Transforming Social Security." The first subhead reads, "Personal Accounts Lead to Personal Prosperity."

Some dare call this "privatization"? Imagine that.

Pat Garofalo explained:

[M]ake no mistake, Toomey absolutely favors privatizing a portion of the program, as he makes painfully clear through his advocating that young workers "own" an account. Such privatized accounts would have experienced sharp negative returns in the market turmoil of 2008.

As Josh Dorner noted, a recent CNN poll "found that 59 percent oppose privatizing Social Security and Medicare." 46 percent of voters said such a plan would make them "very uncomfortable" and a further 21 percent had reservations about it. Toomey tries to dress this up by not calling it privatization, but his formula is the same one that was roundly rejected when President Bush tried it in 2005.

Toomey may not feel comfortable with the description of his privatization scheme, but that doesn't change what it is.

Just as an aside, I also noticed that Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine was in Philadelphia earlier this month, throwing her support to Toomey and helping the right-wing candidate raise money. This struck me as a little bizarre -- when Toomey led the Club for Growth, one of his main tasks was destroying moderate Republicans like Collins. In 2009, Toomey even named Collins a "Comrade of the Month" for having supported economic recovery efforts.

For that matter, Collins claims that she wants to see a more moderate Republican Party, with more GOP lawmakers willing to work on bipartisan policy solutions. If she believes that, why on earth would she be in Pennsylvania, going out of her way to support Toomey, an unabashedly far-right ideologue?

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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A CLOSER LOOK AT 'THE VIRGINIA STRATEGY'.... The Wall Street Journal editorial board has an item today heralding Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell's (R) $400 million budget surplus. According to the WSJ, it "proves" the efficacy of the Republican approach, and reminds federal policymakers to "employ the Virginia strategy."

In his ridiculous economic speech today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also singled out Bob McDonnell for praise, noting how impressive it was to see the Virginia Republican "balance his state's budget ... without raising taxes."

McDonnell himself has started patting himself on the back. Last week, he stopped by the Fox Business Network to boast about the greatness of his "conservative, fiscal, practical approach" to budgeting. McDonnell added his way is a model for reducing the "dependence of people on government." Fox Business described it as "an amazing story."

So amazing, in fact, that it deserves a closer look. Indeed, there's a key detail about Virginia's surplus that Republican leaders and their media outlets hope you'll overlook.

Gov. Bob McDonnell decries rising federal spending, but a handout from Washington is helping him balance Virginia's cash-strapped budget, a fiscal think tank says.

If not for $2.5 billion from President Barack Obama's economic-stimulus program, the state's shortfall would have swelled from more than $4 billion to nearly $5.5 billion, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

Michael J. Cassidy, institute president, said yesterday that the federal aid helped shrink the hole by 16 percent, allowing Virginia -- at the height of the recession -- to avert "further cuts to key areas like health care, education and public safety."

For all the Republican praise of McDonnell and criticism of President Obama, this gang neglects to mention that McDonnell's budget surplus likely wouldn't exist were it not for Obama's help.

What's more, also note that while McDonnell depends on the dreaded federal government to pay his bills, he's also playing budget games to make his surplus look bigger than it is, accelerating how the sales tax would count and borrowing from public-worker pension system.

And best of all, the focus is on the wrong metric. McDonnell is receiving praise, not for creating jobs or generating economic growth, but for balancing a budget (which wouldn't be balanced were it not for Obama). But eliminating deficits shouldn't be the goal -- boosting the economy should be the top priority. Republicans are excited about an accomplishment that doesn't matter.

In this case, McDonnell has eyed moves that don't help the economy at all, including putting more state workers out of work, and "slashing services for children and the sick."

Republicans consider this "an amazing story." That's not the adjective I'd use.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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'LET'S DO AS FOX NEWS COMMANDS, AND FOLLOW THE MONEY'.... "The Daily Show" is known for occasionally skewering Fox News, but some segments are truly special. Last night offered just such an episode.

On "Fox & Friends" yesterday, the Republican network continued in its campaign to destroy the reputation of Faisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the Park51 project that Fox News used to find unobjectionable. As part of the shameless smear, "Fox & Friends" is "following the money trail," asking questions like, "Where is this money coming from? ... This guy has questionable ties."

Former Bush administration official Dan Senor appeared on "Fox & Friends" and pushed a fairly specific angle: "The Kingdom Foundation, which has been a funder of Imam Rauf in the past, the Kingdom Foundation, so you know, is this Saudi organization headed up by the guy who tried to give Rudy Giuliani $10 million after 9/11 that was sent back. He funds radical madrassas all over the world." Brian Kilmeade added, "And he funds this imam."

That's not all he funds.

"The guy" Fox News is so upset about is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who has extended support to Rauf. But Jon Stewart also brought up the inconvenient fact that the largest News Corp shareholder outside the Murdoch family is ... the Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

"That's right. The guy they're painting as a sinister money force owns part of Fox News. Let's do as Fox News commands, and follow the money:

"This is the proposed 'terror mosque.' We know that it's a terror mosque, because the money may be coming from a bad guy, who definitely owns part of Fox News. Now we know that he's a bad guy, because we just heard it on Fox News. And by hearing it on Fox News, watching Fox News, I'm increasing their viewership, and their advertising rates go up. Now part of that money goes to the bad guy we learned about on Fox, because he's their part-owner, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, allowing him then to 'make it rain,' so to speak, on the terror mosque.

"My point is this. If we want to cut off funding to the terror mosque, we must, together as a nation, STOP WATCHING FOX! It's the only way! Using their reasoning, it's the only way to cut off the revenue stream to these 'bad dudes.'"

That's extremely funny, and an extremely good point. Fox News wants Americans to believe Al-Waleed bin Talal is responsible for funding Islamic radicalism. Fox News doesn't want Americans to know that Al-Waleed bin Talal is also responsible for funding Fox News.

If we should necessarily look askance at projects financed by this Saudi prince, it's only logical to suspect Fox News of wrongdoing, if not terrorist sympathies -- since, after all, some of it's financial backing comes from the same guy funding "radical madrassas" and the Burlington Coat Factory community center.

Also note, during the Fox News broadcast, the various Republican media personalities refused to actually say Al-Waleed bin Talal's name, prompting a delightful discussion on "The Daily Show" about whether Fox News is "staggeringly, achingly, almost inspiringly stupid," or "really fu**ing evil."

Take the time to watch this one. You'll be glad you did. The only decision now is whether to start reflexively referring to Fox News, just as a matter of course, as being financed by questionable Saudi royalty with ties to radicals.

Postscript: Faiz Shakir also notes this morning that the Arab News, just today, published a photo of Prince Al-Waleed "meeting with News Corp executives to discuss how to 'further strengthen the strategic corporate alliance between Rotana and News Corp.'"

They don't even have the decency to hide their dangerous foreign financiers....

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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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's primary day in Florida, Vermont, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Alaska. Among the statewide races to keep an eye on, other than the Florida contests, are the five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary in Vermont, the McCain-Hayworth contest in Arizona, and the Republican Senate primary in Alaska.

* Just a week after Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) Senate campaign in Pennsylvania won an endorsement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), the retired three-star Navy admiral won the support this week of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D) new ad in Nevada reminds voters that Sharron Angle (R) has opposed an effort to save school teachers' jobs and has demanded that the government shut down the Department of Education. It's part of the "too extreme" message.

* The Arkansas AFL-CIO has announced that it will not endorse a candidate in the state's U.S. Senate race. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) could no doubt use the help, but her hostility towards labor made the union's announcement easy to predict.

* In Louisiana, a poll conducted by WWL-TV and other local stations shows Sen. David Vitter (R) leading Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), 48% to 36%.

* The GOP primary in Florida 24th congressional district is getting so vicious, the chairman of the NRCC said this week, "It makes me sick to my stomach."

* In West Virginia's Senate race, Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appears to be off to a good start, leading John Raese (R) in one recent poll, 54% to 32%.

* In New York, gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino (R) has suggested transforming state prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients, where low-income Americans would be trained in, among other things, "personal hygiene."

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

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MAYBE STEELE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND MODERN COMMUNICATIONS.... There was a point, before media satellites and the Internet, when political figures found it relatively easy to cater their messages to specific audiences. Candidates and party leaders could offer one message to one constituency, and an opposing message to a related constituency, confident that the contradictory rhetoric wouldn't be noticed.

Those days are largely a thing of the past. Someone probably ought to tell Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Last month, the embattled RNC chief was caught distancing himself from his party's line on the war in Afghanistan. This month, Steele suggested to Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language network, that his party is not fully on board with Arizona's notorious anti-immigrant law. Asked how Hispanic-American voters might respond to Steele's outreach in the wake of Arizona's measure, he replied:

"Well, let's be clear. The actions of one state's governor is not a reflection of an entire country, nor is it a reflection of an entire political party. The governor and the people of Arizona made a decision that they thought was in their best interest, and that's the beauty of a republic, that's who we are. [...]

"We hope, now that this debate is in full bloom, level heads will prevail and that we'll reach a common sense solution with regards to immigration."

To be sure, that's not a total repudiation of the Arizona statute, but it's hard to interpret this as anything but an effort to put some distance between the Republican Party and the state measure.

And that relates back to Steele's larger problem (or one of them, at least). He wants to be able to tell the angry, anti-immigrant right-wing base that the Republican Party is taking bold steps like supporting Arizona's SB1070. He also wants to be able to tell Univision's audience that the Republican Party shouldn't necessarily be seen as anti-immigrant at all. But in an age of modern communications, both groups are now aware of what Steele is telling the other -- and now no one is inclined to trust him.

Amanda Terkel, now writing for the Huffington Post, added, "Most other national GOP figures have defended the legislation and sharply criticized the Obama administration's lawsuit against Arizona."

Quite right. One wonders what they'll think of their party leader's remarks to Univision.

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

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BOEHNER CLAIMS IMAGINARY CREDIBILITY, PRETENDS TO BE A GROWN-UP.... In the early 1990s, John Boehner (R-Ohio) was absolutely convinced that President Clinton's economic agenda would be a disaster. He was wrong. Early on in the last decade, Boehner couldn't have been more certain that President Bush's economic agenda would generate incredible prosperity. Wrong again. And last year, Boehner just knew that President Obama's recovery efforts wouldn't help the economy at all. Strike three.

Boehner, in other words, is one of those rare officials with an uninterrupted track record of complete and total failure. It's reminiscent of the "Seinfeld" episode in which George Costanza realizes that all of his instincts and decisions are entirely backwards, and begins doing the opposite of what he's inclined to do.

Only George recognized that all of his decisions were wrong. Boehner looks back at his two decades of breathtaking misjudgments, and concludes that he's not only credible on economic policy, but he's also in a position to lecture those who are trying to clean up his mess.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, was set on Tuesday to call on President Obama to fire his economic advisers as Mr. Boehner tried to lay out an economic case for restoring Congressional Republicans to power in the November elections.

In a speech to be delivered at the City Club of Cleveland, Mr. Boehner planned to unveil a five-point plan that he said would provide a better economic alternative to the Democrats' current course.

In addition to encouraging Mr. Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire, Mr. Boehner will say the president should seek and accept the resignations of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council.

Reading the text as written for delivery, it seemed like a series of tired talking points, just sewn together. Did you know John Boehner loves tax cuts? And hates cap-and-trade, health care reform, and card-check? Who would have guessed?

Boehner's vision is absurd; his credibility is non-existent; and his policy prescription is a joke. I realize that he's trying to position himself as a future Speaker of the House -- today represents an audition of sorts -- and even had the audacity to include this in his speech: "It's time to put grown-ups in charge. It's time for people willing to accept responsibility."

But that's crazy. Boehner should be begging for forgiveness, not power. If he's willing to "accept responsibility," he can start by acknowledging that his ideal economic agenda -- the one tried from 2001 to 2008 -- was an abysmal failure. Indeed, the centerpiece of what Boehner calls a "fresh start" is an extension of the Bush-era tax policies that led to weak growth, a stunted job market, and a massive deficit.

This "fresh start" is literally just the Bush/Cheney agenda -- Bush's tax rates, Bush's regulatory structure, Bush's domestic policies -- coupled with a vague promise to cut spending somewhere, at some time, affecting someone.

As for putting "grown-ups in charge," maybe now would be a good time to point out that the American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein recently described Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor as "the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious."

Boehner genuinely seems to believe that if we just go back to the policies that got us into this mess, maybe they'll work this time. That agenda already failed once, and it doesn't make a lick of sense, but that's no reason not to give it another shot, right? Boehner hopes, in other words, that a national amnesia has swept the land.

And who knows, maybe it has. But for anyone who has a shred of understanding of recent events, Boehner's extended whine today is impossible to take seriously.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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AN RNC MEMBER BELIEVES HER LYING EYES.... Why do so many Americans continue to believe nonsense about President Obama's faith? Iowa's Kim Lehman offers a fascinating example. (thanks to reader M.M. for the tip)

Iowa's Republican national committeewoman said today that she believes President Barack Obama is truly a Muslim, contradicting his earlier statements that he's a Christian.

Kim Lehman, who is one of Iowa's two national Republican Committee members, may be one of the first national committee members to publicly state she believes Obama is a Muslim.

Don't worry, Lehman has proof. She explained late last week that the president "personally told the Muslims that he IS a Muslim" [emphasis in the original]. Lehman was referring to a speech Obama delivered last year in Cairo, in which the president said, "I'm a Christian."

Lehman went on to say that the speech, emphasizing the need for international cooperation and the need for respect for Muslims throughout the West, "had a sense of embracing or aligning with the Muslims. I don't know. It was unnecessary the stuff he said."

She didn't specify what "stuff" was "unnecessary." She also didn't explain how she came to believe the "sense" that the president was saying something he never said.

Lehman went on to say that her own humiliating ignorance isn't nearly as important as the pressure that should be put on Obama. "He's the one that the news is about. It isn't about me," she said. "Call the president.... Say, 'Are you a Christian or not?'"

We've been through this. Obama told Christianity Today, for example, "I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn't 'fall out in church' as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn't want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals."

The willful ignorance of Republican officials is as ugly as it is bizarre.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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HALPERIN BLASTS OBAMA FOR TELLING THE TRUTH, CRITICIZING GOP.... In his latest Time column, Mark Halperin expresses his deep disappointment in President Obama and Democrats for criticizing Republicans over Social Security. It seems much of the GOP has plans to undermine, if not completely privatize, the program, and leading Dems -- get this -- hope to tell voters about it.

In a move as predictable as Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Democrats are using Social Security scare tactics to gain ground before the November election. President Barack Obama is not only tolerating this classic old politics maneuver by his party -- he is leading the charge.

Amid a flurry of Democratic Party news releases and press conferences warning voters that Republicans are targeting Social Security for destruction, the President devoted his radio and Internet address last week to commemorating the 75th anniversary of the signing of the law that created the program. He cautioned that "some Republican leaders in Congress don't seem to have learned any lessons" from the past and are "pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress." This familiar refrain might indeed help the Democrats limit their midterm losses, but Obama's involvement shows that on this issue he is putting party before bipartisanship....

There's a key detail that Halperin largely overlooks: everything Obama said was true. Every word. The leading GOP lawmaker on the House Budget Committee wants to privatize Social Security, and his idea has been endorsed by a wide variety of Republican officials and candidates. In Nevada, Sharron Angle has called for eliminating Social Security altogether, and her position has not be denounced by party leaders.

One high-profile House Republican recently called for the government to "wean everybody" off Social Security. A day later, another House Republican endorsed Social Security privatization. Two days later, yet another House Republican endorsed Social Security privatization. All of this happened just this year.

So, with an election coming up, leading Democrats believe voters should be aware of GOP priorities. Halperin believes that's wrong -- Dems in general and the president in specific shouldn't talk about a campaign issue on which Republicans are vulnerable, because it might make them less likely to compromise on the issue later.

In other words, even in a competitive election season, after Dems identify their rival's key vulnerability, they shouldn't say anything, even if it's true. Instead, as Halperin sees it, Democrats should be making an effort to be nicer to the party that's trying to destroy them, in the hopes that a GOP that's shown no interest in compromise might suddenly become more amenable to a "bipartisan partnership."

I don't understand it, either.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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THE FED WANTS TO SIT ON ITS HANDS.... When considering the Federal Reserve's principal goals, the obvious focus is on preventing inflation. It's easy to forget that the Fed is also required to pursue full employment -- which would put the national unemployment rate at 4% (as opposed to around 10%, which is where the rate stands now).

It's so easy to forget, in fact, that the Fed itself seems to be paying no attention at all to this part of its mandate. Two weeks ago, with confidence in an economic recovery fading, the Fed agreed to "use the proceeds from its huge mortgage-bond portfolio to buy long-term Treasury securities," which was, quite literally, the least it could do. In effect, the move was an effort to maintain the status quo, not helping the economy grow and not letting it contract.

The Wall Street Journal reports today, however, that even getting the Fed to agree to this exceedingly modest step was like pulling teeth -- suggesting more meaningful steps from the Federal Reserve are off the table entirely. (via Kevin Drum)

The Aug. 10 meeting of top Federal Reserve officials was among the most contentious in Ben Bernanke's four-and-a-half year tenure as central bank chairman.

With the economic outlook unexpectedly darkening, the issue was a seemingly technical one: whether to alter the way the Fed manages its huge portfolio of securities.

But it had big implications: Doing so would plunge the Fed back into the markets and might be a prelude to a future easing of monetary policy, moves that divided the men and women atop the central bank.

At least seven of the 17 Fed officials gathered around the massive oval boardroom table, made of Honduran mahogany and granite, spoke against the proposal or expressed reservations. At the end of an extended debate, Mr. Bernanke settled the issue by pushing successfully to proceed with the move.

The debate over the decision to keep the Fed's $2.05 trillion stock of mortgage debt and U.S. Treasury holdings from shrinking, described in interviews with several participants, set the stage for a more consequential discussion inside the Fed that remains very much alive: what to do next, if anything, about America's stubbornly weak recovery and troublingly low inflation.

In all, of the 17 Fed officials at the meeting, no more than a few voiced support for intervening to improve economic conditions. Even if President Obama's nominees weren't stuck in the Senate, waiting for confirmation, most of the Fed just doesn't want to act.

So, what are we left with? An economy that's struggling badly, a political process paralyzed by Republicans who refuse to allow votes on meaningful economic legislation, a Fed content to sit on its hands, and voters who've been led to believe government spending is "bad."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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STEM-CELL SETBACK CALLED 'ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING'.... Legal experts and policy specialists are still trying to sort out the implications of yesterday's preliminary injunction, but by all indications, it's a major blow to American medical research and scientific advancement.

A federal district judge on Monday blocked President Obama's 2009 executive order that expanded embryonic stem cell research, saying it violated a ban on federal money being used to destroy embryos.

The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration's new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law. Scientists scrambled Monday evening to assess the ruling's immediate impact on their work.

"I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government," said Dr. George Q. Daley, director of the stem cell transplantation program at Children's Hospital Boston, referring to food given to cells. "This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work since the Obama administration made its order."

In his ruling, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that his temporary injunction returned federal policy to the "status quo," but few officials, scientists or lawyers in the case were sure Monday night what that meant.

The court order, delivered by a notoriously conservative Reagan appointee, seems intent on turning back the clock many years. Ian Millhiser explained, "Essentially, Judge Lamberth claims that all ESC research cannot be funded because it requires scientists to build upon previous research that involved the destruction of an embryo, but it's difficult to square this decision with Supreme Court precedent. Under Chevron v. NRDC, judges are normally supposed to defer to an agency's reading of a federal law unless the agency's interpretation is entirely implausible, and the Obama administration quite plausibly read the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to only prohibit federal funding of the actual destruction of an embryo -- not federal funding of subsequent ESC research."

Certainly, the ambiguity doesn't help. Lamberth' injunction leaves unclear exactly what medical researchers are supposed to do when they show up for work this morning -- do scientists now have to operate under Bush-era rules, or does the order turn the clock back to pre-2001? Is all research regarding embryonic stem cells illegal?

Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, said the ruling was "devastating to the hopes of researchers and patients who have been waiting so long for the promise of stem cell therapies." Amy Comstock Rick, immediate past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, struck a similar note, calling yesterday's news "absolutely devastating."

"We were really looking forward to research finally moving forward with the full backing of the NIH. We were really looking forward to the next chapter when human embryonic stem cells could really be explored for their full potential. This really sets us back," Rick said. "Every day we lose is another day lost for patients waiting for cures."

Others can speak to the legal proceedings with more expertise than I can, and it was at least somewhat heartening to see one lawyer weigh in describing the judge's order as "quite vulnerable; it's not on solid ground at all."

I'd just note as an aside, though, that the breakdown in the Senate's ability to fill judicial vacancies often has sweeping national and international implications -- in the matter of medical research, possibly even issues of life and death.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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August 23, 2010

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

* This doesn't sound good: "A U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction on Monday stopping federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research in a slap to the Obama administration's new guidelines on the sensitive issue."

* This was opposed by many Republicans on the Hill, but it should help a lot of folks: "The sweeping reform of the credit card industry was finally completed Sunday as the last pieces of the landmark federal law designed to stop unfair or deceptive practices took effect. The final phase restricts how much card issuers can charge in penalty fees compared with the amount of the violation. For example, if you are late paying a credit card bill with a $10 minimum payment, the penalty charge cannot be more than $10."

* Xe reaches a settlement: "The private security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide, long plagued by accusations of impropriety, has reached an agreement with the State Department for the company to pay $42 million in fines for hundreds of violations of United States export control regulations."

* The Cooch is always up to no good: "Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who is anti-abortion, has issued a legal opinion allowing greater restrictions on abortion clinics, drawing swift criticism from providers who say it could cause some of the facilities to close."

* Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) shows 'em how it's done.

* Media Matters has some new thoughts to share about Fox News getting a front-row seat in the White House press room. News Corp's $1 million check to the RGA changes things.

* A Texas Republican House candidate in Texas doesn't want to commit to supporting Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). That's interesting.

* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) believes conditions in Afghanistan are improving, thanks to the escalation. I really hope he's right, but I seem to recall Graham making very similar remarks in 2004 and 2005 about Iraq.

* How far gone is former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa./Va.)? He's praising Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for "the quality of his arguments." Wow.

* And finally, on a personal note, yesterday was my two-year anniversary since joining the Washington Monthly team. Thanks to everyone -- readers, editors, publishers, and staff -- for all the support.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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CAREFUL WHAT YOU THINK AT SOME THINK TANKS.... The Cato Institute, a leading institution for conservative libertarians, will no longer be the home of some high-profile scholars, who may be part of yet another think-tank purge.

Brink Lindsey, who helped oversee Cato research, and Will Wilkinson, the editor of "Cato Unbound," are both headed for new professional homes. Dave Weigel highlights the larger context.

I asked for comment on this and was told that the institute does not typically comment on personnel matters. But you have to struggle not to see a political context to this. Lindsey and Wilkinson are among the Cato scholars who most often find common cause with liberals. In 2006, after the GOP lost Congress, Lindsey coined the term "Liberaltarians" to suggest that Libertarians and liberals could work together outside of the conservative movement. Shortly after this, he launched a dinner series where liberals and Libertarians met to discuss big ideas. (Disclosure: I attended some of these dinners.)

In 2009 and 2010, as the libertarian movement moved back into the right's fold, Lindsey remained iconoclastic -- just last month he penned a rare, biting criticism of The Battle, a book by AEI President Arthur Brooks which argues that economic theory is at the center of a new American culture war.

I'm not privy to the internal personnel discussions at Cato, so my take is obviously speculative. But Cato was home to two widely-read, well-respected "liberaltarians," and both are out, just as the think tank becomes even more conservative? One need not be a conspiracy theorist to suspect an ideological purge.

But what's especially interesting to me is how often we've seen moves like these in recent years. David Frum was forced out at the American Enterprise Institute after failing to toe the Republican Party line. Bruce Bartlett was shown the door at the National Center for Policy Analysis for having the audacity to criticize George W. Bush's incoherent economic policies.

In perhaps the most notable example, John Hulsman was a senior foreign policy analyst at the right's largest think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Hulsman was a conservative in good standing -- appearing regularly on Fox News and on the Washington Times' op-ed page, blasting Democrats -- right up until he expressed his disapproval of the neoconservatives' approach to foreign policy. At that point, Heritage threw him overboard. Cato's Chris Preble said at the time, "At Heritage, anything that smacks of criticism of Bush will not be tolerated."

A few years later, Cato seems to be moving in a very similar direction.

Intellectually, modern conservatism is facing a painfully sad state of affairs.

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PAUL VS. PAUL... Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), for all of his faults, tends to be a pretty consistent Libertarian. He has a specific worldview -- one I happen to find hopelessly misguided -- but Paul generally tends to be intellectually honest enough to stick to that worldview.

With that in mind, it was heartening, though not necessarily surprising, to see Ron Paul issue a fairly strong condemnation of his allies for their ugly demagoguery related to the proposed Park51 community center.

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be "sensitive" requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from "ground zero."

Paul didn't hold back. He argues that the debate itself was initiated by neocons, exploiting anti-Muslim bigotry and manipulating the public through propaganda. He notes the polls showing opposition to the community center, but insists that "majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society -- protecting liberty."

The uproar, Paul concludes, "is all about hate and Islamaphobia."

From a Libertarian perspective, this makes perfect sense. We are, after all, talking about a private real-estate transaction between the owners of a former clothing store and those hoping to build a community center. As far as Libertarian adherents are concerned, the notion of political officials intervening, demanding that a religious group build a private facility five blocks away from Ground Zero instead of two-and-a-half away, is absurd.

What's interesting, though, is that Ron Paul's essay is specifically at odds with Rand Paul's political rhetoric in Kentucky. While the elder takes a principled stand in support of American ideas, the younger, running a bizarre Senate campaign, is doing precisely the things his father finds offensive.

Just last week, Rand Paul's campaign said the community center's construction would run counter to "the healing process." In fact, while some on the right want Park51 moved elsewhere, Rand Paul has suggested the facility shouldn't be built at all -- his campaign said all of the money that would construct the building should instead go a 9/11 memorial and/or victims' families.

In context, the father doesn't have to worry about re-election, while the son has to exploit anti-Muslim animus to win a competitive Senate campaign in a different state. But the lesson here is nevertheless interesting -- Rand Paul not only has a radical worldview, he has a radical worldview that he doesn't fully understand. Despite all the Ayn Rand novels and speeches to fringe groups, these concepts shouldn't be hard for the right-wing ophthalmologist to understand. He's either confused about his own principles, or he's cast them aside in the hopes of winning an election.

Rand Paul's beliefs are troublesome; his intellectual inconsistencies are worse.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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COLLEGE RANKINGS THAT AREN'T RIDICULOUS.... Today the Washington Monthly releases its annual College Rankings. This is our answer to U.S. News & World Report, which relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige for its rankings. Instead, we rate schools based on what they are doing for the country -- on whether they're improving social mobility, producing research, and promoting public service.

The Washington Monthly's unique methodology yields strikingly different results.

* Yale and Princeton, two of U.S. News's perennial darlings, once again fail even to crack our top 20. Instead, schools like the University of California San Diego, our number one national university this year, and South Carolina State University, a school relegated to a bottom tier in U.S. News, leave several members of the Ivy League in the dust.

* Morehouse College, a historically black, all-male institution in Atlanta, beats out Amherst, Swarthmore, Williams, and other name-brand schools to become the top liberal arts college in America, according to our measures.

* In our first-ever rankings of Master's Universities, a category of schools that often gets overlooked in national ratings, we shine a spotlight on the largely unknown St. Mary's University in San Antonio, which comes out ahead of such elites as Wesleyan, Wellesley, and Pomona.

* While all the top twenty U.S. News universities are private, thirteen of the top twenty Washington Monthly universities are public.

* Women's liberal arts colleges score well in the Washington Monthly rankings, with Bryn Mawr, Spelman, and Wellesley all in the Top 10.

In addition, this year we turn our attention to a vast category of schools that other college guides never bother to evaluate: community colleges. While U.S. News glorifies schools that promise to initiate their students into the elite, the best community colleges serve a far more important mission: granting low-income and minority students admission into the middle class. We agree with the Obama administration that these two-year schools are a key to America's future, and so we've ranked the top 50 of them to show that excellence isn't only the province of wealthy, exclusive institutions. In fact, we found that the best community colleges -- schools like Saint Paul College in Minnesota, our #1 -- offer educations that rival those at elite four-year institutions.

We want people to use this information to change the way they think about colleges and universities, which is the first step toward changing the institutions themselves. And make no mistake: with tuition rising faster than health care costs, big changes are necessary, and they're coming. That's why we're also proud of our College Guide Web site, devoted to higher education reform -- a subject we believe will be one of the big emerging stories of the coming decade. Take a look.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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WHEN BUDGET CUTS GO TO THE EXTREME.... There's been a fair amount of attention lately on the kind of budget cuts states and municipalities have been forced to make during lean times. Hawaii is going to a four-day school week; an Atlanta suburb has shut down its public bus system; and parts of Colorado Springs are going without streetlights to save money on electricity.

Paul Krugman added in a recent column, "[A] country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel."

But Alyssa Battistoni flagged a report I'd overlooked last week:

It has come to this: Parents are now being asked to send their children to school with their own toilet paper. And not just toilet paper, but all sorts of basic items that schools themselves used to provide for kids. It's all part of a disturbing trend, highlighted by the New York Times last week, of cash-strapped public schools -- their budgets eviscerated by state cutbacks -- shifting more and more financial responsibility onto parents.

This isn't an exaggerated anecdote. The NYT report noted that schools that used to simply require students to bring in glue, scissors, and crayons, are now demanding that families provide everything from paper towels to garbage bags to liquid soap.

Pre-kindergartners in the Joshua school district in Texas have to track down Dixie cups and paper plates, while students at New Central Elementary in Havana, Ill., and Mesa Middle School in Castle Rock, Colo., must come to class with a pack of printer paper. Wet Swiffer refills and plastic cutlery are among the requests from St. Joseph School in Seattle. And at Pauoa Elementary School in Honolulu, every student must show up with a four-pack of toilet paper.

As Natasha Chart put it, "Because nothing says 'superpower' like when your public schools can't afford toilet paper."

It's probably worth noting that raising taxes on the wealthy, just a little, back to the levels seen in the 1990s when the economy was booming, could help make much of this far less necessary. We live in the wealthiest country in the planet, but as officials fight to cut spending and reduce taxes on the wealthy, we're left with often-ridiculous cuts and children who have to bring toilet paper to school.

Battistoni concluded, "The best-case scenario is that the impact of these cuts will help people understand just what their tax dollars are paying for and spur greater consciousness about the relationship between public spending and public goods. Now that shortages of teachers and books are spreading to suburbia, we'll decide that shortfalls in education funding are unacceptable after all. The worst-case scenario, though, is that reduced public spending on essential goods and services will continue to hollow out our infrastructure and reduce our capacity to meet the needs of most Americans."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... In March 2009, RNC Chairman Michael Steele guest-hosted Bill Bennett's nationally syndicated conservative radio show, and offered several insightful observations. Most notably, Steele insisted that evidence of global warming is "part of the cooling process." To help prove his point, the RNC chairman said, "Greenland, which is covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this."

Steele added, "Education is key."

We all had a good chuckle, but a year and a half later, Ron Johnson, the leading Republican Senate candidate in Wisconsin this year, is sharing a nearly identical thought.

[O]n the subject of climate change, Johnson reiterated his belief that the rise in Earth's temperature is caused by sunspots, not carbon dioxide emissions, and that it's all part of an ongoing natural cycle.

"There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland," he said. "It was actually green at one point in time. And it's been, since, it's a whole lot whiter now."

This was, by the way, in the same interview in which Johnson said all scientific evidence related to global warming is "lunacy," and its proponents are "crazy." Asked about his own perceptions, Johnson said global warming is likely the result of "sunspot activity," which doesn't make any sense.

As for the notion that there's "a reason Greenland was called Greenland," I'm not at all sure what, exactly, Ron Johnson is trying to say. This isn't my area of expertise -- the smart money says it's not Johnson's area of expertise, either -- but as I understand it, Greenland got its name as a matter of public relations. The goal was to make it more enticing to potential settlers concerned about its location. Its relation to the climate debate is dubious, at best.

I imagine that if the RNC hired a science advisor, she'd be the single most bored person in American politics.

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

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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.

* With Florida's high-profile primaries on deck for tomorrow, there's a flurry of new data to consider. In the Republican gubernatorial primary, Mason-Dixon shows state Attorney General Bill McCollum out in front of Rick Scott by nine points (45% to 36%); Quinnipiac shows McCollum up by four points (39% to 35%); while Public Policy Polling shows Scott ahead by seven points (47% to 40%).

* As for the Sunshine State's Democratic U.S. Senate primary, Mason-Dixon shows Rep. Kendrick Meek out in front of Jeff Greeene by 12 points (42% to 30%); Quinnipiac shows Meek up by 10 points (39% to 29%); while Public Policy Polling shows Meek ahead by 24 points (51% to 27%).

* Arizona will also hold its Republican U.S. Senate primary tomorrow, and while the race was at one time expected to be competitive, Sen. John McCain, after spending heavily, is now expected to easily dispatch former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

* The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's priorities for the fall are beginning to take shape, with the DSCC "reserving millions of dollars in TV airtime during the month before the election in four competitive states." On the list: Missouri and Kentucky (Republican pick-up opportunities), and Pennsylvania and Colorado (protecting Democratic seats).

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will practically be a third party this year, investing $75 million in the 2010 midterms. Nearly all, if not literally all, of the money will help conservative Republicans.

* The latest candidate to exploit 9/11 imagery for personal gain? New York gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio (R).

* The Senate race in the state of Washington is getting a little messy for Republicans, with Tea Party favorite Clint Didier refusing to endorse Dino Rossi in the wake of last week's primary.

* Borrowing a page from his father's playbook, Kentucky Senate hopeful Rand Paul (R) hosted a two-day "money bomb" last week. It didn't go well -- the campaign raised $258,000, far short of its $400,000-plus goal.

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

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THE REVERENCE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL STONE FADES AWAY.... It wasn't too long ago that Glenn Beck was sick of hearing about proposed changes to the U.S. Constitution: "We're running it through the shredder every time somebody wants to do [with it] what they want to do.... It took these guys a long time. They read a lot of books and a lot of history to put the principles together in this thing."

The right's line on the Constitution has changed a bit since. While some still talk about the need for "constitutional conservatives" -- a phrase that seems to be a euphemism for Tenthers -- the AP notes today that Republicans are now "hot and cold on the Constitution."

Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia won his seat in Congress campaigning as a strict defender of the Constitution. He carries a copy in his pocket and is particularly fond of invoking the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

But it turns out there are parts of the document he doesn't care for -- lots of them. He wants to get rid of the language about birthright citizenship, federal income taxes and direct election of senators, among others. He would add plenty of stuff, including explicitly authorizing castration as punishment for child rapists.

This hot-and-cold take on the Constitution is surprisingly common within the GOP, particularly among those like Broun who portray themselves as strict Constitutionalists and who frequently accuse Democrats of twisting the document to serve political aims.
Republicans have proposed at least 42 Constitutional amendments in the current Congress, including one that has gained favor recently to eliminate the automatic grant of citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

I knew they'd recommended more than a few, but 42? In fairness, many of these are probably just symbolic gestures that proponents aren't seriously pushing. Indeed, even if there were a Republican Congress, most of these 42 likely wouldn't even get so much as a hearing, better yet a vote.

But when a small congressional minority, allegedly known for their constitutional fealty, proposed 42 amendments in one Congress, it starts to look like a party treating the document as a first draft. (In contrast, Dems have proposed 27 amendments, most of which come from one member: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois.)

And then, of course, there are also the existing amendments Republicans would like to see at least partially, if not fully, repealed. As we've talked about before, the new conservative agenda is focused on scrapping the 17th Amendment, repealing the 16th Amendment, getting rid of at least one part of the 14th Amendment, and "restoring" the "original" 13th Amendment.

Holding up the 2nd Amendment as sacrosanct, for example, while dismissing other parts of the Constitution is "cherry picking," said [constitutional law scholar Mark] Kende, director of Drake University's Constitutional Law Center.

Virginia Sloan, an attorney who directs the nonpartisan Constitution Project, agreed.

"There are a lot of people who obviously don't like income taxes. That's a political position," she said of criticism of the 16th Amendment, which authorized the modern federal income tax more than a century ago. "But it's in the Constitution ... and I don't think you can go around saying something is unconstitutional just because you don't like it."

Oh, just watch them.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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AT STAKE IN THE TAX POLICY DEBATE.... Roll Call noted this morning that the Senate is moving towards "an epic election-year battle over Bush-era tax cuts." That sounds about right.

The dispute helps capture exactly what the two parties prioritize right now -- Dems want to keep lower rates for the middle class, while at least starting to address deficit concerns by letting the rich go back to the rates they paid when the economy was healthy. Republicans want to hold the Dem proposal hostage, fighting tooth and nail for breaks for millionaires and billionaires, and adding $680 billion to the deficit the GOP pretended to care about for a while.

Paul Krugman explains that much of the debate is focused around the conservative drive to "cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country."

[W]here would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But that's the least of it: the policy center's estimates say that the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. Take a group of 1,000 randomly selected Americans, and pick the one with the highest income; he's going to get the majority of that group's tax break. And the average tax break for those lucky few -- the poorest members of the group have annual incomes of more than $2 million, and the average member makes more than $7 million a year -- would be $3 million over the course of the next decade. [...]

[W]e're told that it's all about helping small business; but only a tiny fraction of small-business owners would receive any tax break at all. And how many small-business owners do you know making several million a year?

Or we're told that it's about helping the economy recover. But it's hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and aren't likely to spend a windfall.

No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy. Instead, as I said, it's about a dysfunctional and corrupt political culture, in which Congress won't take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

So far, the Obama administration is standing firm against this outrage. Let's hope that it prevails in its fight. Otherwise, it will be hard not to lose all faith in America's future.

Dems may not realize it, but the public really is with them on this, more so than on most contentious issues. More centrist Democrats running in competitive red-state races -- in Missouri and Kentucky, for example -- have already sided with the GOP position, but in general, Dems need not fear a backlash. Their position in this election season is the popular one.

As for small businesses, Krugman noted how wrong Republican talking points are, but I'd just add that if the GOP really care about this segment of the economy, it wouldn't have blocked a vote on a paid-for package of small-business tax breaks and incentives.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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ENERGIZING MORE THAN JUST THE GOP BASE.... For nearly eight years, the right had a simple mantra when it came to defending the Bush/Cheney White House against criticism from the left: liberals were emboldening terrorists. If there was another large-scale attack, it'd be our fault.

It's hard to overstate how common this was. The left was constantly reminded that al Qaeda had access to modern communications, and could monitor American media. If Democrats, liberals, and other Bush detractors made us appear divided in a time of crisis, and sent a signal to the world that the Commander in Chief lacked Americans' support, we'd look weak and invite terrorism. Progressives in America, the argument went, were -- deliberately or not -- helping our enemies.

In the summer of 2010, it's interesting to see just how much has changed.

Islamic radicals are seizing on protests against a planned Islamic community center near Manhattan's Ground Zero and anti-Muslim rhetoric elsewhere as a propaganda opportunity and are stepping up anti-U.S. chatter and threats on their websites.

One jihadist site vowed to conduct suicide bombings in Florida to avenge a threatened Koran burning, while others predicted an increase in terrorist recruits as a result of such actions. [...]

A U.S. official on Sunday said the administration was taking the upswing in anti-U.S. chatter seriously. "Terrorists like al-Qaeda and its violent allies are motivated already to try to attack the United States, but when it comes to propaganda, extremists are pure opportunists. They'll use whatever they can," the official said.

And the right is giving them all kinds of fodder to work with, isn't it?

"We are handing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup," with the Islamic-center controversy, said Evan Kohlmann, an independent terrorism consultant at Flashpoint Partners who monitors jihadist websites.

Just to be very clear here, I'm not suggesting Republicans and conservative activists are siding with terrorists, or doing their bidding. While words like "treason," "traitor," "fifth columnists," and "Tokyo Rose" comparisons were thrown around casually by prominent conservatives from 2001 to 2008, I think it'd be a mistake for the left to play a similarly odious game now.

I do, however, find it interesting that the same people who said liberal rhetoric literally undermined U.S. national security interests during the Bush era seem largely oblivious to the international effects of their right-wing activism now.

Whether Republicans realize it or not, by pitting Americans against one another, and using anti-Islam animus as an election-season strategy, the right is motivating more than just the GOP base.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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A SIMPLE QUESTION THAT DESERVES A SIMPLE ANSWER.... Way back in March 2008, Hillary Clinton was asked on "60 Minutes" about right-wing rumors that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim. Steve Kroft said, "You said you'd take Senator Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim. You don't believe that he's..." to which Clinton replied, "No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know."

In context, there was nothing particularly problematic about the response, but the qualifier -- "as far as I know" -- generated some controversy.

More than two years later, as a consequence of our often-ridiculous public discourse, the subject continues to generate discussion and confusion. On "Meet the Press" yesterday, David Gregory asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the large chunk of the country that believes the nonsense about the president's faith. McConnell initially tried to stick to his talking points, saying, "The president's faith in the government to stimulate the economy is what people are questioning."

Gregory kept at it, before McConnell twice said, "I take the president at his word."

Jon Chait hears a dog-whistle.

To say that you "take him at his word" means two things. First of all, it suggests that the president's word is the only information we have to go on here. Of course, that is absurd. Second, if further suggests that, the evidence being weak or inconclusive, McConnell is taking the high road by accepting Obama's testimony.

The formulation is a way of putatively siding with the truth so that he can't be pilloried by the media, while subtly suggesting that he is open to the views of Americans who think Obama is Muslim. And, of course, if reporters recognize the sneaky little game he's playing and demand a stronger formulation, all the better! It gets more chatter about Obama and possibly being a Muslim into the news.

McConnell used the formulation twice. It's not an accident.

In fairness, McConnell, after pointing to what the president has said about his own faith, added, "I don't think that's in dispute." That's closer to what the official party line should be, but it's still short.

The correct answer is to dismiss nonsense because it's nonsense. President Obama is a Christian. He's professed his Christian faith. He and his family were members of a Christian church. He's offered public testimony about his faith, and started a prayer circle in the White House with Christian pastors. Muslims don't do any of these things.

The Americans who perceive the president as a secret Muslim are wrong. McConnell should have the courage to say so.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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ARMEY DEMANDS 'COURAGE' ON RADICAL RYAN ROADMAP.... Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the far-right lawmaker who'll head the House Budget Committee if Republicans take the House, has a fairly radical budget plan -- he calls it a "Roadmap for America's Future" -- which his party's leadership has been reluctant to embrace.

Dick Armey, apparently, is sick of it.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) on Sunday said lawmakers who have not signed onto Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to balance the budget lacked "courage" and could be targeted by the conservative tea party movement as a result.

Armey's comments on NBC's "Meet the Press" came just moments after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped a question about Ryan's plan, which looks to balance the budget by reinventing slimmer versions of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code.... [...]

"All Paul Ryan is saying is let Social Security be voluntary, let Medicare be voluntary," Armey said. "The fact that he only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats -- the difference between being a co-sponsor of Ryan or not is a thing called courage."

As a substantive matter, Armey's description of Ryan's proposal is absurd. The "roadmap" is a right-wing fantasy, slashing taxes on the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. The plan calls for privatizing Social Security and gutting Medicare, and fails miserably in its intended goal -- cutting the deficit. As Paul Krugman recently explained, the Ryan plan "is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."

Having said all of that, let's not be too quick to dismiss the larger political point of Dick Armey's complaints. After all, Ryan's plan may be ridiculous, and it may seek to radically transform governmental institutions and Americans' way of life, but it's also a fairly explicit summary of how Republicans would like to govern.

Ryan himself has conceded that his GOP colleagues are too afraid to endorse a plan they agree with: "They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this.'"

To this extent, Armey raises a reasonable argument: if Paul is putting on paper what Republicans really believe, why don't they have the courage of their convictions? Why not have the guts to endorse a budget plan that reflects their actual thinking?

Armey and Ryan think the radical roadmap should be part of the debate -- and oddly enough, I couldn't agree more. 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?

The leading GOP official on budget issues has presented a proposal. It's not unreasonable to think every Republican candidate should say, before November, whether they think it's a plan worth pursuing.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MCCONNELL EITHER DOESN'T KNOW OR DOESN'T CARE.... Just two weeks ago on "Meet the Press," David Gregory separately asked House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) how they intended to pay for their top priority: extending Bush-era tax policies for millionaires and billionaires. Both refused to answer, despite persistent follow-up questions.

Yesterday was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) turn. Gregory asked a question McConnell had to know was coming: "You and other Republicans would like to see the Bush-era tax cuts extended. The president, of course, wants to repeal them except for those on the wealthiest Americans; in other words, those taxes would go up. What are you prepared to do to pay for an extension of tax cuts for everybody?" McConnell dodged, saying the Democratic plan would hurt small businesses, which is demonstrably false.

So, Gregory tried again. McConnell replied, "Well, what, what, what, what are you talking about paid for? This is existing tax policy. It's been in place for 10 years."

Back and forth they went. The fifth time, Gregory noted that extending all of the Bush-era tax policies would add over $3 trillion to the debt over the next decade. "Do you have a plan to pay for that extension?" he asked. McConnell wouldn't budge: "You're talking about current tax policy. Why did all it of a sudden become something that may 'paid for'?"

I go back and forth on whether McConnell is strikingly ignorant about the basics of public policy, or a shrewd political hack who knows the truth, but hopes to deceive voters. There's evidence to support the former, but overall, I'd say the jury's still out.

But whether he's lying or foolish, McConnell's remarks yesterday on tax policy reflect the perspective of someone who has no idea what he's talking about. His remarks were just gibberish. As he sees it, Bush's tax policies, which Republicans set to expire at the end of the year, can be extended indefinitely, and it wouldn't add a penny to the debt, because those tax policies currently exist.

No sensible person could possibly believe such transparent nonsense. The facts are stubborn: "Extending them for the next 10 years would add about $3.8 trillion to a growing national debt that is already the largest since World War II. About $700 billion of that reflects the projected costs of tax cuts for those in the top 2 percent of income-earners."

That Mitch McConnell, a man who may be Senate Majority Leader next year, at least pretends not to understand this, does not speak well of Republican intellectual integrity at a critical time.

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

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August 22, 2010

CHANGE CAN APPARENTLY ONLY MOVE IN ONE DIRECTION.... I'm generally inclined to leave criticism of Pete Wehner, the former aide to Karl Rove and Minister of Propaganda for the Bush administration, to Jon Chait -- who seems to enjoy it.

But this Wehner gem deserves special attention. Politico ran an interesting item about the culture war, and the ways in which the right has responded to the Obama presidency by starting a fight over "whether he's moving the country toward socialism and over the very definition of what it means to be American." Wehner's insights on the subject were ridiculous, but important.

Pete Wehner, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration and a social conservative thinker, described the resistance to Obama as "beyond politics."

"What we're having here are debates about first principles," Wehner said. "A lot of people think he's trying to transform the country in a liberal direction in the way that Ronald Reagan did in a conservative direction. This is not the normal push and pull of politics. It gets down to the purpose and meaning of America."

Read that quote again, because it's really significant -- Obama wants to move America to the left to the same extent that Reagan moved it to the right. This, Wehner believes, is "beyond politics" and falls outside "the normal push and pull" of our political system.

Now, whether Obama really is fulfilling Wehner's vision -- serving as a liberal counter-weight to Reaganism -- is open to debate. Hell, whether Reagan really succeeded in pulling the country to the right, by the standards of 21st-century conservatives, is itself worthy of skepticism. But the key here is Wehner's overarching contention -- politics in the United States can change, but it's only allowed to move in one direction. Reagan's conservative agenda was within American norms, because it was conservative. Obama's progressive agenda deserves to be labeled radical because it's not conservative.

A Democratic presidential candidate can present a progressive agenda to the electorate; that candidate can be easily elected, giving that agenda a mandate; and in office, that successful candidate can begin making compromises to move the vision forward through a labyrinthine Congress. But if the Democrat is successful, the result is necessarily at odds with "the purpose and meaning of America."

A center-left candidate, in other words, is allowed to run, and even allowed to win. He/she is not, however, allowed to govern. Why? Because it's fundamentally unacceptable -- liberalism is not part of "the normal push and pull of politics."

It's the kind of maxim that brings the larger political landscape into sharper focus.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently endorsed a very similar line of thinking a few weeks ago. He told reporters that, after the midterm elections, policymaking will have to change.

"What I hope we are going to have after November is more balance, more balance, which would give us the opportunity to do things together that simply were missing when you have this kind of disparity," McConnell said. "But, I'm not going to be very interested in doing things left of center. It is going to have to be center-right. I think the president is a flexible man. I'm hoping he will become a born-again moderate."

On its face, this seems idiotic. A "balanced" approach to lawmaking, McConnell argued, reflects a system in which the left gets nothing, and everything has to be center-right. Indeed, a "moderate" Democratic president would have no choice but to agree that every proposal be right of center.

But with Wehner's contention in mind, the coherence of McConnell's seemingly-insane demand comes through -- of course McConnell sees his way as an example of "balance"; in American politics, the left necessarily has to lose every dispute. Ideas are "balanced" if they strike a compromise between the right and the far-right.

Looking back over the last year and a half, it's hard to overstate how illustrative this is. The GOP line with the Obama White House has always been the same: "I'm willing to compromise with you, unless it means you getting some of what you want, in which case, forget it." This is precisely the kind of thinking, for example, that leads Republicans to embrace 80% of the Democratic health care plan, but nevertheless literally characterize it as "Armageddon" when it passes -- the left got some of what it wanted, which necessarily made the bill un-American.

Republicans really should just drop the pretense, and forget words like "balance" and "the normal push and pull of politics." What they mean isn't ambiguous: only Republicans should be allowed to govern, no matter what voters have to say.

Steve M. summarized this well: "If we were having an honest, well-informed discussion of modern American politics, we would acknowledge that this is what right-wingers believe: that governments to the left of a certain point simply should not be allowed to exist in America, regardless of any electoral results. And we would ask ourselves whether we still have a democracy if one party reserves the right, like guerrilla warlords, to destabilize any duly elected government that doesn't meet its criteria of acceptability."

Steve Benen 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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A U-TURN ISN'T REALLY A CHANGE IN DIRECTION.... In early July, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) delivered the weekly Republican address in the midst of some discouraging economic news. It was delivered just one day after the worst monthly jobs report since October, and amid disappointing data on construction spending and manufacturing activity. Chambliss highlighted the Republican Party's top priority: deficit reduction. The far-right senator literally didn't mention unemployment or economic growth at all.

Yesterday's GOP weekly address came under similar circumstances, coming just two days after initial claims for unemployment insurance climbed to 500,000 -- the highest since November -- and amid new concerns of an economic slowdown. And what economic message do Republicans want to emphasize?

...Representative Charles Djou, Republican of Hawaii, took Democrats to task for ignoring the minority's pleas and proposals to reduce the federal deficit. Mr. Djou called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to consider the Republicans' plan to use unspent stimulus money to close the spending gap and to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.

"If we keep spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much - if we keep doing the same things, we're going to get the same dismal results. It's time to change direction," he said.

Right, change direction back to the exact same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

The entire GOP address was devoted, not to job creation -- voters' top priority -- but to deficit reduction. "No price tag has been too high for Washington, and now we're all paying the price. Altogether, we now owe more than $43,000 for each man, woman and child in the United States. That is a frightening number."

No, an unemployment rate pushing 10% is a frightening number.

I suppose I should know better, but Republicans' misguided priorities are simply mind-numbing. Worrying about deficit reduction right now -- indeed, prioritizing it above all else -- is nothing short of crazy. Republicans want to scrap economic recovery efforts, which is insane, and want to extend Bush-era tax policies, which failed miserably and helped create the massive deficit Djou claims to be worried about.

Indeed, the context would be amusing if it weren't so transparently pathetic -- in the official GOP weekly address, the entire message was about deficit reduction, followed by an appeal for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts that Republicans have no intention of paying for.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) added on Fox News, "The bills are being passed on to our kids tomorrow, and it's a calamity."

No, a jobs crisis and an economic slowdown right now would be a calamity. And if the deficit really was such a disaster, why is Gregg demanding Congress add $678 billion to said deficit with tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?

How on earth can anyone take these guys seriously?

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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OF ALL THE THINGS TO WHINE ABOUT.... I'm embarrassed to admit, I didn't see this line of attack coming. It just seemed too ridiculous, even for Republicans, but I'm reminded why low expectations are rarely low enough with these folks.

For the second straight year, the first family has landed on this island of quaint seaside towns, second homes and working farms for a late-summer getaway.

But this year, more so than last, political opponents are trying to hang a question over the visit: Does President Obama deserve a vacation?

The Republican National Committee has taken to calling Obama "the Clark Griswold president," a mocking reference to the Chevy Chase character in National Lampoon's "Vacation" movies. With unemployment claims climbing again, the GOP was hoping its criticism would have a certain national resonance. And maybe it will.

I haven't the foggiest idea whether the public will actually hold a 10-day break against the president, but this even being a subject of discussion is bizarre.

George W. Bush presided over two recessions, two wars, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina -- but he still managed to take more time off than any president in modern history. While Bush was in the White House, he tended not to work too hard -- he was known for scheduling plenty of time for exercise during the day, and liked to knock off early -- but Bush also spent time away from the White House with a frequency unseen in generations, taking more and longer breaks than any of his 20th-century predecessors.

Before 2000, the president with the most vacation time in the modern era was Reagan. Bush not only beat Reagan's record, he did so with 17 months to spare. Spanning his two terms, Bush spent 487 days at Camp David, and 490 days at a ranch in Crawford. That's a total of 977 days -- about a third of his overall presidency.

And Republicans are going after Obama's down time? Seriously?

Consider the tale of the tape. Estimates vary slightly, but the Washington Post, citing data from CBS's Mark Knoller, the unofficial keeper of such things, said Obama has taken 48 days off since his inauguration. At this point in Bush's presidency, he'd taken 155 days off. (An AP estimate puts both numbers slightly higher.)

Note, Bush took all this time off during 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.

Does the GOP really want to start a discussion about who qualifies as "The Clark Griswold president"?

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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NO WONDER HUGHES' DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS WERE UNSUCCESSFUL.... It's been relatively heartening to see some leading Bush/Cheney aides step up and denounce the right's attacks on the Park51 proposal. Mark McKinnon, a former Bush strategist said his own party is "reinforcing al Qaeda's message." Michael Gerson, Bush's former chief speechwriter, has expressed similar sentiments.

If anyone should understand this, it's Karen Hughes, who, despite not having background in diplomacy or international affairs, was the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2005 to 2007. Her principal task: put America's best foot forward in the Middle East, making clear to the Muslim world that the United States treats all people with dignity and respect.

By all appearances, Hughes wasn't especially adept at her job. She tended to talk down to her foreign audiences, offered the kind of schlock that no one in the Middle East wanted, and lectured them about the inadequacies of their culture.

With that in mind, I suppose it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Hughes is now arguing that the proposed Park51 building should be relocated -- not because the critics are correct, but because it'd be awfully nice of Feisal Abdul Rauf and his partners to accommodate those who can't tell the difference between mainstream, law-abiding Muslim Americans and radical terrorists who've tried to hijack Islam.

[I]t is so important that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation make what I fully understand would be a very difficult choice: to locate their mosque elsewhere. Putting the mosque at a different site would demonstrate the uncommon courtesy sometimes required for us to get along in our free and diverse society.

I recognize that I am asking the imam and his congregation to show a respect that has not always been accorded to them. But what a powerful example that decision would be. Many people worry that this debate threatens to deepen resentments and divisions in America; by choosing a different course, Rauf could provide a path toward the peaceful relationships that he and his fellow Muslims strive to achieve. And this gesture of goodwill could lead us to a more thoughtful conversation to address some of the ugliness this controversy has engendered.

It's a curious argument. Most of Hughes' case is quite reasonable -- explaining that Muslim Americans have the same rights as everyone else, emphasizing why Rauf and terrorists have nothing in common -- right up until she gets to her recommendation. In effect, Hughes believes it's up to Park51's developers to simply give in to a heckler's veto, accommodating those who dislike Muslims by giving them what they want.

No wonder Hughes was so bad at foreign policy.

She added a provocative comparison, which was actually quite thought-provoking.

In 2005, when I was at the State Department, a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The debate around the world was heated and strikingly similar to this one. It pitted those supporting the right of a free press to publish anything, no matter how offensive, against those who took to the streets and threatened death to the cartoonists.

Many of those citing freedom as they advocate locating the mosque near Ground Zero were on the other side of the argument when it came to the cartoons. At that time, I joined with many Muslim friends in saying that while newspapers were free to publish the offensive materials, I hoped they would show respect and restraint and decide against it. That is an instructive model now.

It is, indeed. As I recall, U.S. conservatives strongly supported the publication of those cartoons -- some even re-published them on far-right blogs. What was paramount, they said, was First Amendment principles. Those who were offended, they argued at the time, would just have to get over it. Free people don't bend to the will an intolerant mob. Does the right still believe this or not?

Hughes concluded:

I suspect that the terrorists might celebrate its presence as a twisted victory over our society's freedoms.

That's hopelessly backwards. Terrorists, by all available evidence, desperately want the West to treat the Muslim mainstream as second-class citizens. They want the United States to discriminate. It helps terrorists when we blur the line between violent radicals and peaceful Americans.

Hughes's advice is deeply misguided, and best left ignored by everyone involved.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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August 21, 2010

THE CULTURE WAR IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE CULTURE WAR.... Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) recently caused a stir in far-right circles when he suggested it might be time for a "truce" in the culture wars. Many conservatives assumed he was referring to a shift in emphasis away from the traditional hot-button, right-wing wedge issues -- and they were right; that's exactly what Daniels meant.

For a generation or two, the culture war was fairly specific, at least to the extent that everyone knew what we were fighting about. The "God, gays, and guns" label was largely effective for a reason.

What did culture warriors want? School prayer, a prohibition on flag burning, access to firearms, Ten Commandments displays all over the place, distrust of the United Nations, and extensive legal restrictions on abortion rights, gays, and drug use. Broadly speaking, the larger effort has been anti-feminist, anti-secular, anti-diversity, and pro-nationalism. The culture war was a right-wing initiative, but it was always far more authoritarian than "small government."

By 2008, this culture war seemed largely over -- the American mainstream, facing real problems, just didn't want to hear it anymore. Dems gave up on gun control; fights over school prayer seemed antiquated; no one was running around burning flags; fears of black helicopters became more amusing; the nation still didn't want to see Roe v. Wade overturned; and gay Americans were part of the American mainstream. Conservatives wanted to change the culture, and they failed.

But in the Obama era, we're seeing less of an armistice and more of an evolution. Right-wing tribalism and jingoism haven't faded at all -- they remain the foundation for conservative activism -- but the focus, at least for now, is on a different slate of issues and a more radical legislative wish-list.

So, instead of the right demanding a bunch of new constitutional amendments, conservatives now want to start repealing old ones -- protecting the 2nd Amendment suddenly seems far less interesting than gutting the 14th. Complaints about "welfare queens" are out, while whining about "anchor babies" is in. Instead of getting worked up about erecting Ten Commandments displays, the right gets hysterical in the other direction about the construction of mosques. We hear less about secular humanists trying to destroy America, and more about immigrants.

No one asks about Obama's sex life or whether he smoked pot in college, but interest in his birth certificate generates excessive attention.

Adam Serwer had a smart take on this yesterday.

To the extent that this new culture war resembles the old one, it is in the reversal of roles -- it is the right that is now largely defined by an identity politics which perceives persecution, and possible extinction, for a culturally constructed usually white, conservative, "real American." This isn't just about Obama or his agenda, which borrows heavily from earlier conservative ideas, it's also a response to anxiety over economic insecurity and fear of ideological annihilation through demographic change. Hence the burgeoning Islamophobia and calls to repeal birthright citizenship. [...]

[I]f Obama's election was a referendum on what it means to be an American, then the right's response can be seen as a large scale attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the results.... Sadly, Obama didn't end the culture war, his election just ushered in a new one. To the right, Obama's election wasn't a call for truce, it was a deliberate escalation.

The wedge strategies haven't gone away, they're finding new fulcrums.

The culture war is dead; long live the culture war.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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ABOUT THOSE JOB LOSSES.... It's pretty obvious that the U.S. market has been in a crisis situation for far too long. By any reasonable measure, 2010 is vastly better than 2009, but with the unemployment rate pushing 10%, and initial claims for unemployment insurance climbing to 500,000 last week, the scope of the problem is enormous.

But that's no excuse for partisan nonsense. House Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) issued a "report" yesterday, showing that -- get this -- the nation has lost jobs over the last year and a half. "While Democrats promised their 2009 stimulus would create 3.7 million jobs, the reality is far different," stated a release from Camp's office. "To date, 2.6 million jobs, including 2.5 million private sector jobs, have been lost."

This is lazy, intellectually dishonest drivel. That it's coming from someone who may be the next chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is more than a little distressing.

Even a House Republican should be able to understand the reality here. When the Recovery Act passed, the economy was in freefall. When President Obama was sworn into office, the economy was losing nearly 800,000 jobs a month. By Camp's absurd reasoning, a recovery effort that didn't magically transform the entire economy, and instantly stop the job losses, necessarily constitutes failure. It's the kind of ridiculous argument one might hear from a partisan hack, desperate to score a cheap, baseless point, but leading members of Congress should know better.

job_losses_before_and_after_obama%27s_policies.png

Consider this chart Ezra Klein recently posted. The point isn't that the stimulus was perfect -- it should have been much bigger, not smaller as Camp would have hoped -- but rather, that the job losses predate the policies advanced by the Obama administration. (It's based on data economist Rob Shapiro put together, using Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.)

I realize guys like Camp have a petty little game to play. They either don't understand public policy very well, assume the public doesn't understand public policy very well, or perhaps a little of both. But independent analyses of the administration's recovery efforts show that they prevented a catastrophe. The administration should have done much more -- in other words, it should have moved much further away from what Republican proposed -- but the objective evidence is nevertheless clear.

Camp's entire approach to economics has been thoroughly discredited, and at a moment of crisis, he and his GOP colleagues got it very wrong. He has a reason to be embarrassed, not a reason to publish silly reports.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a setback for the Dove World Outreach Center, the radical Florida church that plans to commemorate Sept. 11 with a Koran-burning ceremony.

Turns out there's one thing they weren't counting on: a local Fire Department that's stingy with outdoor fire permits.

According to the Gainesville Sun, fire chief Gene Prince told the church "that under the city's fire prevention ordinance, an open burning of books is not allowed." Turns out town code 10-63, a "General prohibition on outdoor burning and open burning," specifically outlaws the burning of (section 6) "Newspaper" and (7) "Corrugated cardboard, container board, office paper."

Apparently, bound copies of Islam's holy text fall into those categories.

As of yesterday, Dove World didn't seem especially fazed by the setback. In an email to supporters, it announced: "City of Gainesville denies burn permit -- BUT WE WILL STILL BURN KORANS." [all caps in the original]

Local officials have said the fundamentalist outfit could face fines if it moves forward with its fire party without a permit, which could be a problem -- the church is already facing significant debt, including an inability to pay its $140,000 mortgage.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A Missouri law banning protests near any funerals, processions, or memorial services -- intended to discourage the disgusting Westboro Baptist Church -- was ruled unconstitutional this week by a federal judge.

* The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously this week that the state of Utah cannot legally erect 12-foot crosses on public land to honor troopers who died in the line of duty. While the state tried to argue that the Christian cross could be seen as a secular symbol -- seriously -- the three-judge panel disagreed, concluding that the displays reflected government preference for Christianity. (Of the three judges who heard the case, two were appointed by Reagan, the other by George W. Bush.)

* The Roman Catholic Church's international scandal involving the sexual abuse of children continues to spark new litigation. The latest suit involves seven church victims in California. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

* The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer now believes the war in Iraq was a failure -- because the United States failed to turn Iraq into a Christian nation.

* If U.S. troops faced punishment for not attending a Christian concert at a U.S. Army post in Virginia, that's a serious problem. (thanks to J.B. for the tip)

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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NEVADA REPUBLICANS GET RESTLESS.... While some of the nuttier statewide candidates running this year are political novices, Nevada's Sharron Angle (R) actually has some experience in government. Indeed, she's following a more traditional trajectory -- she served in local office, then in the state legislature, and now wants to go to Washington.

But for all of the discussion about her extremist ideas and radical proposals, it's easy to forget that Sharron Angle's tenure in Nevada offices has long been considered something of a joke. On the local school board, Angle fought against the color of a school's athletic jerseys, because she thought black was demonic. In the state legislature, Angle was named -- by a conservative newspaper -- the worst lawmaker in Nevada (she won the "award" twice). Indeed, Angle was generally considered a nut by other Republicans in the state legislature, who often wanted nothing to do with her. In 2006, she lost a GOP congressional primary, and in 2008, she lost a state Senate GOP primary.

Manu Raju spoke to some folks in northern Nevada -- Angle's former constituents -- who didn't sound especially excited about their neighbor joining the U.S. Senate.

"I hate to copy from the ads, but Sharron Angle is too extreme," said 81-year-old Reno resident Walt Mackenzie, a retiree and a registered Republican. "There are a lot of Republicans who just can't put up with the ticket she's trying to sell."

State Sen. Bill Raggio has represented the area since 1972, and he defeated Angle just two years ago when she launched an unexpected primary campaign against him. Asked about his thoughts on his party's U.S. Senate nominee, Raggio said, "[A]t this point, I don't have any comment."

Swadeep Nigam, a former treasurer of the Clark County Republican Party, added, "A lot of moderate Republicans are having second thoughts about her candidacy. They will not vote for Harry Reid, and they will probably not vote for Sharron Angle."

Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE NUMBERS MICHAEL STEELE DOESN'T WANT YOU TO SEE.... When a major party campaign committee waits until late on a Friday night in mid-August to release its fundraising totals, it's a safe bet the numbers aren't very good.

In general, there's been relative parity between the parties' fundraising committees, at least in recent months. We learned this week, for example, that the Democrats' Senate campaign committee did slightly better than the Republicans' counterpart in the most recent filings. Among the House committees, the NRCC did a little better than the DCCC. In both cases, Democrats have a modest edge when it comes to cash on hand.

But the real story here is the disaster for Michael Steele's Republican National Committee. The party waited until late last night to release its tally for a very simple reason -- it was objectively embarrassing.

The Republican National Committee spent twice as much as it raised in July, leaving the committee with just over $5 million on hand with less than three months left before the 2010 midterm elections.

In a report filed with the Federal Election Commission this evening, the RNC showed $5.5 million raised and more than $11 million spent -- including $1.5 million in transfers to state party committees -- last month. The committee ended July with $5.3 million in the bank and $2.2 million in debt.

The Democratic National Committee raised and spent $11.6 million in July, including nearly $4 million in transfers to state parties. The DNC ended the period with $10.8 million. The DNC had $3.5 million in debt.

The dismal report comes less than a month after RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen accused Chairman Michael Steele of hiding $7 million in debts; the RNC filed amended reports in July detailing $3 million in previously unreported debts.

How humiliated was the RNC? While parties routinely issue press announcements, putting their best spin on their fundraising filings, last night, the RNC said literally nothing. The only reason the media found out about the filing was that the Democratic National Committee tracked it down and flagged it for reporters.

That's the good news for Dems. The bad news is this is just part of a more complicated landscape.

The RNC's humiliating problems are likely to undermine the party's get-out-the-vote efforts, but when it comes to finances, it's worth remembering that the other Republican committees -- NRCC, NSCC, and the Republican Governors Association -- are all doing pretty well. What's more, Republican candidates will get a boost from corporate allies intervening in the cycle in ways unseen in generations, while Karl Rove's various shady operations keep filling their coffers to finance deceptive attack ads for the fall.

And then, of course, there's the unpleasant fact that voters aren't happy with a struggling economy, and seem more inclined to punish the majority party anyway.

Steele's "leadership" no doubt brings a smile to the faces of leading Democratic officials, but Dems will need more than RNC embarrassments to salvage the cycle.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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August 20, 2010

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

* Once more, back to the table: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians would resume direct negotiations in Washington on Sept. 2, awakening hopes for the Middle East peace process but leaving many key questions unanswered. Mrs. Clinton said that she hoped an agreement could be reached within a year and that the negotiations would cover all the so-called 'final status' issues."

* Four new White House recess appointments: "Maria del Carmen Aponte to chief of mission for the Republic of El Salvador; Elisabeth Hagen to undersecretary for food safety at the Department of Agriculture; Winslow Sargeant to chief counsel of advocacy for the Small Business Administration; and Richard Sorian to assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services." None is considered especially controversial

* I'm glad to see the Chamber of Commerce back off its ridiculous blog post about the gender pay gap. The Chamber's COO David Chavern called his own blog's piece "simplistic and misguided," adding that it was built on "an argument from the 1960's."

* Charles Krauthammer should know that when he picks a fight with Greg Sargent, Greg is going to make him look bad.

* It's probably an inconvenient time to mention it, but the World Trade Center was a work of Islamic architecture.

* Some of the common perceptions about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's background aren't true.

* The significance of Viktor Bout being extradited to the U.S.

* When bad schemes go awry: "It seemed like a brilliant idea: provide a way for tea party-conscious consumers and tea party-sympathetic businesses to join forces and, well, support their local tea party. It ended in disaster, hurt feelings and more than a few accusations of flim-flammery."

* If the company had it to do over again, I suspect Target wouldn't be foolish enough to get involved in Minnesota's gubernatorial race.

* I do enjoy it when Adam Serwer uses video games to make broader political observations.

* It's a whole lot easier for students to pay their own way through college when tuition isn't excessively, crushingly expensive.

* Bill O'Reilly told Glenn Beck he'll give Beck his timeslot if more than 100,000 people show up for next week's right-wing rally in D.C. Bad idea: "It doesn't really matter how many people show up for Beck's rally. If 10,000 people turn out, he'll say there were a quarter of a million people in attendance. If 100,000 people do actually show up, he'll say there were nearly a billion people there. And Fox News will have his back, breathlessly inflating the turn out estimates, all evidence to the contrary be damned."

* And selective outrage about the "N-word" is never a good idea.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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DEPARTMENT OF POTS AND KETTLES.... Back in April, CNN Rick Sanchez had an unfortunate moment on the air in which he said Iceland is "too cold to have a volcano." He may have been kidding -- it's hard to tell -- but it obviously wasn't one of Sanchez's best moments.

Yesterday, deranged media personality Glenn Beck aired the months-old clip of Sanchez's mistake, using it as evidence to argue that Sanchez is "the dumbest man ever on television."

For the record, Sanchez generally isn't my cup of tea, and his volcano joke was pretty foolish, so I'm not inclined to offer much of a defense. But for Glenn Beck to describe anyone on television as dumb is just astounding. It's the equivalent of Sarah Palin accusing someone of being ignorant. Or Mark Kirk* accusing someone of exaggerating their personal background. Or David Vitter accusing someone of lacking character and integrity. Or Sharron Angle accusing someone of being a lunatic.

George Zornick highlights a few of Beck's greatest hits.

* Beck reveals that President Obama is an "oligarh"

* Beck also misspells "heroes" and "villains" live on-air.

* Beck plays Connect Four against himself, and cheats.

* Beck displayed a graphic demonstrating that Silas from "The Da Vinci Code" is a member of ACORN.

Beck said of Sanchez, "I honestly don't know how the man ties his own shoes." If I had a nickel for every time I've had the same thought about Beck, I could retire wealthy.

* fixed

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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HAVE I MENTIONED LATELY HOW 'SPECIAL' MIAMI IS?.... Having been born and raised in Miami, Fla., before escaping moving in the mid-90s, I have a special fondness for news stories that highlight South Florida's unique political culture.

For example, David M. Rivera is generating some headlines this week for some unusual elements to his background. Rivera is a Florida state representative, and the head of the Miami area's Republican Party, who's currently running for the open, competitive U.S. House seat in Florida's 25th district.

And what is it, exactly, that makes Rivera interesting? Nicole Allan offers a helpful summary of things we've learned about the candidate this week.

* In 1994, a woman named Jenia Dorticos filed for a domestic-violence restraining order against a man named David M. Rivera. Dorticos dropped the restraining order after a month and did not file criminal charges. Rep. Rivera, whose middle initial is M, claims he has never met Dorticos, who, when contacted, claims she has never met him. She filed the order against a different David M. Rivera, she says.

* So what's the problem, then? Dorticos' mother is a Cuban TV personality who is friendly with Rivera and has worked for his campaign. A Miami woman claims that ten years ago, Dorticos and Rivera attended a party at her house as a couple, along with Dorticos' mother (Dorticos and Rivera deny this claim).

* In his first campaign for the Florida House in 2002, Rivera faced a Republican opponent named Rainier Gonzalez. A few days before the primary, Gonzalez released a flier with a photo of Dorticos' petition for a restraining order along with side-by-side photos of Rivera and a woman with a black eye.

* Around the same time, Rivera was involved in a fender-bender on a Florida highway -- with a truck carrying Gonzalez's attack ads against him. Rivera claims that he wanted to retrieve his own fliers, which the truck was also carrying, because he didn't know the company that made them was also working for Gonzalez's campaign. An alternate account holds that Rivera forced the truck off the road in order to stall delivery of Gonzalez's ads past the 6 p.m. mailing deadline.

Ordinarily, candidates accused of domestic assault and running trucks off the highway to cover up his misdeeds have some trouble getting elected. But Miami is Miami, and it's likely all this week has done is improve Mr. Rivera's name recognition.

On a related note, if Rivera's name sounds familiar, he's the same guy who co-owned a home in Tallahassee with Marco Rubio, before they stopped making payments and the home went into foreclosure (a detail Rivera was less than honest about when first asked).

Allan notes, "Campaign scandals are weirder in Florida," a sentiment I heartily endorse. There's a reason Carl Hiaasen's novels are so funny -- they really don't have to stretch reality very much.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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HOW MUCH 'MORE AGGRESSIVE' CAN THEY BE?.... Disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) chatted with ABC's Brian Ross this week, and the ethically-challenged exterminator turned politician turned reality-show star offered some advice to his party.

Despite the corruption and lobbying scandals that ensnared Republicans in Congress and triggered a Democratic resurgence over the past decade, Tom DeLay has only one piece of advice for GOP leaders as they attempt to retake the House in the upcoming midterm elections: Be more aggressive.

"The biggest change that I think they need [is] to be more aggressive at turning back the Obama agenda," the former House majority leader told ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross....

Now, I'd really like to hear about how this is possible. At this point, congressional Republicans oppose everything President Obama suggests, even when the president agrees with the GOP. DeLay's former colleagues have accused the president of being like Hitler, equated inconsequential flare ups with Watergate, questioned his citizenship status, heckled him during an address to a joint session, and have raised the specter of impeachment for no apparent reason.

If congressional Republicans were to be "more aggressive," I'm fairly certain the Secret Service would have to get involved.

DeLay added that he remains close friends with disgraced former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Perhaps the most striking moment of the 20-minute interview came when Ross asked DeLay if he felt there were any lessons to take from the Abramoff scandal and an era in which free-spending lobbyists lavished members of congress with meals, trips, and campaign donations.

"None at all," DeLay said, staring blankly.

He's quite a piece of work.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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JOHNSON'S SUNSPOT GAFFE, ON VIDEO.... Ron Johnson (R), taking on Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in Wisconsin this year, has proven to be one of 2010's nuttiest candidates. It's why his campaign team has generally shielded him from speaking to the media, which might ask him to talk about his beliefs and policy positions, which in turn would cost him votes.

This week, however, Johnson sat down with editors and reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he proceeded to explain why he rejects all scientific evidence related to global warming, which he described as "lunacy," and its supporters as "crazy." Asked about his own perceptions, Johnson said global warming is likely the result of "sunspot activity," which doesn't make any sense.

Today, Greg Sargent posts a video of the exchange, which, if anything, makes the bizarre candidate appear slightly worse. We learn, for example, that Johnson believes it's "a little absurd for anybody to think, Okay, this is the sweet spot in geologic time for climate. And it's such a good place, that we have spent trillions of dollars, and do great harm to our economy, on a fool's errand."

As Greg added, "I wonder if the countless scientists studying this issue ever asked themselves whether their scientific models allowed for the possibility that they were erroneously designating this moment geological time's climate change 'sweet spot.'"

In the larger context, Feingold clearly seems vulnerable this year, but I can't help but wonder what the race would have been like in Wisconsin if Republicans had nominated someone less transparently foolish. That isn't to say Johnson can't win -- polls suggest he's very competitive -- but this appears to be another example in which a ridiculous GOP nominee might save a Democrat's skin.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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IT'S NOT JUST SHOW RUNNERS.... Kevin Drum flags an interesting Wall Street Journal article about television writers who get even with their detractors in their scripts. For example, Entertainment Weekly TV critic Ken Tucker was frequently critical of USA Network's "Psych." After a number of negative reviews, "Ken Tucker" became the name of a psychotic killer.

"It was never 'Dr. Tucker' or just 'Ken.' It was always 'Did Ken Tucker eviscerate the body?'" USA original programming chief Jeff Wachtel said.

But it's worth noting that this method of revenge isn't limited to TV writers. The article reminded me of a story from a few years ago, in which Mike Crowley at The New Republic wrote a terrific-but-scathing cover story, blasting novelist Michael Crichton for his climate-change denials, partisanship, anti-intellectualism, and general hackery. (This was in 2006, a couple of years before Crichton died.)

Several months later, Crowley picked up a new Crichton novel and found a character named Mick Crowley. Here's what Crichton wrote (warning: this is awful, graphic content):

Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers. Crowley was a wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate and heir to a pharmaceutical fortune....

It turned out Crowley's taste in love objects was well known in Washington, but [his lawyer] -- as was his custom -- tried the case vigorously in the press months before the trial, repeatedly characterizing Alex and the child's mother as "fantasizing feminist fundamentalists" who had made up the whole thing from "their sick, twisted imaginations." This, despite a well-documented hospital examination of the child. (Crowley's penis was small, but he had still caused significant tears to the toddler's rectum.)

Crichton went on to describe the Mick Crowley character as a "weasel" and a "dickhead," and, later, "that political reporter who likes little boys."

The author wasn't subtle. Mike Crowley (real person) is a political reporter; Mick Crowley (Crichton's character) is a political reporter. Mike Crowley went to Yale; Mick Crowley went to Yale. Mike Crowley wrote a scathing criticism of Crichton, Mick Crowley is a child rapist in Crichton's book written just months after the TNR article was published.

All things being equal, Ken Tucker had it easy.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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CON AIR.... It was hard to imagine the Brent Furer story getting worse for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) -- but it has.

To briefly recap, Furer is the aide Vitter kept on his taxpayer-financed payroll, despite Furer having held his ex-girlfriend hostage, threatening to kill her, and attacking her with a knife. The right-wing, scandal-plagued senator knew about this, and not only kept Furer on his staff, but tasked him with helping oversee women's issues for the Senate office. Making matters worse, Vitter, when asked about this, appears to have lied.

Furer had also been arrested on four other occasions -- three times for DUI, and once for cocaine possession. We're learning this week that Vitter used taxpayer dollars to send Furer to Louisiana, apparently so he could defend himself against some of his criminal charges.

Democrats think they have David Vitter dead to rights. Travel records, they say, indicate that Vitter's one-time aide Brent Furer twice used taxpayer money to travel to Louisiana to defend himself in court on drunk driving charges. Those same records suggest that Furer seldom traveled to Louisiana on congressional business. [...]

That contradicts Vitter's official response to the suggestion that Furer attended court dates on the taxpayer dime. In a statement to the Advocate in Baton Rouge, Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado, said Vitter was unaware of the drunk driving charges at the time, and added "It is standard for our Washington legislative staff to visit Louisiana periodically for meetings."

Furer, it turns out, almost never went to Louisiana on official business in the five years he worked for Vitter -- and half the time he did, it just happened to coincide with one of his court dates.

This is especially interesting given that Vitter went after his Democratic opponent, Rep. Charlie Melancon, for using his congressional account to lease an SUV. By comparison, Vitter seems to have used our money to pay for a violent criminal to travel to Louisiana to make court dates.

I realize Louisiana is pretty conservative, and it's looking like a Republican year. But it's hard not to wonder just how much tolerance voters will have in a situation like this. Initially, it looked like Vitter betraying his family by hiring prostitutes -- after having run on a "family-values" platform -- would be his most serious controversy. But in recent months, Vitter's hooker problem has become just a piece in a large, ugly puzzle.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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I GUESS SHE'S NOT A RAIDERS FAN.... It's easy to forget, but before Sharron Angle (R) said a lot of crazy things as a U.S. Senate candidate, she said a lot of crazy things at a local level. In 1992, for example, Angle ran for a county school board.

One of her big issues at the time? Angle opposed a local high school using black athletic jerseys, which she considered un-Christian and wicked. She won, and the jerseys changed to a different color. Asked about this the other day, Angle didn't quite deny it, but said it wasn't relevant to the Senate race.

Jon Chait's reaction was very much in line with my own.

One of the reasons I've been fascinated with Sharron Angle's Senate campaign is that she is not merely a candidate with extremely radical views, like Rand Paul, she inhabits an ideological grey area where radicalism starts to become indistinguishable with actual mental illness. [...]

I can see why conservatives would want to look the other way from Angle's looniness. Knocking off Harry Reid is a delicious opportunity for the GOP, and Angle would be a reliable party vote against President Obama's agenda. But isn't there some risk in identifying your party with such an obviously crazy person?

That need not be a rhetorical question. Republican hatred for Harry Reid is practically limitless, but exactly how many GOP leaders look at Sharron Angle and conclude that the nation will be well served by her service in the United States Senate? For that matter, how many of them believe Republicans' reputation will be improved by supporting someone who, by all appearances, is stark raving mad?

Ideally, one imagines responsible Republicans coming forward to announce their opposition to such extremism, much the same way then-Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia said in 1994 that he didn't want to see Oliver North join the Senate.

Any chance we'll see anything similar this year? (Don't worry, that is a rhetorical question.)

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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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.

* Bill Clinton to the rescue: "The former president has become one of the party's best salesmen. He has long been in demand to raise money for Democratic candidates, but now there is a more pressing need: raising the spirits of Democratic voters, dispensing wisdom as he works to put the party's political challenges into a broader context. A decade after he was banished from the campaign trail -- seen at the time as a liability to Vice President Al Gore's presidential ambitions -- Mr. Clinton is now the most sought-after Democrat, logging 29 stops so far this year with more to come in the fall. "

* A Kentucky cable news channel, CN2, polled the state's closely watched U.S. Senate race, and found the two challengers effectively tied. State Attorney General Jack Conway (D) had 41.7% support, while right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) had 41.2%.

* In a demonstration of just how far some Blue Dogs are willing to go, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) of Indiana has a new ad blasting cap-and-trade, calling it Nancy Pelosi's "energy tax." Donnelly is, in other words, incorporating specific Republican talking points into his re-election message.

* After a very aggressive radio ad from his primary challenger this week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is threatening to sue any in-state radio stations that agree to air the spot. Among the problems: Chet Traylor alleges in the ad that Vitter assaulted a former female opponent.

* Rep. Artur Davis, after his surprisingly awful showing in Alabama's Democratic gubernatorial primary, is lashing out at Ron Sparks, who beat him easily: "Davis' words drip with disdain and lingering bitterness, providing a pathetic and potentially final note to a political career that was once noted for its fast ascendance and seemingly limitless potential."

* The latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Bill Brady (R) leading incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in this year's gubernatorial race, 39% to 30%. Quinn's support would likely be higher, but a Green Party candidate is currently generating 11% support.

* In Florida, state CFO Alex Sink, the Dems' gubernatorial nominee, tapped former gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith yesterday as her running mate.

* And for all the talk about various potential GOP kingmakers, right-wing Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) appears to have the strongest record in helping Republicans win primaries. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

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

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A PARTY IN NEED OF A NEW START.... David Broder's column yesterday covered familiar ground -- the Washington Post columnist is still disappointed with both parties -- but there was one point in particular that stood out. (thanks to N.B. for the tip)

The Post reported earlier this week that, as Senate Republicans delay consideration of a new strategic arms treaty with Russia, the previous framework has lapsed. As a result, "for the first time in 15 years, U.S. officials have lost their ability to inspect Russian long-range nuclear bases." Broder notes the political context.

The inspections were guaranteed by the old START agreement, which expired in December. The successor treaty was negotiated in April, but the Senate has not taken it up because several Republican senators have raised questions about its possible effect on plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear fleet.

Republican Richard Lugar, probably the Senate's leading authority on nuclear disarmament, told reporter Mary Beth Sheridan that the delay "is very serious and impacts our national security."

But Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the deputy Republican leader and one of the main voices challenging the urgency of action, told Sheridan he had assumed the inspections were continuing. What a price to pay for ignorance.

Indeed, Republicans holding up the new nuclear treaty have largely ignored the lapsed nuclear checks. Kyl, who's helped lead the way in obstructing progress, was asked about the inspection cutoff. "I thought we were just going to continue doing business as usual" as the replacement treaty was debated, he said.

It's a reminder that GOP obstructionism is not only abusive of institutional and national interests, it's also often based on Republican ignorance about issues of global importance.

While we're on the subject, it's also worth noting that Kyl and his cohorts are blocking the pending New START measure, despite their support for a similar measure when Bush was president.

"This treaty is a masterstroke.... It is shorn of the tortured bench marks, sub-limits, arcane definitions and monitoring provisions that weighed down past arms control treaties," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "It assumes a degree of trust between nations that are no longer on the precipice of war."

Those were words from Kyl's floor speech on March 6, 2003, in support of ratification of the Moscow Treaty, signed nine months earlier by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The resolution for ratification passed that day without opposition, 95 to 0 with five senators absent, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), today's minority leader. Twenty-four Republicans who voted for that treaty seven years ago are in the Senate today, but not one, save possibly Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), has indicated he or she will vote for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), negotiated by President Obama's team. New START has sub-limits, definitions and monitoring provisions.

In fact, Kyl and many of the 23 other senators are critical of elements of New START that they readily accepted or ignored in the agreement they embraced seven years ago.

By all appearances, the problem is that far too many Republicans aren't just unaware of substantive details, they also govern through knee-jerk instincts -- if Obama negotiated a strong nuclear arms treaty, it must be bad, even if it's good, because Obama supports it.

Nuclear proliferation is simply too important for such petty, childish nonsense.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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THE GANG THAT ONCE CONSIDERED ITSELF THE GROWN-UP PARTY.... In an op-ed this week, I made the case that Republicans are pursuing a strategy this year that breaks with a traditional model. After a couple of humiliating election cycles, the GOP could have moved away from the far-right and positioned itself as a more mainstream party, but instead, it moved even further to the right. If it's rewarded, the strategy will only encourage more political radicalism.

The New York Times editorial board raises a related point this morning: Republicans sure have nominated a bunch of weirdos.

For months, it has been clear that Republican Congressional candidates would benefit from independent voters' dissatisfaction with President Obama. With the Republican field now largely in place, all voters might want to take a close look at who those candidates are.

The party has nominated so many at the far right of the spectrum, as well as some other unusual choices -- Linda McMahon, the candidate for the United States Senate in Connecticut made millions running the sex-and-violence spectacle known as World Wrestling Entertainment -- that the Republican brand is barely recognizable.

That point about the GOP "brand" is especially interesting. For years, Republicans really had presented themselves to voters as responsible, dependable grown-ups, unlikely to do anything radical. That "brand" has deteriorated to the point of comedy.

The editorial picked a handful of key statewide candidates -- the piece obviously could have been much longer -- but they're real doozies. The first is Ken Buck, the GOP's Senate candidate in Colorado, who wants to eliminate several cabinet agencies, repeal the 17th Amendment, and ignore church-state separation. The Times then notes Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, whose work you're probably familiar with.

The editorial also highlights Mike Lee, the GOP's Senate candidate in Utah, who has problems with the 14th and 17th Amendments, and wants to lower the liability costs for oil companies that cause extensive environmental damage.

Space concerns no doubt prevented the editorial from including more names, but if we're talking about Republicans running statewide who are very far to the right, it's only fair to also note Colorado's Dan Maes, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, Florida's Marco Rubio, and Minnesota's Tom Emmer.

The NYT's editorial concluded, "These new Republican candidates are out of touch with mainstream American values of tolerance and pretty much everything else. They need to be challenged head-on." That makes sense, of course, but I also think it matters who's doing the challenging. In 2008, more than a few Republicans broke ranks and threw their support to Barack Obama. In 2010, are there still GOP leaders willing to stand up and say their party has fallen off the rails?

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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LA TIMES WRITER FORGETS FILIBUSTERS EXIST.... Stopping by the L.A. Times' website this morning, I noticed a bizarre headline: "Obama now blames poor job numbers on congressional inaction. Wait! His party runs Congress." The emphasis was in the original.

This seemed pretty dumb on its face, so, naturally, I clicked on the link. It turned out to be another Andrew Malcolm tirade, with inane policy insights. Did you know, for example, that "employers are holding back on hiring" because of "the certainty of new taxes after Nov. 2"? Probably not, since no one who knows what they're talking about would present such nonsense as fact, especially when writing for a major newspaper.

But then we get to the heart of the matter.

According to the president, he's been "adamant" with Congress for months now about a new jobs bill to help small businesses. Obama says this really good bill is stalled in the Senate, where so much administration legislation has been crammed through so effectively by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid's been so good at it, in fact, that he's now running for his political life in a reelection campaign back in Nevada where Obama's legislation is not so popular.

Reid's up against a conservative Republican. So, That means that Harry Reid must be a Democrat, just like Obama, and just like 59% of the Senate's votes.

The very same party that has controlled both houses of Congress since the 2006 election and really controlled them both since the 2008 hopey-changey balloting.

So, facing the growing grim possibility of a GOP surge on Nov. 2, is this maybe the start of buddy-bickering within the Democratic huddle? Vulnerable people pointing the proverbial political finger of blame at someone else? That's ridiculous, of course.

I just have the hardest time understanding why the L.A. Times would publish such lazy drivel. Obama and Reid want a bill to boost small business incentives; Republicans don't. This might be "the start of buddy-bickering within the Democratic huddle"? Given that Dems agree on the policy, what does that even mean?

And if the Democratic majority wants to pass a bill, and Republicans refuse to allow an up-or-down vote, why is it "ridiculous" to blame the GOP for its obstructionism?

The point of the childish item seems to be that Democrats control Congress, so they should be able to pass what they want. That might be true, if the Senate operated by majority rule, as it used to before modern abuses became commonplace. But Malcolm's little rant acts as if filibusters don't even exist.

To be sure, Malcolm is a partisan activist. I get it. His work is intended to reflect Republican press releases, so items like these serve their intended purpose.

But shouldn't the L.A. Times, as a major news outlet, feel some qualms about paying to publish deliberately misleading nonsense?

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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FIGHTING WITH PUBLIC BACKING ON TAXES.... If it seems as if Democratic policymakers engage in debates from a defensive crouch, it's generally because they assume the public is skeptical about their position. Republicans excel in messaging and demagoguery, so Dems tend to fear voter backlashes, regardless of merit.

But when polls show the public strongly endorsing a Democratic idea, it's generally a bit of a hint that they have nothing to be afraid of.

On the issue of expiring Bush-era tax rates, for example, Republicans seem awfully confident, but its Dems who have the popular proposal.

On taxes, three in ten believe that the Bush-era tax cuts should be continued for all Americans, according to the new poll released Friday. Just over 50 percent say those tax cuts should be continued only for families who make less than $250,000 a year, as Obama has proposed. Nearly 1 in 5 meanwhile say the tax cuts should expire for all Americans.

The political winds tend to be blowing in the other direction, but this is pretty good news for Dems -- on one of the GOP's biggest issues, just 31% of the country thinks they're right. In fact, looking through the internals, voters prefer the Democratic plan in every demographic -- gender, race, age, income, and region. The only groups who prefer the GOP approach are self-identified Republicans and self-identified conservatives.

In other words, Dems can and should feel like they have the upper hand here. They're prepared to fight for lower rates for the middle- and lower-classes, while the GOP goes to bat for millionaires and billionaires.

For all the Republican bravado, this seems like a far stronger issue for Democrats. It's not a bad election-year fight to have.

On the other hand, health care continues to be a problem, with 56% disapproving of the policy. Opposition to the Affordable Care Act has fallen since it passed in March, but only slightly. To its credit, the CNN poll dug a little deeper, though, and found that opposition is not necessarily a matter of right vs. left -- 41% disapprove of the policy because it's "too liberal," 40% support the new law, and 13% oppose it because it's "not liberal enough."

So, when we hear that a "majority" oppose the ACA, keep in mind that a sizable chunk of opponents are actually liberals -- not the kind of folks who'll be inclined to vote Republican in November.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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SOMEONE BUY KRAUTHAMMER A STREET MAP.... Last week, Charles Krauthammer wrote a passionate column, condemning the idea of constructing a mosque at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. It would have been a far more persuasive piece, if anyone had actually proposed constructing a mosque at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

Krauthammer tries again today, initially blaming the "liberal intelligentsia" for, among other things, having "a singular difficulty dealing with analogies."

The Atlantic's Michael Kinsley was typical in arguing that the only possible grounds for opposing the Ground Zero mosque are bigotry or demagoguery. Well then, what about Pope John Paul II's ordering the closing of the Carmelite convent just outside Auschwitz?

Perhaps us lefties are having "difficulty dealing with analogies" because the right keeps offering foolish ones -- Auschwitz and a shut-down Burlington Coat Factory store have very little in common.

At least Richard Cohen of The Post tries to grapple with the issue of sanctity and sensitivity. The results, however, are not pretty. He concedes that putting up a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor would be offensive but then dismisses the analogy to Ground Zero because 9/11 was merely "a rogue act, committed by 20 or so crazed samurai."

Obtuseness of this magnitude can only be deliberate. These weren't crazies. They were methodical, focused, steel-nerved operatives.

Nor were they freelance rogues. They were the leading, and most successful, edge of a worldwide movement of radical Islamists with cells in every continent, with worldwide financial and theological support, with a massive media and propaganda arm, and with an archipelago of local sympathizers, as in northwestern Pakistan, who protect and guard them.

Yes, and just as soon as Krauthammer can get around to explaining why we should equate the 9/11 terrorists with Faisal Abdul Rauf -- they are, after all, complete opposites -- I'll be sure to take the argument seriously.

Radical Islam is not, by any means, a majority of Islam. But with its financiers, clerics, propagandists, trainers, leaders, operatives and sympathizers -- according to a conservative estimate, it commands the allegiance of 7 percent of Muslims, i.e., more than 80 million souls -- it is a very powerful strain within Islam. It has changed the course of nations and affected the lives of millions. It is the reason every airport in the West is an armed camp and every land is on constant alert.

Putting aside whether every airport in the West should be an armed camp, I'm not at all sure about the reliability of the numbers Krauthammer cites. But if, for the sake of argument, we concede the accuracy of the dubious claim, it's still not an argument. Krauthammer wants us to believe that 7% of world-wide Muslims are violent extremists. But is there any reason to believe those involved with the Park51 project are among that 7%? Is there anything in the American tradition that suggests we discriminate against our own, law-abiding citizens based on the beliefs and actions of radicals who claim to be part of their faith tradition?

Ground Zero is the site of the most lethal attack of that worldwide movement, which consists entirely of Muslims, acts in the name of Islam and is deeply embedded within the Islamic world. These are regrettable facts, but facts they are. And that is why putting up a monument to Islam in this place is not just insensitive but provocative.

That might make sense if Park51 was "a monument to Islam" (instead of a community center with a swimming pool and restaurant), and if the plan called for constructing the building "in this place," as opposed to a couple of blocks away at a closed clothing store.

[R]epresentatives of contemporary Islam -- the overwhelming majority of whose adherents are equally innocent of the infamy committed on 9/11 in their name -- should exercise comparable respect for what even Obama calls hallowed ground and take up the governor's offer.

The Burlington Coat Factory store is not hallowed ground, and the Gov. Paterson's offer is pretty obviously unconstitutional.

Other than all of this, though, Krauthammer's piece is a great column.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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A THREAT THAT'S FAR FROM IMMINENT.... By one widely-read account, Israel is "getting ready" to bomb Iran. Earlier this week, the Bush/Cheney ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, argued that Israel has just "eight days" to launch a strike against Iran's nuclear facility.

The Obama administration has explained that the threat isn't nearly that imminent.

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran's nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year -- and perhaps longer -- for Iran to complete what one senior official called a "dash" for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country's nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.

While Israel reportedly argued that Iran's program could be up and running within months, the U.S. believes it's at least a year away -- and that a system is in place to detect an acceleration, which would leave time for military strikes if necessary.

So, are Israeli officials inclined to believe the Obama administration's assessment? Apparently, yes. The NYT noted that Israeli officials "said their assessments were coming into line with the American view," and both countries have come to believe Iranian success on nuclear development "is unlikely anytime soon."

Indeed, there's some evidence that sanctions are having the desired effect.

To block Iran's nuclear ambitions, the United States and the European Union recently imposed harsh economic sanctions aimed at choking off Iran's energy supplies and prohibiting foreign banks from doing business with financial institutions inside the country.

Several officials said they believed the mounting cost of the economic sanctions, especially those affecting Iran's ability to import gasoline and develop its oil fields, has created fissures among Iran's political elite and forced a debate about the costs of developing nuclear weapons.

That's the good news. The bad news is all of this does not necessarily preclude a military offensive: "Even as American and Israeli officials agree that the date that Iran is likely to have a nuclear weapon has been pushed into the future, that does not mean that Israel has abandoned the idea of a possible military strike."

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

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August 19, 2010

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

* Pakistan: "As Pakistan grapples with a staggering humanitarian disaster that has left millions of people homeless and many more cut off without food or clean water, American officials both here and abroad pledged increased support to the nation on Thursday, hoping to bolster a relationship that is widely viewed as critical to stability in the region. Before heading to the United Nations to appeal for more aid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of a special fund to alleviate the suffering in Pakistan, urging American families to contribute to it directly."

* Let's try not to forget the Gulf, OK? "New research confirms the existence of a huge plume of dispersed oil deep in the Gulf of Mexico and suggests that it has not broken down rapidly, raising the possibility that it might pose a threat to wildlife for months or even years."

* According to the Congressional Budget Office, this year's deficit will be slightly smaller than last year's. (New Democratic talking point: "GOP made the deficit bigger, we're making it smaller!")

* Mike Allen's report on the administration and Social Security caused a fair amount of consternation today, but there's ample reason for skepticism.

* With 40% of Americans in their 20s moving back into their parents' house at least once, the causes seem to be economic, not social/cultural.

* I suspect we'll be hearing more anecdotes like these: "An influential Muslim GOP donor is at the end of her tether, and tells TPM she may eventually have to leave the Republican party over its opposition to the Cordoba House project and other anti-Muslim positions. 'I don't know if I'll be a Republican a year from now,' says Seeme Hasan, who chairs the Hasan Family Foundation in Colorado, and close ties to the Republican party leadership."

* When a hysterical right-wing candidate get worked up about "Coexist" bumper stickers, it's evidence of a man with too much time on his hands.

* Oh good, Dr. Laura has found a friend after her racist on-air tirade.

* Just so we're clear, 9/11 is not a place.

* Quote of the Day from Jon Stewart: "I really think, if anything, the Republicans should be paying Fox News millions and millions of dollars -- not the other way around."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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MAYBE SOMEONE SHOULD DO SOMETHING.... It's Thursday, which means the new weekly numbers are released showing initial claims for unemployment insurance. Economists expected the number to drop last week. They didn't -- the total rose to 500,000, the highest since November. After some more encouraging reports earlier in the summer, new jobless claims have gone up every week for the past month.

To put this in perspective, economists would look for the number to drop 400,000 to signal a healthier job market that can bring the unemployment rate down. Lately, we've been moving in the wrong direction. The Washington Post's Neil Irwin said this morning's report "feels more double dip-ish than tepid growth-ish."

It coincided with news from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia' that showed "manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic states shrank this month. The index fell to minus 7.7 points in August -- its lowest level since July 2009 -- from last month's 5.1 points."

With that in mind, President Obama spoke briefly this afternoon, talking up a bill to boost small business incentives, and urging Republicans that have refused to let the Senate vote on the legislation to give it consideration when lawmakers return from their recess.

"There will be plenty of time between now and November to play politics," he said. "But the small business owners I met with this week, the ones that I've met with across the country this year, they don't have time for political games. They're not interested in what's best for a political party. They're interested in what's best for the country. When Congress reconvenes, this jobs bill will be the first business out of the gate. And the Senate Republican leadership needs to stop its efforts to block it."

I get the point of remarks like these. This morning's report was an unexpected blow, and for those fearing another economic downturn, it was yet another reason to feel less confident about where we're headed. The president knows, of course, that the Senate can't vote on the small-business bill during a recess, but he made the remarks anyway, as if to say, "Don't worry, we're working on it."

But as much I often appreciate Obama's remarks for their morale-boosting qualities, this wasn't making me feel better. By any reasonable measure, the bill with small-business incentives is a good proposal, which deserves to pass. Republican opposition to it really is ridiculous. But it's not the kind of sweeping measure that's going to turn around a growing jobs crisis. It's an arrow in a quiver -- and a good one -- but we're going to need a lot more.

So, is there any good news? Reader T.K. alerted me to this report in USA Today on many domestic corporations "sharply increasing their capital spending this year," fueling hopes that "business investment could help pick up the slack and eventually spark job growth that lifts the economy from its doldrums."

Here's hoping.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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LET'S DEFINE 'FAITH'.... Andrew Malcolm -- who, like so many of his Bush White House colleagues, now works in the media -- shared some thoughts today on President Obama and public confusion about his religious beliefs.

Aides have since described Obama's religious faith as "Christian," although only 34% of poll respondents knew that, down from 48% just 60 days into his presidency.

Since the Wright break, Obama has been unaffiliated with any specific faith, like only three previous presidents in U.S. history -- Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson and his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln.

Now, Malcolm was a Bush flack*, and his partisan spin on current events is often as frustrating as it is bizarre. But since the public cites the media as the source of the confusion over the president's faith, it's worth taking a moment to emphasize just how remarkably misleading Malcolm's piece really is.

The first problem is just the writer playing a little game. "Aides" describe Obama as a Christian? Perhaps, but this makes it seem as if there's a suspect claim here. Obama describes himself as a Christian. What "aides" say is irrelevant.

The more serious issue is Malcolm claiming that "Obama has been unaffiliated with any specific faith." That's utter nonsense. Obama has been "affiliated" with Christianity throughout his adult life -- because he's a Christian, and Christianity is a specific faith.

Maybe there's some astounding theological ignorance here, but Obama has been "unaffiliated with any specific" congregation since leaving Chicago's Trinity United Church. But a congregation and a faith aren't the same thing. Not even close.

Indeed, if failing to join a specific congregation necessarily puts a president in the "unaffiliated with any specific faith" camp, the list of president grows well beyond Jefferson, Johnson, and Lincoln. It would also include Reagan, who rarely bothered with church services, and George W. Bush, who never became a formal member of a congregation during his eight years in Washington.

I'm generally not inclined to blame the media for the public's confusion about Obama's beliefs, but reporting as bad as Malcolm's certainly contributes to the larger problem.

* Clarification: Malcolm emails to argue that he never worked as a press flack for President Bush. He's correct -- Malcolm worked as a press flack of President Bush's wife during her tenure as First Lady. When I referred to him as part of the "Bush White House," I did not literally mean he worked in the West Wing, but rather, was part of the larger Bush team.

As for the errors of fact and judgment as described in my post, Malcolm altered one of the errors - his piece now reads, "Obama has been unaffiliated with any specific congregation, like only three previous presidents in U.S. history -- Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson and his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln.' The observation is still factually wrong, since multiple other presidents have been unaffiliated with specific congregations during their presidencies.

Update: Malcolm alerted readers to change with a 6 p.m. update. The still-mistaken sentence remains unchanged.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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WORD CHOICE MATTERS.... Under the circumstances, how one chooses to label the Park51 project matters in shaping public attitudes. With that in mind, the AP is clearly doing the right thing, making up for some misleading headlines.

The Associated Press, one of world's most powerful news organizations, issued a memo today advising staff to avoid the phrase "Ground Zero mosque."

The Upshot reported Tuesday that the AP started using the phrase "Ground Zero mosque" in some headlines in late May. The New York Times, for one, has consciously avoided that phrasing.

The AP began using the phrase as the controversy over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque in Lower Manhattan started bubbling up to the national level.... Now the news organization is taking steps to make sure that no longer occurs.

This would have been even more helpful, say, a few weeks ago, before so many Americans became enraged by a proposal that doesn't exist, but I suppose it's better late than never.

I do sympathize with headline writers. "Muslim community center in shut-down clothing store" isn't exactly punchy. Hell, the accurate description immediately invalidates the basis for the entire controversy, making the argument rather pointless.

But as long as the matter remains a subject of intense national scrutiny, and developers are calling the proposed building "Park51," that should make it easier for editors looking for something easy to call it.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE WRONG ENEMY.... It's still incredible to me that the right hopes to make Faisal Abdul Rauf a villain. Jeffrey Goldberg shares this anecdote today.

In 2003, Imam Rauf was invited to speak at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. The service was held at B'nai Jeshurun, a prominent synagogue in Manhattan, and in the audience was Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father. In his remarks, Rauf identified absolutely with Pearl, and identified himself absolutely with the ethical tradition of Judaism. "I am a Jew," he said.

There are those who would argue that these represent mere words, chosen carefully to appease a potentially suspicious audience. I would argue something different: That any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, "I am a Jew," is placing his life in danger.

Remember, Islamists hate the people they consider apostates even more than they hate Christians and Jews. In other words, the man many commentators on the right assert is a terrorist-sympathizer placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism.

In context, Rauf told attendees, "We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind and soul Shma' Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl."

This is, of course, also the same imam who partnered with the Bush/Cheney State Department on international diplomacy, the Bush/Cheney Justice Department on counter-terrorism, and has devoted his career to combating extremism.

He's also the imam Fox News personalities have labeled a "radical," and who Sean Hannity has suggested might need to be expelled from the United States.

I know August has become a time for nonsense, but the right-wing campaign against this Muslim American is really pushing the envelope.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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ROY BLUNT ABANDONS SHAME, TRIES TO EXPLOIT 9/11 FOR PARTISAN GAIN.... Missouri is home to a competitive Senate race this year, so it stands to reason that the frontrunner, ethically-challenged Rep. Roy Blunt (R), is going to go all out in attacking Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D).

But there are at least some lines of decency that candidates shouldn't cross if they expect voters to respect their character. The Blunt campaign seems to have forgotten this.

Blunt's Republican team posted a web video yesterday, featuring an image of Ground Zero shortly after the 9/11 attacks nine years ago -- with visible smoke still rising the devastation. It's still a painful image, and it's precisely the kind of visual that have no place in some politician's attack ad.

Roy Blunt, however, added an audio track to the image, playing his opponent's recent answer to a question about Park51 over the visual. "Look, I'm not going to try to tell folks in New York what to do -- and I don't want them trying tell us in Missouri what to do -- so in the end, it's going to have to be their decision," Carnahan is heard saying. "But I think this is a time where we ought to be trying to get people of all faiths to come together, not divide them."

And that's it. It's the whole clip -- nothing more than the 9/11 photo shown over Carnahan's response. Why Blunt considers her remarks so scandalous is a mystery -- it's a local decision, and now's a good time to try to bring people together -- but I have trouble relating to right-wing thinking anyway.

Regardless, the campaign video is, quite literally, disgusting.

The Carnahan campaign has called on Blunt to apologize, not to his opponent, but "to the families of the 9/11 victims, whose tragedy he exploited for his own personal political benefit."

Blunt's campaign pulled the video this morning, saying it "didn't reflect the right tone." But as Greg Sargent noted, "Interestingly, even though the Blunt campaign has yanked the video showing the 9/11 wreckage, the audio of Carnahan talking about Cordoba House is still front and center on Blunt's Web site."

And in case you were curious, Blunt was "one of 155 Republicans to vote [last month] against a benefits bill for emergency workers who responded to the 9/11 attacks."

It's tempting a story like this will do real damage to Blunt's campaign -- Missouri may be a "red" state, but it still tends to take integrity and decency seriously -- but time will tell.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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CREDIT WHERE CREDIT ISN'T NECESSARILY DUE.... The U.S. presence in Iraq is obviously not over, but the developments that began last night are still very important. While 50,000 American troops remain in the country, the last American combat soldiers have begun heading home -- two weeks early -- and Operation Iraqi Freedom has come to a formal end.

It's a significant milestone, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to congratulate the troops. No, wait, that's not it. McCain wants to applaud President Obama's work in making these developments a reality. No, hold on, that's not right, either.

Now I remember: McCain wants Bush to get credit.

President George W. Bush deserves "some credit" for the last combat units leaving Iraq on Wednesday night, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.

McCain, one of the foremost supporters of the war effort there, posted a late-night message on his Twitter account, which is followed by 1.7 million people:

"Last American combat troops leave Iraq. I think President George W. Bush deserves some credit for victory."

Putting aside the premature nature of declaring "victory," I can't help but find it fascinating to see how we're supposed to perceive Bush's role in current events. If Democrats at any level suggest the failed former president bears some responsibility for the economy or the budget mess, for example, the response from the right is fierce: "Stop blaming Bush! He's gone! Take some responsibility!"

But if something positive happens, there's John McCain, insisting Bush get "some credit."

Tell you what, John. I'll give Bush "some credit" for developments in Iraq just as soon as you give him "some blame" for the economy, the deficit, and for launching this misguided conflict in the first place.

Also note that McCain's familiarity with the details may be a little off. The Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2008 reflected the approach presented by Barack Obama. While McCain offered a very different vision, Obama's policy was embraced by Iraqi leaders, Bush's Defense Secretary, and U.S. officials negotiating the SOFA terms.

What's more, while that agreement scheduled the end of U.S. troops' presence in Iraq for the end of the 2011, the end of the combat mission -- the early end of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- was on the Obama timetable, not Bush's.

Still waiting for McCain's tweet extending "some credit" to this president, not the last one.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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IT'S NOT JUST THE PARENT COMPANY.... News Corp's $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association has generated a fair amount of attention, not on Fox News, which refuses to report on the story, but at most major outlets. There is a defense that Fox News can point to, however: News Corp is the corporate parent, so it's not the network's fault.

Michael Wolff reports today, however, that this unpersuasive argument isn't true. Rupert Murdoch isn't usually inclined to give $1 million to politicians, and according to Wolff, the massive contribution came not from Murdoch but from Roger Ailes -- the Republican campaign veteran who runs Fox News.

The company is claiming the donation has nothing to do with its news side, going so far as to audaciously say, "There is a strict wall between business and editorial." The "corporate side" made the donation, News Corp.'s hapless spokesman insists. But the central advocate for giving the dough has been none other than Fox Chief Roger Ailes. In the past, Ailes has been stymied or neutralized in his quest to have the company put its corporate money where its mouth is, because the No. 2 in the company until last summer, Peter Chernin, was a Democrat.

With Chernin gone, and with Fox News outperforming most other parts of the company, Ailes is the central voice... It really isn't possible that Murdoch is giving a million bucks and getting nothing for it.

Indeed, it's equally implausible that Murdoch's operation would care about gubernatorial races enough to give the Republican Governors Association a contribution with no modern precedent. The House and Senate, maybe. But governors? Republicans care about gubernatorial races, in large part because of post-Census redistricting, but News Corp's interest doesn't really make sense.

Roger Ailes' interest, however, makes perfect sense.

As for Fox News' defense, the Republican network is sticking to its usual m.o. For years, when Fox News faces criticism, it lashes out at its detractors, mirroring the kind of tactics one might see from a rapid-response team on a Republican campaign. Facing allegations stemming from the $1 million donation to the RGA, we're seeing the usual tactics once again.

Steve Benen 12:35 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.

* In Louisiana, Sen. David Vitter's (R) primary challenger, Chet Traylor, has a very hard-hitting new radio ad, urging Republicans to "man up" and vote out the incumbent.

* In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. Charlie Crist (I) leading this year's Senate race, enjoying a seven point lead over Marco Rubio (R), 39% to 32%. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is a distant third at 16%.

* On a related note, the same poll shows state CFO Alex Sink (D) edging ahead in Florida's gubernatorial race, topping state A.G. Bill McCollum (R) by two and disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott by four.

* In Pennsylvania, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows former right-wing Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in this year's Senate race, 45% to 36%.

* PPP also finds the Republican leading Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, with Tom Corbett (R) well ahead of Dan Onorato (D), 48% to 35%.

* Colorado Republicans still hope to convince Dan Maes to drop his odd gubernatorial campaign, even after winning last week's GOP primary, but the candidate doesn't appear willing to go anywhere.

* On a related note, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D), now the leading gubernatorial candidate, has an amusing new ad in which he spends a fair amount of time in the shower.

* In Missouri, Senate candidate Robin Carnahan (D) has a tough new ad targeting Rep. Roy Blunt (R), identifying him as the leading proponent of the unpopular financial industry bailout. It includes a quote from CBS's Bob Schieffer, during an interview with Blunt, identifying the Republican as the man who "carried the water for the Bush administration."

* To say Republicans are cruising in Kansas' statewide races would be an understatement. A new SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Jerry Moran (R) leading the U.S. Senate race by 46 points, and Sen. Sam Brownback (R) leading the gubernatorial race by 42 points.

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

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IT'S NOT JUST THE ZOMBIE LIE THAT'S THE PROBLEM.... A little too often, our discourse is just disheartening.

Now comes fresh evidence of misperceptions about the president taking root in the public mind: a new poll by the Pew Research Center finds a substantial rise in the percentage of Americans who believe, incorrectly, that Mr. Obama is Muslim. The president is Christian, but 18 percent now believe he is Muslim, up from 12 percent when he ran for the presidency and 11 percent after he was inaugurated.

The findings suggest that, nearly two years into Mr. Obama's presidency, the White House is struggling with the perception of "otherness" that Candidate Obama sought so hard to overcome....

There's some politics at play, here. Indeed, more than a third of self-identified Republicans actually believe that the president is a secret Muslim. While the overall number of Americans who believe this nonsense is up, the sharpest increase comes from conservative Republicans (up 16 percentage points since last year).

If this were simply a matter of ignorant voters being mislead by right-wing garbage, it'd merely be disappointing. But in this case, there's very likely a little more to it.

Andrew Kohut, the Pew center's director, said something interesting in response to results: "This is an expression of the people who are opposed to Obama having an increasingly negative view of him."

Ben Smith suggested something similar, speculating that "telling a pollster that Obama is a Muslim is just another way of expressing disapproval." From the Pew report:

Beliefs about Obama's religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama's religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.

In other words, we've come to a point in our discourse at which "Muslim" isn't an adjective used to describe 1.5 billion people; it's an adjective some Americans use as an insult. While some Democrats used to criticize George W. Bush with words like "idiot" and "liar," Obama's detractors now use "Muslim" in much the same way. And the more the president's support falters, the more "Muslim" he appears in the eyes of his critics.

As a cultural matter, this is insane. As a political matter, there doesn't appear to be much anyone can do to convince Americans that the president is not, in fact, a secret Muslim.

The White House says the public -- and the press -- are not listening. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has given six speeches either from a church pulpit or addressing religion in public life -- including an Easter prayer breakfast where he "offered a very personal and candid reflection of what the Resurrection means to him," said Joshua DuBois, who runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. [...]

The White House says Mr. Obama prays daily, sometimes in person or over the telephone with a small circle of Christian pastors. One of them, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was also a spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, telephoned a reporter on Wednesday, at the White House's behest. He said he was surprised that the number of Americans who say Mr. Obama is Muslim is growing.

"I must say," Mr. Caldwell said, "never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar."

Sigh.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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ROMNEY TRIES AGAIN TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.... Just yesterday, Chris Cillizza praised former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) for his "unswerving" and "laser-like focus on financial matters as he prepares to challenge the incumbent in 2012."

I don't think that's quite right. Just last month, Romney did his level best to pretend to understand foreign policy and counter-proliferation. The result was utterly humiliating.

So, the former one-term governor is shifting his "laser-like focus" away from national security and back to the economy, writing an op-ed in the Boston Globe yesterday with the usual spiel -- blame Obama for the economic mess he inherited, "uncertainty" reigns, yada, yada, yada.

Of course, this is Mitt Romney we're talking about -- a man who changes positions like most of us change socks -- so it's worth emphasizing that he approved of Obama's stimulus just last year, and predicted that the Recovery Act would "accelerate" economic growth. While yesterday's op-ed blasted cap-and-trade -- which still doesn't exist as an implemented policy -- Romney has endorsed cap-and-trade in the past.

But let's put all that aside. Pointing to Romney flip-flops is like pointing to Sarah Palin's ignorance -- it's just a little too easy. The more important point is that Romney also sketched his vision for what he'd do differently than the status quo: tax cuts, trade deals, a new energy policy, balanced budget, entitlement reform, undercut unions. There were no real details -- it's just an op-ed -- but Romney seems to be pushing an agenda that's largely indistinguishable from Bush's vision from 10 years ago.

It's also, as Ezra noted, an agenda that "seems certain to hugely increase uncertainty."

A new energy bill? Uncertainty, both during the legislative process and the regulatory definitions process. New tax proposals? Uncertainty during the long legislative process; you don't want to make capital gains decisions if you the capital gains tax rate might change pretty soon. Forcing deep budget reforms on the state level? Uncertainty, as businesses don't know what the cuts will mean for demand or infrastructure.

Now, that may all be acceptable: I'm not a big believer in the uncertainty argument, and if good policy requires a period of uncertainty, then fine. But since Romney says that the private sector is currently "paralyzed by the uncertainty," it's not clear to me how pushing a lot more uncertainty into the mix would help.

Maybe next month Romney will have a new op-ed on a new subject of interest. He's bound to get an issue right one of these days.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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ROVE PLAYS VOTERS FOR SUCKERS (AGAIN).... When I describe Karl Rove's presence in American politics as a poison in our democracy, there's a good reason for it. Consider this report from Christina Bellantoni.

Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS this week detailed the "seven public policy initiatives" that will be most important for Congress next year. The group runs ads against Democrats across the country.

On the list at No. 1: "Stop the Obama tax hike time bomb scheduled to detonate on January 1, 2011."

That's not a typo. Rove's group is claiming that Obama set the timer on that so-called "bomb."

No one should be surprised. Rove has been lying to voters, just as a matter of course, throughout his career. For a campaign operation organized by the activist/hatchet-man/media-personality to base its work on playing voters for fools is entirely predictable.

But as Rove's lies go, this one takes some chutzpah. It was Rove's White House, after all, that crafted and approved irresponsible tax cuts -- which failed miserably in their stated goal -- and put an expiration date on them. It wasn't Obama, and it wasn't Democrats -- Rove's White House played a budget game and set the lower rates to expire at the end of 2010.

If it's a "bomb," Rove helped set the timer. He has no reason to whine (or lie) about it now.

And as the "debate," such as it is, proceeds, there are two competing approaches about future tax rates. Democrats' plan leaves the lower rates for the middle- and lower-class in place, while the wealthy would go back to brackets that existed in 2000 -- back when a Democratic president left a health economy and a massive budget surplus for a Republican president to screw up. Republicans' plan, apparently endorsed by the clownish Rove, is to protect massive breaks for millionaires and billionaires, and throw the tab onto the massive deficits they left for Democrats to clean up.

Maybe Rove knows this, and is just counting on voters being dumb. Maybe Rove doesn't know this, and he's just a mindless hack. Either way, this talk of "bombs" is ridiculous.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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WHAT WAS DEAN THINKING?.... When Ben Smith first reported yesterday afternoon that Howard Dean was siding with the right on Park51, I found it hard to believe. Indeed, when I clicked the link and noticed that it had been posted by Breitbart, I held off on mentioning it all -- he does have a history with creative editing. ("Fool the political world once, shame on you....")

But Democracy for America confirmed that the recording is legitimate, and Dean really did take a line that seems completely at odds with his values and principles.

Dean responded by saying he favored some sort of "compromise" of the issue that involved using the proposed site for "people of all faiths." He called the presence of the mosque an "affront to people who lost their lives, including Muslims." He then went on to say that while the congregation building the mosque probably has good intentions, "there's no point trying to do something good if it's met with enormous resistance from a lot of folks."

How a Muslim center could be an "affront" to Muslims who were killed nine years ago is a mystery.

Apparently referring to a closed Burlington Coat Factory store, Dean added, "That site doesn't belong to any particular religion; it belongs to all people of all faiths." Asked if the proposed community center should be moved to another location, Dean said, "Well, I think another site would be a better idea."

When Sam Stein gave him a chance to walk it back, Dean more or less reiterated his position. "I don't believe all this nonsense the right wing is putting out about radicals and all that stuff," Dean said. "I take the congregation at its word that it is a moderate congregation trying to heal the wounds of 9/11. But the best way to heal the wounds is not to have a court battle, but to sit down and try to work things out."

For the record, it's not a congregation trying to build the community center, and there is no court battle.

I have no idea how Dean ended up with this position. It's just bizarre.

It's also probably worth mentioning a detail I hadn't heard before today. Politico reports that the Park51 building may not be built anyway: "The Cordoba Initiative hasn't begun fundraising yet for its $100 million goal. The group's latest fundraising report with the State Attorney General's office, from 2008, shows exactly $18,255 -- not enough even for a down payment on the half of the site the group has yet to purchase."

The national uproar is baseless anyway, but the building in question may never exist.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IN ALASKA.... It's mildly annoying that Alaska is the beneficiary of extraordinary generosity from the federal government. But what truly rankles is the disconnect between the state's handouts and its political attitudes.

Backed by a blue row of saw-toothed mountain peaks, the Republican state lawmaker Carl Gatto finds himself on a fine roll.

Roll it back, he says, roll back this entire socialistic experiment in federal hegemony. Give us control of our land, let us drill and mine, and please don't let a few belugas get in the way of a perfectly good bridge.

"I've introduced legislation to roll back the federal government," he says. "They don't have solutions; they just have taxes."

And what of the federal stimulus, from which Alaska receives the most money per capita in the nation? Would he reject it?

Mr. Gatto, 72 and wiry, smiles and shakes his head: "I'll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76."

He points to a newly graded and federally financed highway, stretching toward distant spruce trees. "Man, beautiful, right?"

Well, "beautiful" is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

The Last Frontier enjoys more federal largess than any other state. The Recovery Act delivered $3,145 per capita to Alaska, which wasn't just the highest in the nation, but was also nearly triple the national average. All told, a third of Alaska's jobs are supported by federal tax dollars, and the trend is accelerating -- in 1996, the NYT noted, Alaska's share of federal spending was 38% above the national average. Today, it's 71%.

Putting aside merit, the funds flowing into Alaska would be less annoying if the state's political culture was more aware of the reality. While the state accepts big federal checks with one hand, it seems to shake its fist at D.C. with the other: "[T]he Republican governor decries 'intrusive' Obama administration policies, officials sue to overturn the health care legislation and Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted against the stimulus bill."

Indeed, as we've talked about before, there's a bit of a "feature, not a bug" problem here. Alaska abolished both income and sales taxes, which made the state even more dependent on pork-barrel spending from Congress.

Something to consider the next time conservative Alaskan politicians -- including you know who -- offer lectures about big government, cutting spending, and an intrusive federal reach.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM COMES TO AN END.... It is not a "Mission Accomplished" moment, and it'd be an irresponsible exaggeration to suggest the war in Iraq is "over."

But as the last American combat soldiers head home from Iraq -- two weeks early -- and Operation Iraqi Freedom comes to a formal end, there's ample reason to be pleased with a milestone that, for a long while, seemed like it would never arrive.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country, fulfilling the Obama administration's pledge to end the U.S. combat mission by the end of August. About 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, mainly as a training force. [...]

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit. [...]

By the end of this month, the United States will have six brigades in Iraq, by far its smallest footprint since the 2003 invasion. Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded "advise and assist brigades." The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops. Under a bilateral agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

There's still, obviously, a precarious environment on the ground. Iraqi politicians are still struggling badly to form a government; deadly violence is not uncommon; and no one is quite sure what will unfold in the absence of U.S. combat brigades. With tens of thousands of troops, and many more private contractors, still in Iraq, anyone who thinks this is "over" is mistaken.

But it's hard not to feel some satisfaction about today's milestone anyway. As recently as March -- just five months ago -- there were more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many of them serving multiple tours. This morning, there are 50,000, and none of them is serving in a combat capacity.

In, say, 2006, this point seemed all but unreachable.

"The really big picture that we have seen in Iraq over the last year and a half to two years is this: the number of violent incidents is significantly down, the competence of Iraqi security forces is significantly up, and politics has emerged as the basic way of doing business in Iraq," said Antony Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Biden. "If that trend continues, and I acknowledge it is an 'if,' that creates a much better context for dealing with the very significant and serious problems that remain in Iraq."

Cheers to that.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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August 18, 2010

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

* Flooding crisis in Pakistan: "Shortages of the most basic supplies -- shelter, food and drinking water -- presented the biggest challenge for aid workers in Pakistan, the United Nations said Wednesday. Aid organizations and the United Nations itself have expressed alarm that the plight of millions of Pakistanis flooded from their land has yet to strike a sufficiently sympathetic nerve among donors -- neither governments nor the general public -- with aid trickling in far more slowly than needed."

* Satellite images: Pakistan before and after the flooding.

* Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was facing 24 criminal counts, but was convicted yesterday on just one. On others, however, the jury was split 11 to 1, and federal prosecutors are likely to try again.

* One of the largest IPO's in American history: "General Motors filed paperwork on Wednesday to become a public company again and let the federal government begin selling down its stake in the carmaker."

* President Obama reminded folks today that Social Security is "not in crisis," and won't be privatized on his watch.

* He also doesn't regret his stated support for First Amendment principles.

* Massey: "Government investigators have cited Massey Energy for failing to report more than 20 accidents at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in the two years before an April explosion killed 29 miners there, according to documents released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday."

* I don't know what's gotten into Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) lately, but just a few weeks ago, he said there's "no question" that Elizabeth Warren is "qualified" to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Now, he's taking a very different position.

* The right hyperventilated a bit today, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does not want an investigation into conservative critics of the Park51 community center.

* Former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson, a 9/11 widower and an attorney best known for arguing on behalf of Republicans in Bush v. Gore, thinks Obama "was probably right" to support religious liberty on the Park51 matter.

* Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has a reputation for being one of the more shamelessly anti-Muslim members of Congress, and even he thinks Newt Gingrich went too far with his Nazi comparisons.

* Note, however, that the increasingly despicable Karl Rove is making similarly vile comparisons.

* Why not have a debate about student-loan forgiveness?

* Is the DISCLOSE Act dead? Not quite yet.

* One can always tell when former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) writes her own tweets -- they're the ones with made-up words.

* Do we really need another Sunday public affairs show? Probably not, but we're getting one anyway.

* For nerds (like me) only: Wil Wheaton quits w00tstock in the most amusing way possible.

Update: I almost forgot to mention that I had an op-ed in the New York Daily News today, on the consequences of rewarding a radicalized political party. Be sure to check it out.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE EASIEST ANSWER HAPPENS TO BE RIGHT.... As President Obama's approval ratings drift in the wrong direction, there's a tendency for pundits to avoid the plainly obvious truth -- the economy's troubles are a severe drag on the president's popularity -- because it makes for awful columns and on-air commentary. It's just too simple. Depth of analysis is wholly unnecessary.

But Matt Bai keeps working on more sophisticated explanations anyway. In the latest take on Obama's faltering standing, Bai makes the case that the president's too much of a legislator.

The point isn't that Bai's piece is bad; it's not. The point is, if unemployment was 7% and falling, does anyone seriously believe we'd be having this conversation? I'm not going to claim to be an expert on public opinion, but I'm pretty comfortable guessing that much of the country hoped/expected the economy to be stronger at this point. They're frustrated and nervous, so they're dissatisfied with the man in the Oval Office.

It's hardly unprecedented. At this point 28 years ago, unemployment was even higher, and President Reagan's slipping poll numbers were nearly identical to Obama's trajectory now. Voters then, as now, expected the exciting new president to generate a stronger economy, and then, as now, they blamed the chief executive for falling short.

Steve Kornacki recently offered a helpful walk down memory lane.

After the '82 vote, Reagan faced calls from his fellow Republicans not to seek reelection in 1984. Some outspoken conservatives even demanded -- publicly -- that he be challenged in the '84 primaries if he went ahead and ran. (Jack Kemp, William Armstrong and Jesse Helms were all touted as would-be challengers.) Liberal Republicans (they still existed, sort of) were equally discontent; a pre-scandal Bob Packwood made a late '82 trip to New Hampshire, teasing a possible bid of his own. And Capitol Hill Republicans began charting a course independent of the Reagan White House.

All of this stopped only when the economy -- and, as a result, Reagan's poll numbers -- began showing life in '83.

Republicans tend to hate this history, not because it's wrong, but because it's inconsistent with the myth they've worked so hard to sell. Wait, you mean Reagan wasn't universally loved at all times? Congressional Republicans didn't want to campaign with him, and party leaders worried in '82 that Reagan was in over his head? Well, yes, that's exactly what happened.

And then the economy got better.

It's why it's easy to draw conclusions now. A stronger economy will bolster Obama's standing. A weaker economy will not. This isn't rocket science.

Sure, individual events can generate peaks and valleys. There's some evidence that the media criticism in May on the BP oil spill had a negative effect on the president's numbers, and it's possible the Park51 story is costing him a little. Of course, if Osama bin Laden were killed tomorrow, Obama might get a bump in the other direction.

But the larger truth is still unavoidable -- the president's numbers will rise when the economy does -- and very easy to understand.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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DGA CALLS ON FOX NEWS TO MAKE DISCLAIMERS.... Fox News' parent company, News Corp, raised some eyebrows with its $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association. There's just no modern precedent for a media conglomerate to offer this kind of financial support to a party's campaign committee.

Today, Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, contacted Fox News CEO Roger Ailes with a suggestion of sorts. The network's news division, Daschle said, should add a disclaimer during its coverage of gubernatorial races. He even wrote a sample script of what Fox News' on-air talent should say: "News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November."

In the letter to Ailes, Daschle added, "If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the 'fair and balanced' side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

"For the first time in history, your organization is openly and proudly supporting the defeat of Democratic governors with an unprecedented political contribution of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. In fact, your company provided the single largest corporate contribution to our opposition.... As you are well aware, the stakes could not be higher in the 37 gubernatorial races this election cycle."

I don't imagine Ailes intends to act on this, but the DGA's argument is hardly baseless. Put it this way: imagine what Republicans would be saying right now if the New York Times Company contributed $1 million to the DSCC, but assured Republicans that its coverage of this year's Senate races would remain entirely fair and even-handed.

Daschle's full letter -- and its extremely amusing postscript -- is available below.

Mr. Roger Ailes
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President
Fox News Channel
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
and VIA EMAIL

Dear Mr. Ailes,

For the first time in history, your organization is openly and proudly supporting the defeat of Democratic governors with an unprecedented political contribution of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. In fact, your company provided the single largest corporate contribution to our opposition.

In the interest of some fairness and balance, I request that you add a formal disclaimer to your news coverage any time any of your programs cover governors or gubernatorial races between now and Election Day. I suggest that the disclaimer say: "News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November." If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the "fair and balanced" side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

As you are well aware, the stakes could not be higher in the 37 gubernatorial races this election cycle. Your corporation and your allies know well that these races have grave and substantial implications for Congressional redistricting. In fact, your allies in the GOP hope to change our election map for decades by electing governors who will redraw 30 seats into Republican territory.

I look forward to hearing from you - or any of your programs - at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,
Nathan Daschle

P.S. Many news outlets have covered this controversy, but your own news programs have been strangely silent. I am available to appear on any of your programs to discuss the case for Democratic governors - particularly why our governors best for business growth. Despite my efforts to immediately reach out to your news programs, more than a dozen requests were ignored.

Cc: Bret Baier
Carl Cameron
Gretchen Carlson
Neil Cavuto
Steve Doocy
Trace Gallagher
Major Garrett
Sean Hannity
Bill Hemmer
Brian Kilmeade
Megyn Kelly
Martha MacCallum
Bill O'Reilly
Jon Scott
Shepard Smith
Greta Van Susteren
Chris Wallace

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND THE PAY GAP.... Looking back through recent history, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn't exactly known for its efforts championing the concerns of women in the workforce. The Chamber, among other things, has opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Family & Medical Leave Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

But the Chamber of Commerce still manages to surprise.

Today is the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, establishing American women's right to vote. To honor the occasion, Jen O'Malley Dillon, the executive director of the Democratic National Committee, sent a message to the party's email list, heralding the date's significance, but noting there's still work to be done, especially in closing the gender pay gap.

The Chamber was unimpressed, and said so on its official blog, arguing that those "fighting for 'full equality' are trying to actually legislate away choice." The piece goes on to draw some bizarre conclusions from a recent David Leonhardt piece in the New York Times.

There is much that was good in this article -- for instance the acknowledgment that most of the current "pay gap" is the result of individual choice rather than discrimination; but I believe that the overall tone is one of those cultural changes we need to make -- the idea that giving up "pay and promotions" is a "terribly steep price" to pay for time away from work. These are only two of the many things that people value and depending on the weight that you assign to each of your values giving up a little might gain you a lot. Equality is a matter of ensuring equal access to opportunity, not ensuring identical outcomes in some areas depending on which opportunities you choose to take.

On a similar note around the same time the NY Times article appeared, Don Boudreaux wrote on income inequality in general noting: "Not only does achievement of such "equality" require the state to treat people unequally, obsession with income equality also reflects a Scrooge-like fetish for money."

I had to read this a couple of times to make sure it wasn't satire.

It went on to excerpt this exceedingly odd analogy, which seems to compare women to couch potatoes.

Consider a man who spends long hours at the gym. He does so for the same reasons that another man spends long hours at work: to gain an advantage and a sense of achievement. Are gym-man's broad shoulders, bulging biceps, and ripped torso appropriate objects of envy by couch-potato man? Is this envy a social problem demanding government action? Should gym-man be scorned as greedy for working extra-hard to improve his physique -- extra-hard work that likely wins gym-man disproportionate access to attractive mates? Should government force gym-man to share his beautiful babes with couch-potato man? Should gym-man's muscles, or natural good looks, be taxed?

If we recognize that envy of other persons' physiques is a sentiment deserving only ridicule, why do so many "Progressives" excuse - or even positively approve of - envy of other persons' monetary assets?

The post concluded that the "obvious" solution to these issues is "choosing the right place to work and choosing the right partner at home."

To be sure, I don't expect much from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but on the anniversary of women's suffrage -- or, indeed, any day -- it's hard to fathom what the group was thinking publishing this.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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NELSON'S STILL-MISPLACED PRIORITIES.... In the weeks leading up to the Senate's August recess, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) effectively drew a line in the sand -- he wouldn't vote for anything, regardless of merit, if it increased the deficit. He opposed extending unemployment benefits, for example, because they weren't fully paid for, and that was more important than aid for the jobless.

Confronted in June with a bill to boost the economy, Nelson balked because only part of the bill was paid for. "[T]he American people are right," he said at the time. "We've got to stop doing that."

Putting aside Nelson's finger on the pulse of the nation -- most evidence suggests the public is far more concerned with the economy than the deficit -- the conservative Nebraskan hasn't given up on this misplaced priorities. Even during the recess, Ben Nelson continues to annoy.

Centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would require unused portions of the recently-passed state aid package to go toward bringing down the federal budget deficit.

President Obama last week signed the $26 billion state aid package after the House returned from recess to approve it. Nelson said that his legislation would apply to the $10 billion education jobs fund included in the bill.

"The new law will keep thousands of teachers on the job across our country and I'm pleased that it is fully paid for by cutting other federal spending and closing foreign tax loopholes for businesses," Nelson said in a statement. "If a state or states, however, don't need the additional money, we should make sure the unused funds aren't shipped off to other states. Instead, the unused funds should pay down the federal deficit."

Heaven forbid that money intended for one state might save some jobs in another. What really matters is whether we can reduce the deficit by a fraction of a fraction of a percent.

Except that's ridiculous. The economy is struggling, and needs stimulus. There's a jobs crisis. The whole point of the state-aid jobs bill was to spend some money and save some jobs. Nelson insisted that bill be paid for -- itself a rather silly, since the government is supposed to deficit spend during difficult economic times -- and it was.

But before the funding even starts to kick in, Nelson is already preoccupied with getting some of it back and lowering a deficit that should rank very low on his list of priorities.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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SHARRON ANGLE AND THE STIMULUS OF WORLD WAR II.... Sharron Angle (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, is slowly but surely starting to engage the media a little more. Yesterday, she even chatted with the New York Times at a campaign office in Las Vegas.

To be sure, Angle seemed cautious, and didn't make any comments that are likely to become major controversies, but there was an exchange that stood out for me.

Q. Did Keynesian economics, the stimulus spending, work in the Depression of the '30s?

A. No. And I think history has really proven that to be true. Most economists agree that the thing that really worked, which is a sad commentary, is the war.

Now, it's no longer unusual for right-wing voices to insist that the New Deal didn't work. It's an absurd position, belied by reality, but it's hardly shocking anymore. Republicans went through a period in which they moved away from Hoover and accepted much of the FDR legacy -- just ask Ike -- but those days are over, and Hoover is back en vogue amongst 21st century Republicans. It's crazy, but it's true.

But it's that other part of the answer that I found confusing. The Depression ended once and for all, thanks to World War II. That's not an unreasonable assessment. But what does Angle think that means, exactly. In the first breath, she argued that Keynesian economics and stimulus spending were discredited. In the second breath, she argued that WWII boosted the economy.

But the first thought doesn't match the second. The war was a shot in the economy's arm because of all the spending. The government generated manufacturing on a scale unseen in American history, which put people back to work, got factories humming, etc. If Angle realizes the war improved the economy, how, exactly, does she think that happened?*

The rest of the interview was relatively boilerplate -- she wants to "pay back on the debt" and "reduce marginal tax rates," blissfully unaware of the contradiction -- and a reminder of why Angle is hard to take seriously.

But also note that the NYT asked if she's "too conservative" for Nevada. Angle replied, "People have always said -- those words, 'too conservative,' is fairly relative. I'm sure that they probably said that about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin."

First, no, "they" didn't. Second, we knew Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin; Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin were friends of ours.

Sharron Angle, you're no Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin.

* edited slightly for clarity

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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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 the state of Washington, Sen. Patty Murray (D) and Dino Rossi (R) won a "top-two" primary yesterday, and will face off against one another in November. Former football player Clint Didier (R) finished a distant third, despite support from Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin.

* Wyoming Republicans held their gubernatorial primary yesterday, and Matthew Mead narrowly defeated state Auditor Rita Meyer, despite Palin's backing of Meyer. Leslie Peterson narrowly won the Democratic primary, and will face Mead in the fall.

* In Kentucky's closely-watched Senate race, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Rand Paul (R) leading state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) by just five, 45% to 40%. Other recent polling has shown Paul with a larger lead.

* In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll shows the self-financers trailing in their respective primaries. In the GOP gubernatorial race, state Attorney General Bill McCollum now leads disgraced former health insurance executive Rick Scott. 44% to 35%. In the Democratic Senate race, Rep. Kendrick Meek leads Jeff Greene, 35% to 28%.

* The latest survey from Public Policy Polling on Illinois' Senate race shows Alexi Giannoulias (D) with a two-point edge over Rep. Mark Kirk (R), 37% to 35%.

* In Missouri's Senate race, Public Policy Polling finds Rep. Roy Blunt (R) leading Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) by seven, 45% to 38%.

* Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), the leading Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, fought for years to deregulate risky derivatives on Wall Street. This week, it's starting to come back to haunt him.

* Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) continues to feel the heat from his former supporters after voting with Republicans against health care reform in March. The Service Employees International Union is launching a program, called "Skip-a-Space," urging Democrats to withhold support from the incumbent.

* Former Rep. Rick Lazio (R), running for governor in New York this year, is now building his campaign strategy around hostility for a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. By all appearances, it's not working.

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

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A JOBS AGENDA, CONT'D.... The Washington Post reported the other day that congressional Democrats, obviously nervous about the midterms, have some major accomplishments to tout and a reasonably good sense of how to defend their record. They have no idea, however, what to do next -- the majority party has found itself "without a clear plan of their own to promote in the final 80 days of the 2010 campaign."

Harold Meyerson notes that more government intervention is called for, but the political process is paralyzed, and the idea of additional governmental activism has been "discredited ... with much of the public, and not just the far right."

Meyerson does, however, have a suggestion.

If the Democrats focused on boosting manufacturing, with a corollary upgrade to our infrastructure, they'd tap into the only area in which the public wants a more activist government.

Several recent polls have called the Democrats' attention to what should have been obvious to them: That helping America regain its industrial preeminence is one government activity that wins support across the board. One recent survey by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman found 78 percent support for having a "national manufacturing strategy," while 92 percent said they supported infrastructure improvements using only American-made materials. Another survey from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg found 52 percent of respondents preferred government investment "in the future," while just 42 percent favored the alternative course of large spending cuts.

The appeal of bolstering manufacturing and upgrading infrastructure cuts across lines of race, gender and class. Even a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh would have trouble characterizing them, as he did health-care reform, as "reparations." Just as important, the public is right. Every bit of economic news confirms its apprehensions that by off-shoring our manufacturing, we have not only eliminated millions of good-paying jobs but we have also rendered ourselves incapable of regaining our economic health. The two major economies that are booming amidst the global bust are China's and Germany's -- that is, the two major economies most oriented to manufacturing.

Of course, anyone who's paid even the slightest attention to recent political debates knows exactly how this would be received. Republicans and their cable network would bash the idea of "additional spending" -- even if that spending is popular, even if it boosted the economy -- because it would add to the deficit.

But that's where the recent GOP shift comes in. Over the last few weeks, the entire House Republican leadership team has, in public and on the record, argued that the economy is more important than the deficit. In context, that meant they're prepared to add the price of tax cuts for millionaires to the deficit, but the larger point was the same -- the deficit matters, but jobs matter more.

Democrats happen to agree with the sentiment, but not the prescription. So, why not have the debate? Present voters with two competing visions -- Democrats want to take a pile of money, spend it on American infrastructure, manufacturing, and jobs, and add the total to the deficit. Republicans want to take a pile of money, hand it over to millionaires and billionaires in the form of tax breaks, hope that the money trickles down, and add the total to the deficit.

Two competing approaches, both expensive, and both increasing the deficit in the short term. Line the options up and let's have the conversation.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THAT'S THE OTHER GUYS.... Shortly before the House broke for its August recess, Republicans killed a bill that seemed like one of the year's most obvious no-brainers.

The Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would pay health care costs for 9/11 rescue workers, sickened after exposure to the toxic smoke and debris. The legislation was fully paid for, closing a tax loophole for American companies that try to hide their headquarters at P.O. box in the Caymans.

The GOP trashed the bill, calling the money a "slush fund." It needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and came up short -- nearly every Democrat voted for it, and nearly every Republican voted against it.

Yesterday, some of the heroes and their families who need this bill to pass expressed their deep disappointment -- by blaming President Obama for legislation that Republicans opposed.

Ailing 9/11 responders slammed President Obama on Tuesday for sounding off on the Ground Zero mosque while keeping silent on a $7.2 billion health care bill.

"Why have you failed us? We thought you would be our champion" in pushing the legislation, John Feal wrote to Obama.

So, let me get this straight. Obama supports the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Congressional Democrats support the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. If passed, the president would gladly sign the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law. Republicans not only trashed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, but blocked it from passing.

But Obama has "failed" 9/11 responders?

I'm reminded of that episode of "The West Wing," in the third season, when Donna tells Josh about some voters' concerns about Bartlett. "They think the President is going to privatize Social Security," Donna said. "He's not going to ... that's the other guys!" Josh replied.

Obama's right about health care for 9/11 first responders. It's "the other guys" who are the problem.

Indeed, for all the recent attention about converting a closed-down Burlington Coat Factory into a local community center, many of the same politicians who claim to have endless passion in defense of Ground Zero had (a) no qualms about voting against the 9/11 health care bill; or (b) no criticism for those who did.

The disconnect matters.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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WHEN EVEN PAT BUCHANAN THINKS YOU'VE GONE TOO FAR.... This week, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R), hoping to make the case against the proposed Park51 community center, compared Muslim Americans to Nazis. On MSNBC yesterday, Pat Buchanan -- yes Pat Buchanan -- said Gingrich went too far.

Buchanan said Gingrich is just being a "political opportunist," hoping to keep up with former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in advance of the 2012 presidential primaries.

"How do you get more attention than Sarah Palin, who's very good at this, is to go two steps further," Buchanan said. "I mean, I think bringing the Nazis into the argument is always absurd in American politics because there is no valid comparison there."

As much as I appreciate Buchanan's criticism, I can't help but notice how odd it is to hear him to say "bringing the Nazis into the argument is always absurd in American politics." A year ago, it was none other than Pat Buchanan who compared non-existent "death panels" as part of health care reform to "Hitler's Third Reich, marrying Social Darwinism to Aryan racial supremacy." He's also offered some bizarre commentary on Hitler's intentions during World War II.

With that in mind, when Buchanan thinks Gingrich has gone too far with Nazi rhetoric, you know ol' Newt has pushed the envelope.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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RAND PAUL'S TAX CUTS CAN CURE A DRUG EPIDEMIC.... The drug epidemic in Eastern Kentucky is responsible for severe damage to local communities. As Larry Dale Keeling noted this week, the consequences include "shortened lives (114 overdose deaths in 21 counties in the first two months of this year), fractured families and the crime that has given Kentucky the dubious distinction of having the fastest-growing prison population in the nation."

Right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul, the Republican Senate candidate who isn't well versed on the state he hopes to represent, recently said the area's drug problem isn't "a real pressing issue." Even for a candidate known for bizarre remarks, this was rather astounding.

This week, Paul tried to "clarify" his dismissive attitude, and highlighted his proposed solution to the local drug problem: tax cuts for millionaires.

"I personally think we've been trying the government solution, and maybe there are some good aspects to it. But we're still failing, and we're not getting rid of the drug problem," Paul said.

Paul says reinvesting money in the local economy will help ease the unemployment, which he says leads to more drug use.

"You want rich people because that's what creates jobs. If you punish people, they won't expand or create jobs," Paul said.

This is incoherent, the kind of remark made by those who know very little about the economy, and even less about drug policy.

Greg Sargent followed up with the Paul campaign, wondering whether the candidate's remarks reflect his actual agenda. A campaign spokesperson explained in a statement, "The abuse of both legal and illegal drugs is serious and complex issue. We must keep a strong focus on prevention, treatment and enforcement, and healthy employment is great prevention. There is no silver bullet, but a gainfully employed, productive person will be far less likely to succumb to the evils drugs."

In other words, Paul's original position wasn't a slip-up -- more jobs means less of a drug crisis, a healthier economy means more jobs, and tax cuts for the rich means a healthier economy.

As for "prevention, treatment and enforcement," there's generally not much profit in these efforts, which is why they usually fall to government agencies. If Paul's is opposed to "government solutions," where will the resources come from to pay for the "prevention, treatment and enforcement"?

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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NEWS CORP'S GOP DONATION RAISES EYEBROWS.... Media conglomerates don't often give $1 million to a political party to help influence statewide campaigns. It's encouraging, then, that News Corp's seven-figure check to the Republican Governors Association is generating some discussion.

The contribution from Mr. Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and other news outlets, is one of the biggest ever given by a media organization, campaign finance experts said.

Democrats seized on the donation as evidence of the News Corporation's conservative leanings, with Media Matters for America, a liberal group that has tangled often with the company, calling it "an appendage of the Republican Party."

But News Corporation executives said the political priorities at the Republican Governors Association and its emphasis on low taxes and economic growth dovetailed with the company's own concerns. "News Corp. has always believed in the power of free markets, and organizations like the R.G.A., which have a pro-business agenda, support our priorities at this most critical time for our economy," said Jack Horner, a company spokesman.

What a terrific response. News Corp is facing questions about the propriety of a media conglomerate giving Republicans a cool million, and as a defense, the corporation effectively replies, "But we really like Republicans."

We know. That's why the check was written. The point isn't whether News Corp and Republicans have a shared worldview; the point is whether the financial support is appropriate.

At a minimum, it's breaking new ground: "Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said seven-figure donations from anyone to '527' associations were unusual, but a $1 million donation from a news organization was particularly rare." A Politico report added that the contribution "isn't business as usual -- in either size or style."

What's more, Amanda Terkel noted that News Corp's own "Standards of Business Conduct" may prohibit exactly the kind of financial support the company is providing the Republican Governors Association, but like the media company's journalistic principles, it appears these standards may be malleable.

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DR. LAURA'S RACIST TIRADE LEADS TO RADIO SHOW'S END.... It takes an awful lot to force a conservative talk-radio host off the air, but as it turns out, there are apparently some limits. Just ask Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

If you're just joining us, a woman called Schlessinger's show last week with an upsetting problem. The caller is in an inter-racial marriage -- she's black, her husband is white -- and is offended when her husband's friends and family members make racist remarks. Schlessinger blamed the woman, telling the caller that she's "hypersensitive" -- a problem "bred by black activists" -- and needs a better sense of humor. To prove the point, Schlessinger repeated the N-word 11 times, defending it by saying "black guys say it all the time."

Last night, Schlessinger announced that she's ending her radio show.

Dr. Schlessinger made the announcement on Tuesday night on "Larry King Live," saying she made a decision not to renew her contract when it expires at the end of the year and suggesting that she did not want her opinions and language, however provocative, to be muzzled

"I want to regain my First Amendment rights," she said. "I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm sort of done with that."

But she stressed that she was not retiring, only ending her show, and would continue to write books and appear at speaking engagements.

"I'm not quitting," she told Larry King. "I feel energized actually -- stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country."

Oddly enough, last week, facing criticism, Schlessinger expressed regret for her remarks and acknowledged that her on-air remarks were "wrong." By last night, however, her contrition appeared to be gone and the incident was everyone's fault but hers.

Media Matters' Eric Burns said in a statement, "Dr. Laura's radio career ended in disgrace tonight because of the bigoted, ugly and hateful remarks made on her show. Americans have had enough. Listeners are now holding hosts, affiliates, and sponsors accountable for the offensive and inexcusable content on the airwaves."

Here's hoping that trend continues.

Postscript: Funniest line I've seen so far: "Dr. Laura announces retirement to spend more time with the N-Word."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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August 17, 2010

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

* Baghdad: "A suicide bomber struck early on Tuesday at an army recruiting office here, killing dozens in the first major bombing of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan — a period made more fraught than in previous years by the looming deadline for American forces to replace their combat mission here with a training role." The toll so far: 48 dead and 129 wounded.

* Crisis in Pakistan: "With disastrous flooding spreading yet more widely in Pakistan, reports of looting and protests over food on Tuesday deepened the sense of desperation across Punjab Province, the country's most populous region and its agricultural hub."

* It wasn't much, but I'm so desperate for good economic news that a slight improvement in the housing market and a jump in industrial production seemed huge.

* The things one finds when cleaning up: "The CIA has videotapes, after all, of interrogations in a secret overseas prison of admitted 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh. Discovered in a box under a desk at the CIA, the tapes could reveal how foreign governments aided the United States in holding and interrogating suspects. And they could complicate U.S. efforts to prosecute Binalshibh, who has been described as one of the 'key plot facilitators' in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

* A step in the right direction: "The White House is preparing a package of measures that would expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there, congressional and Obama administration officials said Tuesday." The measures won't need congressional support.

* Great pieces on Park51 from Dana Milbank and Peter Beinart.

* Don't expect George W. Bush to step up and set his party straight.

* Rep. Michael Arcuri (D) of New York really ought to be ashamed of himself.

* Jonathan Cohn is back from New Orleans, offering an in-depth look at the city five years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. His first installment was yesterday, the second was published this morning. Worth a read.

* She's absolutely right: "Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has taken up the cause of reforming state judicial campaign and election systems, writing that the 'crisis of confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is real and growing.'"

* Yet another worthwhile stimulus project that wouldn't exist if the GOP had its way.

* I think Roger Simon intended this to be tongue-in-cheek. I also think a lot of folks didn't pick up on the sarcasm.

* Daniel Luzer: "[T]he majority of students who attend for-profit schools don't pay back their loans. This isn't really much of a surprise. More interestingly, however, this indicates that loan repayment rates are pretty bad everywhere."

* Elon Green lists the "10 Young Right-Wingers Being Prepped to Take Over the Conservative Movement."

* The estimable Anonymous Liberal: "If terrorists 'hate us because of our freedoms,' then failing to respect those freedoms amounts to appeasement, right? ... That makes Bill Kristol the Neville Chamberlain of this debate. If he was capable of logical thought, his head might explode."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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MURDOCH LIED.... It was just a few months ago that Rupert Murdoch was asked whether it's appropriate for Fox News to play an active role in supporting the so-called Tea Party "movement."

The News Corp. CEO replied, "I don't think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party."

Ahem.

Media Matters' video on this seems pretty effective:

Note the tag line: "Fox is not news. It's a 24/7 political organization."

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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PAWLENTY STRUGGLES TO KEEP UP WITH CURRENT EVENTS.... I don't expect much from Tim Pawlenty. He has a presidential campaign to prepare, and a right-wing base to pander to, so it's inevitable that much of his rhetoric will be cheap and silly.

But this is ridiculous, even for Pawlenty.

Add Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to the list politicians with selective memory about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's global outreach on behalf of the United States.

Pawlenty, a presidential hopeful for 2012, appeared on Fox News' "Hannity" last night to decry Obama's support for the Islamic cultural center proposed by Rauf's Cordoba House at a site two blocks from Ground Zero. He also criticized the State Department for sending Rauf on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East, saying that was "disgusting" and "dangerous."

"To have him be the leader not just of this mosque but to hire him through the State Department and send him around the world on our behalf is ridiculous," Pawlenty told Sean Hannity. "It is quite quite dangerous, quite concerning."

Now, Pawlenty doesn't know anything about national security, diplomacy, or foreign policy, so it stands to reason that he'd be confused about this. But he should at least try to keep up with current events before talking nonsense on national television.

As Adam Serwer reported last week, the State Department has "a long-term relationship" with Rauf -- which includes the Bush administration also sending him to the Middle East to assist with the U.S. diplomatic agenda in the region.

Was that "quite, quite dangerous," too?

For that matter, the FBI partnered with Rauf in 2003 on counter-terrorism efforts. Indeed, the FBI considered him an ally and one of New York's most respected Muslim voices.

Was that "ridiculous," too?

It's ironic -- every time Pawlenty takes steps to seem more credible, he ends up looking more foolish.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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A MEDIA STRATEGY COMES INTO FOCUS.... One of the year's more noteworthy campaign trends is the habit of right-wing candidates to avoid the media. While candidates, especially those seeking statewide office, traditionally fight tooth and nail for as much attention as they can get, this year, we're seeing more and more Republican politicians avoiding -- and in some cases, literally running away from -- reporters.

The reasoning isn't exactly a mystery. Journalists tend to ask candidates about their views, public remarks, policy positions, etc. For extremist candidates like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, it makes for uncomfortable interviews, which usually make the Republicans look pretty foolish.

But it's worth noting that sometimes the strategy makes sense. Ron Johnson (R), taking on Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in Wisconsin this year, is one of 2010's nuttiest candidates, and his staff has wisely shielded him from potential embarrassments (i.e., questions about his beliefs). But as we've seen, it's tough to keep a journalist boycott going indefinitely, and yesterday, Johnson sat down with editors and reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A global warming skeptic, Johnson said extreme weather phenomena were better explained by sunspots than an overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as many scientists believe.

"I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change," Johnson said. "It's not proven by any stretch of the imagination."

Johnson, in an interview last month, described believers in manmade causes of climate change as "crazy" and the theory as "lunacy."

"It's far more likely that it's just sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time," he said.

It was probably about this time that a Johnson aide, standing just out of earshot, turned to the campaign manager and said, "I told you this was a bad idea."

Lest anyone think there may be something to this, Zaid Jilani explained, "[S]unspots have been at a historic lows. As the Wonk Room's Brad Johnson notes, 'Severe weather fueled by global warming pollution is having an even more devastating impact around the world.... All of these disasters were predicted by climate scientists as a consequence of greenhouse gas pollution from burning fossil fuels.'"

Ideally, candidates who are too bizarre to speak to the media probably shouldn't be running. But once the damage is done, a campaign has to realize it's political suicide to let its candidate speak freely and make a fool of himself.

In other words, I don't imagine Wisconsin newspapers will be having too many more sit-downs with Ron Johnson anytime soon.

Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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'I HAVE NOT CHANGED IN MY POSITIONS'.... Jill Lawrence caught up with Sen. John McCain (R) in Arizona, and brought up Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) recent assertion that McCain has no choice but to move away from some of his previous positions. "John's got a primary," Graham said. "He's got to focus on getting re-elected."

McCain interrupts me. "Lindsey knows that I don't change in my positions," he says. "I have not changed in my positions. I know how popular it is for the Eastern press to paint me as having changed positions. That's not true. I know they're going to continue to say it. It's fundamentally false. Not only am I sure that they'll say it, you'll say it. You'll write it. And I've just grown to accept that."

McCain continues to sound bitter and belligerent -- he's convinced journalists are desperate "to see John McCain, the nominee of the Republican Party, in serious trouble" -- just for bitterness' sake. He brings up his failed presidential campaign, only to pretend he's moved past it. It's kind of sad, really.

But for McCain to angrily insist he's hasn't changed his positions, and that the very idea is "fundamentally false," is pretty silly, even by his standards.

Can anyone name a single major policy position that McCain hasn't flip-flopped on? I've looked and can't think of any.

I mean that quite literally. Some of the more recent reversals -- on immigration policy, on cap-and-trade, on Supreme Court nominees, on Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- are glaring because they deal with issues that have been the subject of a lot of attention of late, but this is a man who has nothing in common with previous iterations of himself. McCain did, after all, recently claim, "I never considered myself a maverick."

McCain also vowed, just last week, that if re-elected, he promises not to work in a bipartisan fashion on immigration policy -- a complete reversal to the entire image he built up over the last decade.

It's tempting to run through the entire compilation of every McCain reversal, but when I gave up keeping track two years ago, the list was awfully long. His changed positions encompassed everything from taxes, to national security, to culture-war issues, to foreign policy, to constitutional policy, to the economy, to campaign-finance reform.

John McCain has shed one skin, only to climb into a very different one. For him to insist, on the record and with a straight face, "I don't change in my positions," is among the single most ridiculous claims I've ever heard.

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'THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR INACTION'.... In his Oval Office address in June, President Obama tried, once again, to remind Americans that our approach to energy policy, and our failure to position ourselves for international competition, is costing us dearly. "The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America," he said.

It's hard to overstate how true this is. In June, a New Jersey company held the license to technology that "makes solar panels cheaper, more efficient and less toxic to the environment." The company's chief executive, an American and retired Marine, decided he had no choice but to move his operation to China, which reached out to the company. "The Chinese have a major, aggressive movement to increase the technology in the photovoltaic area," Chuck Provini said. "They picked up the phone and called us and said, 'What do you do?'"

The result: an American company's technology will be commercialized overseas. The economic boost and the hundreds of new jobs will be in China, not here. As ABC News reported, we're not only lagging behind China, but Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain all have a national clean energy policy, and are all taking clean-energy investments more seriously than the United States.

And it's getting worse. Deutsche Bank has making billions of dollars in energy-policy investments. Guess where the money's going? Western Europe and China. Guess why:

Amid so much political uncertainty in the United States, Parker said Deutsche Bank will focus its "green" investment dollars more and more on opportunities in China and Western Europe, where it sees governments providing a more positive environment.

"They're asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry," [Deutsche Bank's Kevin] Parker said of Washington's inability to seal a climate-change program and other alternative energy incentives into place.

Every policy challenge need not be seen through a partisan lens, but this one should -- America is faltering on energy because the Republican Party demands it. The U.S. is falling behind international competitors because the GOP thinks "drill, baby, drill" is a substantive idea, climate science is a Marxist plot, cap-and-trade (an idea Republicans came up with) is radical and dangerous, and a national clean energy policy is wholly unnecessary.

Of course, this wouldn't necessarily matter -- the GOP is in the minority -- but our political system, for the first time in American history, requires super-majorities just to have a vote. The result is legislative paralysis, and a clean-energy revolution that is leaving the United States behind.

Misguided Republican nonsense is costing the nation dearly, and after the midterm, and expected GOP gains, this is only going to get worse.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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A PROVOCATIVE COMPARISON.... Last night's segment on Park51 on "The Daily Show" featured some pretty brilliant insights, most notably Glenn Beck trashing Feisal Abdul Rauf for making nearly identical remarks to Glenn Beck's own on-air commentary.

But of particular interest was the discussion between Jon Stewart and John Oliver about the conservative drive to conflate terrorists with all Muslims, even Muslim Americans. Oliver offered a tongue-in-cheek summary of the right-wing line: "What Newt Gingrich is trying to say is that Islam, like every religion, has to be responsible for its biggest assholes." When Stewart asked why faith traditions have to "bend to people's worst suspicions about them," Oliver replied:

"Because there is a difference between what you can do, and what you should do. For instance, you can build a Catholic Church next to a playground. Should you? Or am I alone in thinking it's a little too soon for that?"

Well, that's not going to go over well at the Catholic League.

The comparison was obviously provocative, and intended to be confrontational -- it's a comedy show, after all, highlighting the absurdities of our discourse and modern life -- but it'd be a mistake to dismiss the point reflexively.

After all, we're dealing with a political environment in which many Americans want to blame an entire faith tradition for the gut-wrenching crimes of violent fanatics and monsters. What happens, then, if one takes John Oliver's question seriously?

Everyone is well aware of the horrific scandal that has plagued the Roman Catholic Church, in which priests sexually abused countless children -- across the United States, and around the world -- and church officials neglected to act, often engaging in an international cover-up.

If a congregation wanted to build a church next to a children's playground, would conservatives ask why it has to be right next to the playground? What about the feelings of the abused children's parents? Can't the church at least be five blocks away, just out of respect?

Of course, the questions are absurd on its face -- by no reasonable standard should Roman Catholic Churches be assumed to be dangerous to children, just because of a systemic scandal involving sexual abuse. In America, we just wouldn't tolerate this kind of discrimination.

But we should be just as offended when the same discriminatory attitudes are applied to other American minority faiths.

The video of the segment is below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mosque-Erade
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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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's primary day in Wyoming and the state of Washington. The former will host a gubernatorial primary, while the latter holds a Senate primary.

* Disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott (R) launched a new television ad yesterday, urging voters to elect him governor of Florida because he opposes a community center in lower Manhattan. He made no effort to connect the two in any way, but seems to hope GOP primary voters aren't very bright.

* In Michigan's 1st congressional district, Dan Benishek has won a congressional Republican primary by just 15 votes. His opponent, state Sen. Jason Allen, could have requested a recount, but instead conceded the race yesterday.

* The death of a professional wrestler has brought the issue of steroid abuse back to the fore in Linda McMahon's (R) Senate campaign in Connecticut.

* Speaking of Connecticut, if you're inclined to believe Rasmussen, the pollster shows Dan Malloy (D) leading Tom Foley (R) in this year's open gubernatorial race, 48% to 33%.

* In Pennsylvania, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows former right-wing Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in this year's Senate race, 45% to 36%.

* Just in time for the midterms, Daily Kos is launching an email activism effort, which will be managed by Chris Bowers.

* And in case there were any doubts, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is "absolutely" running for re-election in 2011.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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WHEN THE RIGHT WANTS TO FOLLOW THE COMMUNISTS' LEAD.... In National Review, J.D. Foster makes the case that China is setting a fine economic model to be emulated. (via Isaac Chotiner)

Oh, what a little freedom can do. Government figures released over the weekend confirm that China now has the second-largest economy in the world...[G]iven the direction the U.S. is heading, there's a more immediate, more important issue: what China learned -- and the U.S. apparently forgot -- about the power of freedom.

While China has been economic freedom's new, albeit imperfect laboratory, personal economic freedom in the United States is being slowly strangled by the state. More spending, more regulations, more rules, and, soon, the Obama tax hikes all contribute to a loss of individual freedoms and, collectively, to an economy bearing a much closer resemblance to floundering Japan than rising China.

Where economic freedom expands, growth follows. Where economic freedom is stifled, economies stagnate. Sadly, China's former leaders understood this better than do its current leaders, or America's.

This follows on the heels of disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich telling the Young Americans for Freedom that the Democratic agenda is really just a secret "socialist" plot. He added, "You want to create jobs as rapidly as China? The Chinese pay zero capital-gains tax. If we had zero capital-gains tax in the United States ... we'd be dramatically better off."

As Jon Stewart explained, "So that's the Republican plan -- to fight socialism, we must become communists."

Also note, as part of an ongoing look at the standards for international comparisons, maybe the right can put together a list for us of countries we're allowed to reference. If the left suggests the U.S. pursue a public policy that's worked in, say, Germany, conservatives respond, "They're trying to turn us into Europe!"

But when Gingrich encourages us to follow China's lead, no one argues, "They're trying to turn us into a communist powerhouse!" Just as when Sharron Angle praises Pincohet's privatization scheme and suggests we emulate it here, no one seems inclined to argue, "Republicans are trying to turn us into a South American military dictatorship!"

Update: An emailer reminds me that Newt also wants the U.S. to follow the Saudis' lead on religious liberty. I guess that means, "Republicans are trying to turn us into a Middle Eastern theocracy!"

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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AT LEAST SOME POLITICS IS LOCAL.... Last month, Details ran an interview with Rand Paul, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky, which generated some attention. In particular, Paul lauded mountain-top removal as a great idea that just needs a little rebranding.

But in the same interview, Paul said something else of interest. The reporter asked about the significance of Harlan County, Kentucky. "I don't know," the candidate replied. Noting that the town of Hazard is nearby, Paul added, "It's famous for, like, The Dukes of Hazzard." When an aide tries to steer him towards the truth -- Harlan County was home to generations of deadly labor disputes -- Paul ignores him, and says, "Maybe the feuding."

It was a reminder that Rand Paul wants to go Washington to represent Kentucky, but as the Lexington Herald-Leader's Larry Dale Keeling noted the other day, Paul "seems to know dangerously little" about the state.

People who "live" somewhere for 17 years will pick up a little knowledge through osmosis even if they don't bother to get out and learn about their surroundings. A person who merely "resides" somewhere is more like the little knickknack that "resides" in the bric-a-brac case hanging on the wall.

A person who has "lived" in Kentucky for 17 years might know how "Bloody Harlan" got its name and that The Dukes of Hazzard was set in the fictional Hazzard (two Z's) County, Georgia, not the Kentucky city of Hazard (one Z).

A person who has "lived" in Kentucky for 17 years might know the community of Fancy Farm is in a dry county and the picnic put on annually by the old folks of St. Jerome Parish is a family affair where no one has to worry about having beer or anything else thrown at them.

Those are just a few items someone who has lived here for several years might know. But there are some things a person who has lived in this state for any amount of time can't help but know.

Adding insult to injury, Paul has also said Eastern Kentucky's drug problem is not "a real pressing issue," despite the fact that it's been ravaged by an epidemic. Keeling explained, "Only someone who is totally clueless would say that, or suggest that Eastern Kentucky's drug epidemic can be cured at the local level without any federal help." (The columnist added that Paul may have been paying a little too much "homage to Aqua Buddha.")

It's worth emphasizing that people run for office in adopted-home states all the time, and there's nothing wrong with that. George W. Bush was a popular Texas governor, despite having been born in Connecticut. Howard Dean was a popular Vermont governor, despite being from New York. Rand Paul is capable of serving Kentucky after having moved there as an adult.

But it's awfully unusual for a novice to run for the United States Senate, despite never having served in government at any level, and neglect to read up on the state he hopes to represent.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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CHRISTIE TAKES ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK.... There have been several prominent Republican voices who've been willing to express support for the Park51 project in lower Manhattan -- including several officials from the Bush White House -- but scarcely any who are current office-holders.

It's why it was encouraging, at least initially, to see New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) urge his party to be cautious about its anti-Islam campaign. Christie didn't defend the First Amendment, or endorse the community center's construction, or really comment at all on the dispute itself, but the governor urged his party not to "overreact" and to avoid painting "all of Islam" with "a brush of radical Muslim extremists."

Under the circumstances, that's a reasonably encouraging line for a GOP official to take. It's not quite the stuff of a "Profile in Courage" award, but given the toxic environment, I'm willing to give Christie at least some credit.

Or, I was, right up until I saw what else Christie said.

"[W]hat offends me the most about all this, is that it's being used as a political football by both parties. And what disturbs me about the president's remarks is that he is now using it as a political football as well. I think the president of the United States should rise above that. And should not be using this as a political football, and I don't believe that it would be responsible of me to get involved and comment on this any further because it just put me in the same political arena as all of them."

Christie said he agrees that some degree of "deference" must be paid to victims' relatives, but added, "But it would be wrong to so overreact to that, that we paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans. But beyond that ... I am not going to get into it, because I would be guilty of candidly what I think some Republicans are guilty of, and the president is now, the president is guilty of, of playing politics with this issue, and I simply am not going to do it."

I've read this a few times, and I'm still not sure what on earth Chris Christie is talking about.

The issue is being "used as a political football by both parties"? Maybe Christie doesn't know what a "political football" is, but I haven't heard any Democrats running around trying to exploit Republican intolerance for partisan gain. Putting a pox on both houses is a sure-fire way to get political reporters to swoon and gush, but Christie's criticism of Dems has no basis in reality. They're the ones generally trying to avoid this subject like the plague.

President Obama is "guilty" of "playing politics with this issue"? The president was hosting an iftar and endorsed First Amendment principles and American values of religious liberty. One can agree or disagree with the remarks, but Christie thinks the president was wrong to publicly endorse constitutional tenets? It's inappropriate for Obama to say, "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable"? Seriously?

Also note the instances in which Christie, in the midst of remarks about the controversy, goes out of his way to try to distance himself from the controversy. In effect, the governor is saying, "I'm not going to talk about the subject I'm talking about, and I'd like credit for not commenting on a controversy I'm already commenting on."

Christie seems to be playing a silly p.r. game, entering the fray by looking down on those already in the fray, hoping we won't notice. His advice to his party was sound, but he should have quit while he was ahead.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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DROPPING AN ALREADY-THIN PRETENSE.... Try to contain your surprise.

News Corp., which owns Fox News and the New York Post, gave $1 million to Haley Barbour's Republican Governors Association this year, according to the RGA's most recent filing.

The company's media outlets play politics more openly than most, but the huge contribution to a party committee is a new step toward an open identification between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and the GOP. The company's highest-ranking Democratic executive, Peter Chernin, recently departed.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said, "News Corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA's pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy."

In case you were curious, there were no comparable contributions to Democratic campaign committees. News Corp. has written some modest checks for a few Democratic incumbent lawmakers, but they're of the four-figure variety -- a small fraction of the $1 million check for the Republican Governors Association.

Indeed, the RGA's "biggest corporate donor" happens to be Fox News' corporate parent.

Matt Gertz asks, "Are there still people who doubt that Fox is just an arm of the GOP?"

There shouldn't be.

On a related note, anyone want to lay odds on whether Fox News' on-air broadcasters, reporting on gubernatorial races, disclose that the same company paying their salary is also helping finance the Republican candidate they're covering?

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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THE BARE MINIMUM FOR PUBLIC DISCOURSE.... I noticed the cover story in the last issue of Newsweek had a five-word headline over a photo of 9/11 devastation: "A Mosque at Ground Zero?" Of those five words, four are wrong -- it's not a mosque, and it's not "at" Ground Zero. American news consumers who only casually keep up on current events very likely walked by Newsweek at the check-out aisle and started to form an opinion, unaware that the only accurate word in the headline was "a."

It's a reminder of one of the most painful aspects of our discourse: we're constantly having debates over issues that exist only in the imagination of deceptive conservative hacks, who happen to excel at propaganda. There are, for example, no "death panels." "Terror babies" don't exist. There's no such thing as a "death tax."

And as Keith Olbermann explained well last night, there's no such thing as the "Ground Zero Mosque."

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I realize that Olbermann's special comments don't resonate with everyone. But even if you don't find his analysis especially compelling, pay particular attention to his description of the facts in the case of Park51 -- it's not at Ground Zero, it's not a mosque, and even characterizing it as two blocks away is generous. The community won't be "in the shadow" of Ground Zero; it won't even be visible from Ground Zero. Hell, developers aren't even calling it the Cordoba House anymore, in the hopes that a more generic name -- Park51 -- will set minds at ease.

Everything about this debate is largely a sham, cooked up by conservatives who hope to pit Americans against each other in advance of an election cycle.

The bare minimum of a sensible, constructive public discourse is a base of reality to build upon. At this point, we're not even close.

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

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MARRIAGE EQUALITY PUT ON HOLD IN CALIFORNIA.... Two weeks ago, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker declared California's Proposition 8, banning marriage equality in the state, to be unconstitutional. Last week, he lifted a stay, clearing the way for same-sex couples to legally wed as of tomorrow afternoon.

There was always the possibility that the 9th Circuit of Appeals, due to hear the case, would extend a stay as the case proceeds. Late yesterday, the appeals bench did just that.

California's ban on same-sex marriages will remain in place until at least December, an appeals court ruled Monday, dashing the hopes of hundreds of couples who had hoped to wed as soon as Wednesday. [...]

Supporters of the law appealed Walker's finding to the 9th Circuit, and the appeals court ruled Monday that Proposition 8 could remain in effect while it considers the case. It indicated that it will act relatively swiftly on the appeal, setting a hearing for early December -- a schedule that pleased those challenging the measure. But it will not come soon enough for the gay and lesbian couples who were already making plans to exchange vows at city halls around the state this week.

This will, no doubt, be deeply disappointing to couples whose rights are being denied. That said, yesterday's move shouldn't be interpreted as a hint about the eventual outcome -- issuing a stay doesn't mean the appeals bench will reverse the lower court's ruling on the case.

Indeed, the three-judge panel that extended the stay yesterday won't even be the same three-judge panel that will hear the appeal.

One more thing to keep an eye on here. Ben Smith notes that in its order, the 9th Circuit warned that "it's considering dismissing the appeal on the grounds that the appellants -- who don't include the Governor or Attorney General -- lack standing."

Yesterday's order said, "In addition to any issues appellants wish to raise on appeal, appellants are directed to include in their opening brief a discussion of why this appeal should not be dismissed for lack of Article III standing."

Stay tuned.

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

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August 16, 2010

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

* The devastating floods in Pakistan will likely have a painful, lasting impact.

* Defense Secretary Robert Gates mused over retirement while chatting with Fred Kaplan, but despite some news accounts, he didn't exactly announce when he'd step down.

* Over the weekend, President Obama made yet another trip to the Gulf Coast. He heralded the spill-related progress, but assuring locals, "I'm here to tell you that our job is not finished, and we are not going anywhere until it is."

* And yes, he swam in the water.

* Likely to get NATO's attention: "President Hamid Karzai intends to disband all private security companies in Afghanistan within four months, his spokesman said Monday, a timeline that likely will meet with strong resistance from NATO forces who rely heavily on the companies to provide security to convoys and installations across the country."

* On a related note, while Afghan and NATO troops tend to focus on the Taliban threat in the south and east, insurgents are making new inroads in northern Afghanistan.

* An exceedingly rare occurrence on health care costs: "For the first time in 35 years, the one sector of the economy always guaranteed to get more expensive suddenly became a bit cheaper in July."

* The six-year Justice Department investigation into disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has ended, though state criminal charges are still pending.

* Ella: "The Food and Drug Administration approved a controversial new form of emergency contraception Friday that can prevent a pregnancy as many as five days after sex."

* China is poised to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy.

* What for-profit schools do well.

* On a related note, if Republicans took seriously the notion of getting health care costs under control, they'd love the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Unfortunately, Republicans don't take seriously the notion of getting health care costs under control.

* Great Maddow segment on Social Security (and not just because I'm quoted towards the end).

* Veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins was asked yesterday whether Republicans should "do something" about their ridiculous party chairman, Michael Steele. While Rollins said there's no time for a change, he conceded, "Obviously, he's been a disaster." I have a hunch Democrats would disagree.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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REID CAVES TO PRESSURE ON CORDOBA HOUSE.... When President Obama bucked public opinion and delivered a strong endorsement of the First Amendment on Friday night, it took the dispute over the Cordoba House proposal to a new level. There was no political upside for the president -- conservatives only celebrate constitutional principles when they approve of those being protected -- which made it all the more admirable when he did the right thing.

It's safe to say the president's party was less impressed. While Democratic candidates, already worried about public attitudes less than three months before the midterm elections, could push off the controversy by dismissing it as a "local matter," Obama's remarks made dodging more difficult. Instead of reporters asking whether they support allowing Americans to build a community center in lower Manhattan, now reporters are asking whether they agree with the president.

In the case of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), he doesn't.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid is breaking ranks with President Obama over the issue of the proposed construction of a controversial Islamic center and mosque just blocks away from Ground Zero.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place [sic] else. If the Republicans are being sincere, they would help us pass this long overdue bill to help the first responders whose health and livelihoods have been devastated because of their bravery on 911, rather than continuing to block this much-needed legislation."

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised -- courageous stands are rarely rewarded by voters in competitive contests -- but it's nevertheless disappointing to see Reid make the wrong call. It's disappointing because I'm all but certain Reid doesn't actually believe this. As a member of a religious minority himself, Reid knows better. He has to.

Indeed, notice that Reid's statement made no effort to explain why the former Burlington Coat Factory store is an inappropriate location for a community center, or how many blocks away from Ground Zero would be satisfactory. There's a very good reason for that -- the stand against religious liberty for Muslim Americans may be popular, but it's very hard to defend.

It's worth emphasizing that Reid agrees that the First Amendment "protects freedom of religion." This matters to the extent that the statement effectively concedes the legal reality -- like it or not, the law is the law, and the religious rights of Americans are still protected. In other words, Reid is effectively saying, "They can build the community center, but they shouldn't."

In a case like this, the concession doesn't amount to much. Reid is still wrong.

As is usually the case, Republicans responded to Reid's effort to prevent political attacks by attacking him anyway. If he was going to get slammed either way, Reid probably should have just done the right thing and stood up for the American values he knows are worth fighting for.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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THE GOP'S NEW SCHOOL-TEACHER CONSPIRACY.... Last week, the House returned from its recess to approve a key state-aide jobs bill. The move was good policy and good politics -- it included $10 billion to save as many as 160,000 school teachers' jobs, and $16.1 billion in state Medicaid funding (FMAP), all in a package that doesn't add a dime to the deficit.

Republican opposition was nevertheless nearly unanimous. Though the basis for the hostility was a little vague -- apparently, if Dems are for it, Republicans are against it -- congressional Republicans labeled school teachers, firefighters, and police officers whose jobs were on the line as "special interests," unworthy of rescue.

Soon after, the more hysterical wing of the party went further. As Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Sharron Angle (R-Nev.) saw it, the state-aid jobs bill was actually an elaborate scheme to take tax-dollars, make sure the funds were "laundered through the public employee unions," and then use the money to help Democratic candidates in the midterm elections.

Today, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) joined the conspiracy caucus.

"Much of those checks that will be distributed will have an automatic deduction in them that will transfer some of that money into the coffers of the unions and their political action money will go into the campaign accounts of 95 percent Democrats. This is a blatant money-laundering scheme that's cooked up by Nancy Pelosi."

See the conspiracy? School teachers, instead of being laid off, will continue to teach kids. When they get paid for their work, they're likely to pay dues to a union. The union will, in turn, pool those dues and spend some of the resources in support of allied political candidates. And some of those candidates will likely be Democrats.

Ergo, Democrats weren't saving jobs and helping schools -- that's just what they want you to think -- but rather, were hatching a devious money-laundering scheme. How clever!

Of course, the implications of such a fiendish plot have broad applicability. As Eric Kleefeld asked, "Could the same logic be applied to government spending on wars and military contractors under Republican administrations?"

In the larger context, it's actually helpful to Democrats that Republicans are still complaining about the jobs bill, because the more attention the effort receives, the better it is for the party that supported it. This was, after all, a popular, common-sense package -- which lowered, not raised, the deficit -- to save middle-class jobs. Voters can be fickle and unpredictable at times, but most folks tend to like school teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

As we talked about last week, the campaign ads seem to write themselves. Indeed, this is a debate to build an election around -- with a struggling economy, Democrats proposed a fiscally-responsible plan to save hundreds of thousands of jobs, specifically helping our local schools. Republicans said we can afford tax cuts for billionaires, but not teachers' jobs.

It's not every day the two parties' approaches to government get spelled out so clearly, giving the public a stark choice between two very different ideologies.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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SO MUCH FOR OUTREACH.... In a good piece over the weekend, Politico's Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman noted the ways in which the Republican Party, post-Bush, has dropped the pretense and become deliberately hostile towards the entire faith tradition of Islam, even Muslim Americans. It seems hard to remember, but there was once an "active courtship of Muslim voters" by the Republican Party -- before and after 9/11.

It's probably fair to say that courtship is over.

Sam Stein reports today on Muslim and Arab-American Republicans who are "working behind the scenes to try and tone down their own party's rhetoric."

Organized informally, the group includes officials who served in the Bush administration or have strong ties to GOP leadership. Their concerns are twofold: that there is something fundamentally unconstitutional about opposing the Islamic cultural center and that the tenor of conservatives risks alienating the Muslim and Arab communities (both domestic and abroad) for years to come.

"People like myself... who are hardcore Republicans and have been activists for years, with undoubted credentials on the Republican side, are really outraged by what is going on," said David Ramadan, a prominent Muslim-American conservative operative and a member of the Virginia delegation to the Republican National Convention. "We believe first and foremost in the Constitution. This is not a matter of this mosque or that mosque. This is not a New York mosque issue. It is a Constitutional issue.... This is absolutely unacceptable."

With close ties to both Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell national Republicans, Ramadan said that he and others will launch an outreach campaign in the days ahead targeting key leaders, from members of Congress on down. The hope is to bring the GOP closer in line with the position it held during the Bush years, when Islam was defined first and foremost as a religion of peace.

By all appearances, those days are gone, and are unlikely to return.

Reading the piece, which is worth checking out in full, I was reminded of similar reports earlier this year about prominent Hispanic Americans in the Republican Party who were equally incensed about the direction of their party, as GOP leaders and candidates became increasingly anti-immigrant. It seems likely that prominent African Americans in the Republican Party have been similarly concerned with the party's race-based politicking of late.

The larger truth is that when Republicans get anxious in an election season, their first instinct is to play games with identity politics. It's a calculated divisiveness -- the GOP will lose the Muslim-American conservatives Bush brought into the party, but it's a small price to pay for boosting turnout from the rest of the party base.

Long term, as the United States gets more diverse, this is still a losing proposition. For now, Republicans don't seem to care.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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CAMPAIGN INVESTMENTS THAT CAN CHANGE THE CYCLE.... When looking ahead to the midterms, it's not uncommon to compare Democratic finances to Republican finances. Money isn't always the deciding factor, but the edge the Democratic campaign committees have over their Republican counterparts may give the appearance of an advantage.

It's worth emphasizing, then, that comparing the parties' cash on hand leaves out a key consideration -- outside groups that are planning to spend heavily, usually attacking Democrats. The L.A. Times had this report today, for example.

A conservative advocacy group Monday will kick off a huge ad campaign in 11 states and two dozen of the most competitive congressional races, slamming "wasteful federal spending."

The $4.1-million ad buy from the Americans for Prosperity Foundation does not mention individual candidates in the November election. The script attacks Washington policies, describing the economic stimulus program as a failure and declaring that "wasteful spending must stop."

The ads -- part of a midterm election likely to be the most expensive on record -- will run in 27 media markets through August. Democrats hold all but one of the 24 House seats in question, including 17 incumbents seeking reelection.

The television buys are in Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Several of those, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri, also have tight Senate races. The group is expected to continue funding ad buys throughout the fall and across the country.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) described it as "the biggest ad buy I am aware of this summer." The financing is secret, but the ads are believed to be financed, at least in part, by wealthy right-wing activist David Koch.

Voters seeing the ads won't know who's paying for them, or what the sponsoring group is all about, or whether there's any merit to the arguments. But a $4.1-million ad buy is going to get noticed, and it's going to affect public opinion.

What's more, voters should expect to see a lot more of these efforts over the next 77 days, with business groups gearing up to crush as many Democratic candidates as possible.

The latest blatant signs of hostility come from coal executives who are considering starting up their own political operation to work against candidates they deem unfriendly to their interests. Their first three targets are all Democrats.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already vowed to invest $75 million in the mid-term elections. And health insurers are also planning to play big in November, although the specifics remain in flux.

And all of this, of course, comes on the heels of Karl Rove's American Crossroads operations, which is poised to raise and spend tens of millions of dollars just on the midterms.

Democratic House candidates may currently enjoy a 2-to-1 edge in cash on hand over Republicans, but once corporate, post-Citizens United money is factored into the equation, the advantage quickly disappears.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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DEFENDING WORKERS' 'WAY OF LIFE,' BUT NOT THEIR SAFETY.... Rand Paul (R) continues to hope voters just aren't paying attention. I guess he doesn't have much of a choice -- a more informed public lowers his odds of success -- but this is just embarrassing.

Rand Paul came out swinging against the Environmental Protection Agency this weekend, arguing that President Obama is "forcing the EPA down our throats."

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Paul held a rally in a Kentucky coalfield on Saturday. Paul took the opportunity to position himself as an ally of coal workers (a key constituency in Kentucky, where Paul is running for Senate), arguing he would "defend your way of life."

For crying out loud. Just a few weeks ago, Paul, the extremist Senate candidate and political novice, explained that he rejects the notion of safety regulations to protect mine workers. It's better, he said, to let the free market deal with the problem.

As Paul envisions the system working, just so long as everyone honors the free market above all, "no one will apply for those jobs" if a mine's operators don't do a good job protecting worker safety.

Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney and mine-safety advocate, called Paul's statement "idiotic." He added that underground mines already offer dangerous working conditions, and if Paul successfully eliminated safety mandates, "there would be a bloodbath," he said.

As for the notion that coal-mine workers would just get jobs somewhere else if they weren't satisfied with the safety precautions, Oppegard concluded, "There's no other job opportunities."

It was a reminder that Rand Paul has a nice little worldview, shaped by a bizarre, inflexible libertarianism. And in this little world Paul has created in his mind, everything should work as he envisions -- the free market can and should dictate safety regulations at coal mines. If employers don't look out for their workers, those employers won't have applicants for job openings, which means less business, less profit, etc.

And while Rand Paul's nice little vision is just delightful in an Ayn Rand novel, it's contradicted by everything we know and have seen about reality. Indeed, how does the Republican Senate hopeful explain the nightmarish conditions miners faced before federal safety regulations? Shouldn't the free market have prevented such a disastrous set of circumstances and prevented the dangerous exploitation of desperate workers?

Now we see Paul positioning himself as an ally of coal workers. Please.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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GINGRICH KEEPS GODWIN'S LAW INTACT.... About a month ago, when he first started campaigning against the Cordoba House, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) insisted the United States should follow Saudi Arabia's lead when it comes to religious liberty.

That argument didn't prove especially persuasive, so on Fox & Friends this morning, the scandal-plagued, pseudo-intellectual Georgian took his hysteria slightly further, comparing American Muslims to Nazis.

Gingrich insisted, without proof, that the cultural center's leaders are "radical Islamists" who intend to demonstrate that "they can build a mosque next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by Islamists." (The former Burlington Coat Factory store is not, in reality, "next to" Ground Zero.)

He added, "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington."

We're well into the realm of farce at this point, and Gingrich seems to be playing a little game with the media establishment -- let's see just how ridiculous he can be on national television, but still be treated as a "serious" person, and still be invited back.

Of course, there are no limits for conservatives, so it's a game Gingrich is bound to win. Ideally, sensible people would think, "Wow, ol' Newt just compared a community center at a former clothing store to the Nazis. He must be insane."

But that never seems to happen, so Gingrich will continue to spew his garbage.

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

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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 Kansas, Republican congressional candidate Mike Pompeo directed his supporters late last week to an online item calling his Democratic opponent, Raj Goyle, "just another 'turban topper.'" The same piece said only Christians should hold public office. Pompeo's campaign later apologized.

* Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) Senate campaign in Pennsylvania got a boost today with an endorsement from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I).

* In Florida's GOP gubernatorial primary, some recent polls showed Rick Scott falling behind Bill McCollum, but the latest Ipsos poll shows the disgraced former health care executive out in front, 42% to 32%.

* On a related note, the winner of the GOP primary will face Florida CFO Alex Sink (D), who has a new ad making fun for Scott and McCollum for their constant bickering.

* In Colorado, where Dan Maes managed to somehow win the Republican gubernatorial primary, some state GOP leaders still hope to convince him to just go away. It seems unlikely they'll succeed.

* In Nevada, Brian Sandoval (R) continues to lead this year's gubernatorial race over Rory Reid (D), with the latest Mason-Dixon poll showing him ahead, 52% to 36%.

* A number of Massachusetts Democrats hope to persuade Vicky Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's widow, to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R) when he seeks re-election. At this point, she seems unlikely to run.

* And if you're inclined to believe Rasmussen, the pollster finds former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (D) leading Minnesota's gubernatorial race, topping state Rep. Tom Emmer (R), 45% to 36%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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ANGLE EYES UNITED NATIONS FOR ELIMINATION, TOO.... Sharron Angle (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, is already well known for wanting to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and several cabinet agencies. But don't forget, she has her eyes on Turtle Bay, too.

The United Nations resides on our soil and costs us money. We are -- I don't see any place in the Constitution -- in those eight priorities -- about the United Nations. So when we start talking about cutting programs, 5% per year, I think the United Nations fits into that category, yes."

Obviously, Angle is stark raving mad, so it's silly to expect her to know what she's talking about. But the Constitution offers the government the ability to enter into treaties and alliances. It's actually pretty basic stuff. The words "United Nations" obviously don't appear in the Constitution, because, much like the words "Air Force," "Federal Highway System," and "Nevada," no one had come up with the idea in the late 18th century

Of course, by Angle's twisted logic, practically all of the federal government would have to be eliminated.

Which is almost certainly the point.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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KRISTOL FINDS FAULT WITH 'TRAUMA'.... On Friday night, when President Obama defended our First American principles while hosting a White House iftar, he initially noted that we must "recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan." Obama added, "The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground."

The president went on to explain, however, that he believes Muslim Americans "have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country... This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable."

Plenty has been said about the latter part of this sentiment. But leave it to Bill Kristol to find fault with the former.

For Obama, 9/11 was a "deeply traumatic event for our country." Traumatic events invite characteristic reactions and over-reactions -- fearfulness, anger, even hysteria. That's how Obama understands the source of objections to the Ground Zero mosque. It's all emotional. The arguments don't have to be taken seriously. The criticisms of the mosque are the emotional reactions of a traumatized people.

But Americans aren't traumatized.... Obama (like Bloomberg) doesn't feel he even has to engage the arguments against the mosque -- because he regards his fellow citizens as emotionally traumatized victims, not citizens who might have a reasonable point of view.

Kristol liked this line of thinking so much, he repeated it on Fox News yesterday.

Now, Kristol long ago abandoned the pretense of seriousness or intellectual honesty, so it's hardly worth nothing how deeply deceptive his criticism is. But I would point the selective outrage on display. Kristol's whine is predicated on the notion that "deeply traumatic" was the wrong characterization. It's evidence that the president is, I don't know, bad or something.

But Steve M. took the next logical step -- he found several examples of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their team describing the 9/11 attacks as, you guessed it, "traumatic."

I can't find any evidence of Kristol complaining about it at the time.

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DON'T FOLLOW THE TERRORISTS' SCRIPT.... Michael Daly had a poignant item in the New York Daily News yesterday, reflecting on his friendship with five FDNY friends, four of whom perished on Sept. 11, 2001. The fifth, Tim Brown, somehow managed to survive after saving lives in the south tower, and filed suit to prevent the construction of the Cordoba House a couple of blocks away.

As much as Daly loves Brown, and wishes he did "not so strongly disagree with him," he concludes that Americans must not give in to "what the terrorists want." (via Peter Daou)

Nobody could sway me more than Tim when it comes to Ground Zero. But I cannot help feeling that if we block this mosque we will not only be doing what Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh want, we will also be doing exactly what Osama Bin Laden wants. [...]

We are only helping the bad guys if we declare that the religious freedom at the core of our democracy does not apply to a mosque too close to Ground Zero.

Maybe it is my own anger at the murder of my friends that gives me such a visceral reaction against doing what it seems clear the killers want us to do.

This observation is important, and I'm glad to see that it's coming up with increasing frequency. This morning, Mark McKinnon, a former strategist for George W. Bush, said of his own party, "Usually Republicans are forthright in defending the Constitution. And here we are, reinforcing al Qaeda's message that we're at war with Muslims.... I see a bad pattern where we're headed as a Republican Party."

Michael Gerson, Bush's former chief speechwriter, added today, "Those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism."

William Saletan noted the ways in which leading Republicans have become allies of Osama bin Laden's propaganda campaign. Jeffrey Goldberg also explained two weeks ago: "I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I've spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation. He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country."

Clearly, the vast majority of the GOP, and most of the American public, doesn't want to hear this. It's easier to believe that Muslim Americans are all dangerous (they're not) and now they're trying to build a mosque at Ground Zero (which isn't true, either).

But if critics would just pause to catch their breath and consider reason, they'd see there's no value in helping bin Laden's dangerous scheme.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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CORKER PUSHES THE CASE FOR DOING NOTHING.... As the economic recovery, such as it is, continues to look increasingly fragile, and economic anxiety grows, there are many who hope policymakers will be spurred into action. Republicans don't quite see it that way.

The GOP line continues to annoy. As the congressional minority sees it, the problem with the economy isn't the jobs crisis or businesses who don't have enough customers, but rather, "economic uncertainty." It's the Obama administration, the argument goes, that has made employers pull back, though a combination of passing health care reform, new safeguards for Wall Street, new consumer-protection regulations, etc.

The problem with the pitch is that it's unsupported by reality. As Ezra Klein noted the other day, "[T]hough I keep hearing about how policy uncertainty is holding us back, I still haven't heard, or been able to generate, any compelling data to support that argument."

But the argument won't go away. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), riffing off the uncertainty argument, said yesterday that the economy will improve if policymakers do nothing.

"The best thing we can do is calm down," he told ABC's "This Week," adding, "I sat down with a business this week -- I'll give you an example -- and they're looking at the healthcare bill, and they're trying to decide, should they keep people under 30 hours? Smaller businesses are saying, should we stay under 25?"

Corker went on to argue that if we just leave the Bush/Cheney tax rates in place for millionaires and billionaires, we'll all be better off. Given that the Bush/Cheney tax rates never generated the kind of prosperity and job growth that Republicans promised, it's hardly a compelling case.

But Corker's point about health care undermining employment is especially odd. The Affordable Care Act passed in March, and in April, we saw the highest private-sector job growth in several years. The month after health care reform passed Congress, the Dow Jones went up 500 points. I'm not saying there's a cause-and-effect connection here, but if the new health care law generated counter-productive "uncertainty," these improvements probably wouldn't have occurred.

Corker would have us believe that everything will get better if policymakers just sit on their hands. I have no idea why anyone would take this seriously.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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HALPERIN'S ADVICE PREDICATED ON DECENCY (WHICH MAY NOT EXIST).... For months, the Republican message has been vague but focused -- the economy matters more than everything else. The GOP doesn't necessarily have an economic agenda, or credible ideas on how to improve the economy, or even an explanation as to why they want to go back to the some policies that got us in this mess in the first place, but the focus is still there.

That may be changing. Republicans have seized on a plan to convert a shut-down clothing store into a community center in lower Manhattan, believing the plan can help pit Americans against each other and give the GOP a boost in the midterm elections. President Obama's spirited defense on Friday of the First Amendment and the American tradition of religious liberty has made Republicans even more anxious to embrace demagoguery for electoral gain.

Time's Mark Halperin published a letter to the Republican Party, acknowledging the "political potency" of the issue, and taking note of the fact that the president's support for American principles puts him at odds with public opinion. Halperin concludes, however, that it would be in America's interests for Republicans to show restraint.

Yes, Republicans, you can take advantage of this heated circumstance, backed by the families of the 9/11 victims, in their most emotional return to the public stage since 2001.

But please don't do it. There are a handful of good reasons to oppose allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly the family opposition and the availability of other, less raw locations. But what is happening now -- the misinformation about the center and its supporters; the open declarations of war on Islam on talk radio, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric -- is not worth whatever political gain your party might achieve.

It isn't clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama's measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

As I said, Republicans, this is your moment. As a famous New Yorker once urged in a very different context: Do the right thing.

This is excellent, thoughtful advice. It asks Republicans to look past the short-term gratification that demagoguery offers, and consider what's best for the country and our broader interests.

What Halperin wants, in other words, is for Republicans to demonstrate some decency and respect for American values. I would very much like to think this is still possible, but the party has offered no credible reason to believe it has the necessary strength of character.

I would genuinely love to be proven wrong, but waiting for GOP integrity invariably leads to crushing disappointment.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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PETRAEUS SUBTLY POINTS A FINGER.... Gen. David Petraeus, hoping to change public attitudes about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, has spent some time with major media outlets -- the New York Times, "Meet the Press," the Washington Post -- as part of an apparent p.r. campaign. The general, not surprisingly, believes the current policy, announced eight months ago, will pay dividends and succeed in time.

What I did find at least a little surprising was Petraeus' willingness to join the Obama White House in subtly blaming the failures of the Bush/Cheney era for many of our current predicaments.

U.S. military leaders inherited a faulty strategy for the war in Afghanistan at the end of the Bush administration and are still working to "refine the concepts," the U.S. commander said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

In his first interview since taking over as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus told NBC's David Gregory that when "a lot of us came out of Iraq in late 2008 and started looking intently at Afghanistan, we realized that we did not have the organizations that are required for the conduct and the comprehensive civil/military counterinsurgency campaign."

In the interview, which was conducted last week in Kabul and aired Sunday, Petraeus did not specifically criticize former President George W. Bush, who promoted him to head of U.S. Central Command in April 2008. But the timetable he described left little doubt that he believed the Bush administration inadequately laid the groundwork for integrating Afghan leaders into the allied military structure.

"Over the last 18 months or so" -- Bush left the White House 18 months ago -- "what we've sought to do in Afghanistan is to get the inputs right for the first time," Petraeus said.

When President Obama unveiled the new U.S. policy in Afghanistan in early December, he called out his immediate predecessor for pursuing a failed policy for so long. By 2003, "al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope."

But, Obama noted, then Bush decided to invade Iraq, diverting troops, resources, diplomacy, and national attention from Afghanistan, which precipitated deteriorating conditions and the reemergence of the Taliban. The president implicitly left no doubt about that Bush's tragic misjudgments made an awful situation much more difficult.

At the time, the right responded the way it always responds -- by insisting that it's wrong to blame Bush, even when Bush deserves blame. But now that Petraeus is making a similar case, will conservatives complain about him, too?

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

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August 15, 2010

CORNYN SHOULD TRY TO KEEP UP WITH CURRENT EVENTS.... At a certain level, it's still hard to fathom why the Cordoba House is so controversial. A Burlington Coat Factory store closed down; a local religious leader wants to build a community center at the location. This isn't especially interesting.

At least, it shouldn't be.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued today on Fox News that his party, without a policy agenda or substantive ideas about the future, intends to pit Americans against each other over this issue during the campaign season.

"This is not about freedom of religion," Cornyn said. "I do think it's unwise to build a mosque in the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack."

First, saying it's "not about freedom of religion" doesn't make it so. When the right organizes to prevent a Muslim American from converting a clothing store into a community center, solely because Muslims will pray there, it's quite obviously about freedom of religion.

Second, Cornyn helps pinpoint the basis for conservative opposition: he believes it's "unwise" to "build a mosque in the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack."

No wonder Republicans are so upset -- they have no idea what they're talking about. If someone proposed building a house of worship for a specific faith group "in the site where" 9/11 occurred, I'd oppose it, too.

And while one would hope John Cornyn, never the sharpest crayon in the box, would understand the basics before going on television to talk about a divisive issue, now is as good a time as any to help him understand current events. Let's make this easy for him: no one is talking about building a mosque at Ground Zero. The proposal calls for converting an old Burlington Coat Factory into a community center, a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero.

I'm sure the conservative senator will want to apologize for his mistake, so the public isn't left with the wrong idea. In fact, Cornyn, who'll no doubt be embarrassed by his confusion, should probably let his Republican allies know. Once the right understands that there's no plan to build a mosque at Ground Zero, the whole dispute should fade away.

Right?

Steve Benen 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTERS.... It's occasionally helpful to be reminded why I stopped reading far-right blogs.

A fairly prominent site called Right Wing News sent out a questionnaire to more than 100 leading conservative blogs, asking who they considered the worst Americans to ever live. It's not exactly an easy exercise -- coming up with American heroes is considerably easier -- but the results ranking the top 25 offer an interesting look at the perspectives of some of the right's most notable bloggers. (via Ron Chusid)

Bill Clinton tied for 23rd, alongside Hillary Clinton. Filmmaker Michael Moore tied for 19th, as did Al Sharpton. Actress Jane Fonda was 13th, along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. John Wilkes Booth came in 11th and Timothy McVeigh was 9th, but both murderers ranked below Ted Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

The top three: (3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (2) Barack Obama, and (1) Jimmy Carter. Yep, these three are, according to the right-wing bloggers who participated in the unscientific survey, the single worst Americans to ever live.

Rick Moran, himself a conservative blogger, wrote in response:

Frankly, this is embarrassing. Putting the Clintons, Pelosi, Reid, Gore, Sharpton, and other contemporary Democrats ahead of someone like Nathan Bedford Forest who was at least partly responsible for creating the KKK after the Civil War and spent his spare nights riding around the countryside whipping, lynching, and burning at the stake innocent African Americans demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance of American history.

James Joyner, another conservative writer, described the top 25 list as "bizarre."

Also note, in case it's not clear, the exercise appears to be entirely sincere. Every weeknight, Keith Olbermann names the "worst person in the world," but there's a tongue-in-cheek quality to the segment -- the music, the audio effects, the exaggerated speech are all intended to suggest that Olbermann does not literally consider his targets the single worst human beings on the planet.

The Right Wing News survey, however, was a serious attempt to identify the worst the United States has to offer -- the worst the United States has ever offered.

The results say far more about conservative bloggers than the finalists on the list.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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ENSIGN HOPES HIS SUPPORTERS ARE EASILY FOOLED.... Major media outlets continue to give him a pass, but the ongoing FBI investigation into Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) took an interesting turn recently when the scandal-plagued Republican started begging for cash for his legal defense fund.

Ensign, at the center of a humiliating sex/corruption/ethics scandal, registered his legal defense fund as a tax-exempt 527 political organization, which itself was a bizarre move. But this week, the right-wing senator sent out his first appeal to help pay his legal bills, acknowledging his adultery, but denying corruption allegations that appear to be plainly true.

Nevada journalist Jon Ralston described the appeal as "galling," adding that by sending the letter, Ensign "showed that not only does he lack self-awareness, but he thinks most people who receive the letter are ignoramuses."

That mistake -- this is just about sex! -- did not lead to a "difficult legal battle." Ensign is in legal jeopardy not because he slept with his wife's best friend and his best friend's wife — that never sounds less grotesque, does it? -- but because of how he tried to cover it up, pay off the couple through Mom and Dad and then try to hush up the cuckolded husband by importuning people he regulates to hire him.

The vast majority of people, I think, would forgive Ensign for weakness of the flesh -- the social conservative base he pandered to, notwithstanding. But his manipulation of the lives of Cindy and Doug Hampton and his shameful attempt to play the victim now have outraged many who might have been forgiving.

As for "being accused of things I absolutely did not do," I ask: Really? Do tell. All we've heard is "no comment" for more than a year. What is there in the past that should induce us to believe him?

Also note, instead of taking responsibilities for his own outrageous behavior, Ensign blamed his legal difficulties on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which the far-right senator dismissed as a "liberal organization" going after him without cause.

CREW's Melanie Sloan responded, "Senator Ensign had an extended affair with a campaign staffer, who happened to be married to his chief of staff Doug Hampton, fired them both, and had his parents pay them off without properly reporting it to the Federal Election Commission. He then conspired to help Mr. Hampton to set up a lobbying business to lobby his own office, in violation of federal law. So what exactly are the things that Senator Ensign is being accused of that he did not do?"

What a good question.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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A 'ROADMAP' TO GUTTING MEDICARE.... This was the week I started getting a little tired of the media's interest in Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- the NYT ran yet another profile on Thursday -- but I suppose it's worth noting that the far-right lawmaker had an op-ed in the Washington Post the other day on Medicare.

For context, keep in mind that Republican rhetoric on the seniors' health care program has been hard to grasp. For many years, the GOP goal was to cut Medicare. When Democrats proposed cost-saving measures in the same program as part of health care reform, Republicans pretended to be outraged that Dems would try to cut Medicare.

Soon after, Ryan, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee and the media's new conservative darling, unveiled his budget "roadmap," complete with deep cuts to Medicare. It this strikes you as an incoherent message, then we're on the same page.

This month, however, we learned that the savings from the Affordable Care Act will strengthen Medicare by extending the Trust Fund for 12 years. Ryan was unimpressed.

We do not have a choice as to whether Medicare will change from its current structure. It is being driven to insolvency. An honest debate requires a serious discussion of how Medicare will avert its collapse and be made sustainable. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Democrats' political machine has attacked my contribution to this debate, making the false claim that the only solution put forward to save Medicare would "end Medicare as we know it."

I'm not sure why Ryan considers this characterization "false."

Ryan's approach isn't particularly complicated. Under his "roadmap" plan, Medicare funding would be overhauled and replaced -- seniors would get vouchers to purchase coverage from private insurers, offering unregulated, pre-ACA insurance, without the Democrats' consumer protections.

The value of those vouchers would not be designed to keep up with escalating health care costs -- coverage would cost more than the benefits, and seniors on a fixed income would be expected to make up the difference.

Would this "end Medicare as we know it"? That seems more than fair as a description. Stephanie Cutter had a good item on this published at the White House's blog:

The bottom line under the Ryan plan: Costs would continue to rise, the value of benefits provided to seniors would continue to fall, and seniors would be stuck with fewer benefits and bigger bills. And, according to outside analysts, his plan would substantially increase the deficit in the medium-term.

We won't go down Rep. Ryan's road.

I sure hope not.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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KEEPING SOCIAL SECURITY UP FRONT AND CENTER.... Democratic leaders vowed this week to do their level best to make Social Security a campaign issue. That certainly makes sense -- it's a winning issue for Dems.

With that in mind President Obama devoted his weekly address to not only celebrating the 75th anniversary of Social Security becoming law -- FDR signed the legislation on August 14, 1935 -- but to vowing to fight Republican plans to undermine, if not eliminate, the bedrock American program.

After noting the privatization debate of 2005, the president said, "I'd have thought that debate would've been put to rest once and for all by the financial crisis we've just experienced. I'd have thought, after being reminded how quickly the stock market can tumble, after seeing the wealth people worked a lifetime to earn wiped out in a matter of days, that no one would want to place bets with Social Security on Wall Street; that everyone would understand why we need to be prudent about investing the retirement money of tens of millions of Americans.

"But some Republican leaders in Congress don't seem to have learned any lessons from the past few years. They're pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall. It's right up there on their to-do list with repealing some of the Medicare benefits and reforms that are adding at least a dozen years to the fiscal health of Medicare -- the single longest extension in history.

"That agenda is wrong for seniors, it's wrong for America, and I won't let it happen. Not while I'm President. I'll fight with everything I've got to stop those who would gamble your Social Security on Wall Street."

What's the Republicans' defense? That Social Security isn't really on their to-do list: "A spokesman for House Republican leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) accused Obama and the Democrats of dredging up old issues that are no longer valid."

That'd be more persuasive if so many Republicans weren't so anxious to gut Social Security. The leading GOP lawmaker on the House Budget Committee wants to privatize Social Security, and his idea has been endorsed by a wide variety of Republican officials and candidates. In Nevada, Sharron Angle has called for eliminating Social Security altogether, and her position has not be denounced by party leaders.

One high-profile House Republican recently called for the government to "wean everybody" off Social Security. A day later, another House Republican endorsed Social Security privatization. Two days later, yet another House Republican endorsed Social Security privatization.

This isn't ancient history -- it's all happened in 2010.

If Dems were just pointing to a straw man, I'd agree that it wouldn't be fair to make this a campaign issue. But Republicans are the ones actively pushing the notion that Social Security should be gutted and handed over to Wall Street. It seems like the kind of thing voters should be aware of.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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DON'T CALL IT A WALKBACK.... Our discourse is often on a hair-trigger, just waiting for a phrase or a sentiment that can be infused with extraordinary significance. Once in a while, though, this leads to some unnecessary overreactions.

On Friday night, President Obama hosted a White House iftar, and used the occasion to address a dispute that's sparked widespread discussion. Noting the controversy surrounding a proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, the president said Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground, but said what really matters in this discussion are the First Amendment principles and American values that we all should hold dear.

"[L]et me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure."

Yesterday, during a visit to the Gulf Coast, the president briefly spoke to CNN, which asked about his Friday night remarks. Obama said what really matters in this discussion are the First Amendment principles and American values that we all should hold dear.

"My intention was to simply let people know what I thought, which was that in this country we treat everybody equally in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion. I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about and I think it's very important, as difficult as some of these issues are, that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about."

When some news outlets tried to characterize this as some kind of reversal, the White House said in a statement, "Just to be clear, the President is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night."

But it was apparently too late. The hair-trigger had already been pulled, and talk of a presidential "walkback" was well underway.

This strikes me as excessive. The message on Friday emphasized constitutional principles, religious liberty, and the importance of Americans being treated equally. We have certain rights in this country, and those rights should be celebrated, not cast aside for political expediency.

There's nothing in the remarks from Saturday to undermine that message. There was no walkback.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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August 14, 2010

TESTING THE LIMITS OF A BOGUS RATIONALIZATION.... The right would have us believe that their hysterical opposition to the Cordoba House in lower Manhattan has nothing to do with religion or bigotry. A few will concede that they just hate certain religious minorities, but in general, high-profile conservatives know transparent bigotry doesn't go over well, so they've rationalized their position.

With that in mind, let's consider some hypothetical scenarios.

If Feisal Abdul Rauf wanted to build a coffee shop at Park51 in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Ground Zero, would anyone even think to care? Would it be the subject of an intense national debate? Would conspicuously unintelligent demagogues refer to it as the "9/11 coffee shop" and/or the "Ground Zero coffee shop"? Would there be an expectation that mainstream Muslim Americans "refudiate" the coffee shop out of sensitivity to the victims of 9/11?

These need not be rhetorical questions, and this isn't intended as some kind of joke.

What if Rauf wanted an up-scale clothing store? Or a Barnes & Noble? Or a place for consumer electronics? Or a nightclub? Would it be the "9/11 nightclub" and/or the "Ground Zero nightclub"?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that no one would care. Local officials responsible for reviewing building plans and zoning regulations would consider the proposal and make a reasoned decision. It'd generate a blurb in the local section of some NYC dailies -- if it even got that much attention.

But Feisal Abdul Rauf doesn't want a coffee shop or a nightclub. He found a location that used to house a Burlington Coat Factory -- not the Twin Towers -- and he wants to build a community center. The building would include a restaurant, a performing arts center, a place for worship, and a swimming pool. You'll notice that "terrorist training facility" is not included in the description.

For those who want to maintain the pretense that this isn't about religious liberty or discriminating against a minority faith, it's time for at least a shred of intellectual honesty. If the Cordoba House were to include a restaurant, a performing arts center, and a swimming pool -- without a place for worship -- would conservatives be so hysterical?

If the answer is "yes," they'd be every bit as incensed, then it's time to acknowledge that those who are whining incessantly about the community center would have to be just as outraged by the notion of Feisal Abdul Rauf's coffee shop. These are folks who, by all appearances, wouldn't want a Muslim American neighbor building anything in lower Manhattan, which is crazy, illegal, and at odds with how we do things in the United States.

If the answer is "no," they wouldn't be every bit as hysterical, and the inclusion of a place for prayer is what serves as a deal-breaker, then it's time to acknowledge that this has everything to do with religious liberty, and a desire to deny First Amendment protections to faith groups the right holds in contempt.

Either way, there's no excuse for such ugly nonsense.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES TO PUSH BACK.... It's gone on largely below the radar, but this week we've seen a White House slightly more aggressive than usual in calling out elements of the GOP agenda, and making an assertive case against misguided Republican ideas.

Consider just the past few days. The GOP wants to extend massively expensive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires? The White House pushed back. The GOP wants to scrap economic stimulus? The White House pushed back. The GOP wants to reject religious liberty in lower Manhattan? The White House pushed back. The GOP wants to undermine Social Security with a dangerous privatization scheme? The White House pushed back.

And the GOP wants to repeal at least part of the 14th Amendment? That's getting some pushback, too.

The Obama administration today blasted for Republicans for bringing up the possibility of changing the 14th Amendment while refusing to take part in a discussion about comprehensive immigration reform legislation with Democrats.

"Any talk about amending the Constitution is just wrong," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said with respect to the immigration debate. Napolitano added she was "surprised, to say the least," that Republicans were raising the idea before coming to the table to talk about amending immigration statutes.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called GOP interest in changing the amendment "rich in its irony [and] wrong in its approach."

"It is always interesting that those that have with steadfast fidelity talked about not tampering with our Constitution have now swerved to pick the 14th Amendment as the best place to address comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

He added that the 14th Amendment enshrines equal protection and due process -- "two things that don't need to be tampered with."

As a substantive matter, it's a shame that basic tenets of American society even need high-profile defenses like these, but as the Republican Party moves even further to the right, it's apparently necessary.

But as a political matter, there's an ongoing drive among Democrats to characterize Republicans as extremists. When the GOP calls for giving the Constitution a little touch up, and repealing a basic tenet of American law, Republicans make the Dems' task a little easier. The pushback is intended to make the case to the public, but it's also intended to remind voters of just how far gone much of the contemporary GOP really is.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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SHINING A LIGHT ON A 'SERIOUS SIN'.... When it comes to Sen. David Vitter (R), seeking re-election in Louisiana this year, the question was never whether his humiliating scandals would be a campaign issue. The question was how Democrats would make the case to voters that Vitter's dishonesty and character problems are a key campaign issue.

Yesterday, we got a pretty clear sense of the pitch. Vitter's Democratic opponent, Rep. Charlie Melancon, unveiled one of the season's hardest-hitting ads, shining a light on Vitter's background with prostitutes and hiring an abusive criminal to oversee women's issues for his Senate office. Just as importantly, Melancon's ad ties these scandals to Vitter's votes against equal pay for women workers, against mandatory coverage for mammograms, and against protections for women who are raped on the job.

The closing line is pretty devastating: "David Vitter: for women, his 'serious sin' isn't even his worst.'" It coincides with the Melancon campaign launching a new website: SeriousSins.com