Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2011

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

* Libya: "Moammar Gadhafi struck a defiant stance Thursday after two high-profile defections from his regime, saying he's not the one who should go -- it's the Western leaders who have decimated his military with airstrikes who should resign immediately."

* We shouldn't expect that regime to collapse anytime soon: "Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is not close to a military breaking point even though coalition strikes have seriously degraded his fighting power, the top U.S. military officer told Congress Thursday."

* Japan: "Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilize its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave. French, American and international experts -- even a robot -- are either in Japan or on their way, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited Tokyo on Thursday to meet with the prime minister and show solidarity."

* We're actually getting close to a genuinely good number: "Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs are dropping and companies may be stepping up hiring. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people seeking benefits dipped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 for the week that ended March 26."

* There were rumors yesterday that the White House was prepared to accept GOP demands on a roll back of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory power. Those rumors appear to be completely wrong.

* Good move: "Wednesday evening, the White House issued a veto threat of major legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, if it still includes the anti-union measure the House Transportation Committee passed. The measure would undermine union organization votes, counting any non-vote by an eligible employee as a 'no' vote."

* In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) will present cuts for the developmentally disabled -- and then attend a Special Olympics photo-op.

* Speaking of the Sunshine State, a Democratic state representative in Florida was rebuked for using the word "uterus" on the state House floor. You really should read this one; it's a doozy.

* Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) doesn't believe federal employees should have collective-bargaining rights. Try to contain your surprise.

* Yes, President Obama has a computer.

* Dear Newt Gingrich, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is mocking you, it's evidence you've reached new lows.

* Daniel Luzer: "Online education seems like a good way for colleges to make money. Low cost, high volume, no classrooms or office hours needed. Just sit back and watch the cash roll in, right? Not really."

* Let's just say that "squirmish" is as much a word as "refudiate" is.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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THE ENDURING SYSTEM OF 'WINGNUT WELFARE'.... A few years ago, Paul Krugman noted a common phenomenon in modern conservatism: "One important pillar of conservative political dominance, I believe, is the phenomenon sometimes called 'wingnut welfare': loyalists are always assured of decent employment, no matter how badly they perform."

Ahem.

Dana Perino is going into the publishing business. Crown Forum, the conservative imprint of Random House, announced this morning that she has been named editorial director of the imprint, in charge of drumming up six to eight book projects a year.

NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez reports that the job grew out of the work that Perino had down for Crown as the communications strategist for her former boss's book, Decision Points. [...]

One of Perino's first big tasks will be driving the promotional campaign for Charles Krauthammer's next book, scheduled to be published ahead of the 2012 election.

I found Oliver Willis' take on this quite compelling.

Dana Perino is known for her role in the failed Bush administration, where she beclowned herself on a near-daily basis, once notably for punting on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then she went where almost all of the members of the failed Bush administration go -- Fox News. Now, she's going to be a part of the conservative book industry (lack of history knowledge is a feature, not a bug there). Always a bag of money around for one the certified liars.

That's what "wingnut welfare" is all about, right?

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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WHY THE AMERICAN RIGHT WOULD BACK GBAGBO.... The political crisis in the Ivory Coast is rapidly deteriorating. The outgoing president, Laurent Gbagbo, lost an internationally-certified election last fall, but has refused to yield to his successor, Alassane Ouattara, the legitimately-chosen president of the country.

With forces loyal to Gbagbo targeting civilians and allegedly responsible for brutal violence, and a refugee crisis unfolding, the international community is rallying in support of the lawful Ouattara government. The U.S., E.U., U.N., and African Union have all called for Gbagbo to honor the will of the people and relinquish power. He's refused, prompting the U.N. Security Council to place tough sanctions on his regime today.

As governments around the world condemn Gbagbo, however, there is one small group of people who are offering at least tacit support for the unelected thug.

That includes a U.S. senator and acquaintance of Gbagbo who declined to intervene in the crisis when asked by the State Department earlier this year, a former congressman who was hired by Gbagbo as a lobbyist, and a Christian right TV network that ran a fawning profile of Gbagbo, even as violence engulfed Ivory Coast. The senator, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, today released a letter to Hillary Clinton calling for new elections in Ivory Coast, putting him in direct opposition to the view of the Obama administration, the United Nations and the African Union that Gbagbo lost a fair election.

Gbagbo, along with his influential wife, Simone, are evangelical Christians who are known for lacing their speeches with religious rhetoric. "God is leading our fight. God has already given us the victory," Simone Gbagbo, who is both first lady and politician in her own right, said at a rally in January. Both Gbagbos have attended the National Prayer Breakfast, a big annual Washington event run by the secretive Christian group known as the Family, or the Fellowship.

The Fellowship, founded in 1935, cultivates relationships with people in positions of power in both the United States and abroad (it has long been active in Africa) to promote conservative evangelical values. It has drawn controversy for, among other things, running the C Street House, where several members of Congress live, and its ties to proposed legislation in Uganda that would provide for the death penalty for the "crime" of homosexuality.

It's easy to criticize the religious right for its theocratic agenda, and disparage clowns like James Inhofe for being such awful lawmakers, but this is genuinely outrageous, even for them.

The religious right is a series of activist groups with a twisted agenda, but Inhofe's conduct is especially shameful. The right-wing senator knows Gbagbo personally -- Inhofe has been to Ivory Coast nine times -- and the State Department sought his help in trying to prevent this crisis. Inhofe not only reportedly refused, he's now publicly at odds with both the U.S. and the international community, and sending a signal to the Gbagbo regime that he has a powerful ally in the American government.

If you haven't seen it, Justin Elliott's report on this is well worth reading.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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LESSONS LEARNED, LESSONS FORGOTTEN.... Taegan Goddard flagged this terrific excerpt from Newt Gingrich's 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way. It should have a special relevance right now.

"The idea of a grand showdown on spending had long been a staple of conservative analysis. Even before Reagan's inaugural, he had been approached by one prominent conservative who urged him to force a showdown over the debt ceiling and simply refuse to sign on to one until the Democratic Congress reined in its spending plans. Reagan rejected this idea with a comment I wish I had understood better at the time. The conservative activist who told me that story was convinced that Reagan would have won such a showdown.

"For fifteen years I agreed with him, but I was to learn something about the American people that too many conservatives don't appreciate. They want their leaders to have principled disagreements but they want these disagreements to be settled in constructive ways. That is not, of course, what our own activists were telling us. They were all gung ho for a brutal fight over spending and taxes. We mistook their enthusiasm for the views of the American public."

Imagine that.

For what it's worth, I suspect current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is well aware of this. Rumor has it, Boehner went out of his way to consider all of the ways the GOP majority screwed up the last time, and was determined not to overreach, especially just a few months into the term.

But the decision wasn't really up to Boehner -- it was up to Boehner's caucus, which doesn't exactly take orders from the Speaker's office especially well. It's the Republican rank-and-file that are gung ho for a brutal fight over spending and taxes, mistaking the base's enthusiasm for the views of the American public.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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SO MUCH FOR THE 'COME TO JESUS' MOMENT.... This morning, National Journal reported on the high expectations for this afternoon's Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill in D.C. Far-right organizers hoped this one event, put together by one of the nation's largest Tea Party organizations, could have an enormous influence on the larger budget debate.

If organizers have their way, the event featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., will be a watershed "Come to Jesus" moment, influencing GOP lawmakers to hold fast to the full $100 billion in spending cuts they promised while campaigning in 2010.

So much for that idea.

Tea party organizers had high hopes for their rally today in Washington, DC -- high enough hopes that they arranged for Fox to give it live coverage.

Then something sad happened. Just a few dozen people showed up. And Fox, naturally, blamed the weather.

I wasn't there, so I can't speak to turn out with any confidence, but I've seen some of the pictures, and the event appears to have been a bust. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Tea Party favorite who has an incentive to exaggerate the crowd size, said 200 people showed up, but if the media footage is at all accurate, even that pathetic number is inflated.

Put in this way: the number of reporters and Republican lawmakers, when combined, rivaled the size of the attendees. That's not good.

As for Fox News blaming the weather, let's not forget that tens of thousands of progressive activists showed up in the snow in Wisconsin a few weeks back. With federal spending on the line, today's Tea Party crowd was less than 1% as big ... because of a little rain? That's just sad.

Chances are, this little get together will be forgotten by dinner time, but part of me wonders if it might end up having the opposite of the intended effect. The goal was to offer a right-wing show of force -- with a shutdown deadline looming, lawmakers were supposed to think to themselves, "I better not cross those throngs of activists who gathered at the Capitol on March 31."

But the point is, practically no one showed up. How many members of Congress will be afraid to cross "those tens of activists" who were on hand today?

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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ROVE TO GOP: IT'S A TRAP!.... Bill O'Reilly asked Karl Rove last night if Donald Trump might boost his political career by being an unrestrained birther. After all, O'Reilly said, Trump's support for the ridiculous conspiracy theory is getting him "a hell of a lot of attention" and helps him curry favor with "the right-wing base of the Republican Party."

Rove didn't see it that way.

"Well, A, first of all, I disagree with your assumption. The right- wing base of the Republican Party -- I'm part of that right-wing base -- is not in love with the issue of birthers. I mean, there is an element inside the Republican Party and outside the Republican Party that's fallen in love with this. But the vast majority of Republicans and the vast majority of Americans accept that he's a U.S. citizen and capable of being president. And this is a distraction. [...]

"This is a mistake. It will marginalize [Trump]. And he's falling for Barack Obama's trap. Barack Obama wants Republicans to fall into this trap, because he knows it discredits us with the vast majority of American people when they do."

If this seems familiar, it's because we've heard it from Rove before. About six weeks ago, he pushed the same line, insisting that this far-right nonsense is "the trap of the White House."

Even by Rove standards, this is just odd. He really seems to believe that an unhinged, right-wing conspiracy theory, debunked several years ago and rejected by sane people everywhere, is an elaborate "trap" set by nefarious White House officials, including the president.

In some ways this is nearly as twisted as the nonsensical theory itself. Indeed, Rove seems to envision a scheme with layers -- the White House has conspired to convince Republicans to see a conspiracy that doesn't exist. It looks like right-wing activists have been pushing this garbage for years, but apparently this is all part of the Obama team's fiendish plan.

Remember, Karl Rove, who's now shared this idea on national television more than once, is considered one of the Republican Party's most credible, strategic minds.

Postscript: Speaking of Rove, his new Wall Street Journal op-ed said the president came out in support of Bush's "freedom agenda," which is at odds with a speech Obama delivered in 2005. As it turns out, Rove's lying about this week's speech and the 2005 speech.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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NOT ROMNEY'S STRONGEST SUBJECT.... He can't talk about health care. He can't talk about energy. He can't talk about social issues. When he tries to talk about national security, it doesn't go well.

So former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is sticking to the one issue everyone else should be talking about: jobs.

Sometimes truth arrives from the most unexpected sources. Christina Romer, President Obama's former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, said last week that she was dismayed at Washington's lack of focus on jobs.

"I frankly don't understand why policymakers aren't more worried about the suffering of real families," Romer said. "We need to realize that there is still a lot of devastation out there." She called the 8.9% unemployment rate "an absolute crisis."

So far, so good. I certainly agreed with Romer's concerns, so Romney's op-ed is off to a good start. What else ya got, Mitt?

President Obama didn't cause the recession, but he made it worse and caused it to last longer. From the outset, he inaugurated the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs policies we have seen since Jimmy Carter.

So much for the promising start.

For one thing, the notion that President Obama made the recession "worse" is truly insane. The economy was hemorrhaging jobs; now it's gaining jobs. Unemployment was getting worse; now it's getting better. The economy was contracting; now it's growing. Every Republican prediction about the White House's recovery efforts was proven wrong, and all told, the economy added roughly 1.3 million private-sector jobs in 2010 -- a little more than the combined net total of the entire Bush/Cheney era.

I would have preferred a more ambitious stimulus, but the fact remains that the president's policies helped turn the economy around after the failures of the last Republican administration.

Even Mitt Romney should be able to tell the difference between up and down.

For another, there's Romney's record. He was governor of Massachusetts for four years, and during that time, his state's record on job creation was "one of the worst in the country." Adding insult to injury, "By the end of his four years in office, Massachusetts had squeezed out a net gain in payroll jobs of just 1 percent, compared with job growth of 5.3 percent for the nation as a whole."

How bad is Romney's record? During his tenure, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in jobs growth. There's a reason he didn't seek re-election -- Romney was wildly unpopular in his home state.

Maybe this is another issue Romney just shouldn't talk about.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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IT SHOULDN'T HAVE TAKEN THREE TRIES.... Twice in two weeks, a Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking implementation of Gov. Scott Walker's (R) anti-union measure. And twice, the Walker administration came up with creative ways to ignore the court order and start enforcing the measure anyway.

Apparently, the third time was the charm.

A state law to sharply curb union bargaining by public employees is not in effect, a Dane County judge ruled Thursday, continuing the turmoil over a measure that sparked massive protests and prompted Democrats to boycott the Senate for three weeks.

Gov. Scott Walker's administration said it would comply and discontinue the implementation of the law.

"Based on the briefs of counsel, the uncontroverted testimony, and the evidence received at the March 29, 2011, evidentiary hearing, it is hereby DECLARED that 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 has not been published within the meaning of (state statutes), and is therefore not in effect," Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi ruled in a two-paragraph order.

While I'm glad Walker will honor the court order, it's somehow unnerving that news accounts have to let the public know that the governor's administration will "comply" with the judge's instructions -- because that part is no longer assumed.

"While I believe the budget-repair bill was legally published and is indeed law, given the most recent court action we will suspend the implementation of it at this time," said a statement from Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch.

How gracious of Walker's team.

I'm not inclined to give Wisconsin Republicans advice, but it still seems to me the smartest move, under the circumstances, is to simply pass the measure again, properly this time. GOP officials seem to have ignored the state's open-meeting law, which is why Judge Sumi has blocked the bill from becoming law. If Republicans jumped through the appropriate procedural hoops, they could conceivably wrap this up in a few days.

But for now, GOP leaders don't want to do that, perhaps fearing a reprise of the massive demonstrations, and perhaps unsure whether they might lose more Republican votes in the second go-around.

Regardless, as of this afternoon, the union-busting measure is not enforced law in Wisconsin. For more background on how we got from there to here, check out our previous coverage.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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WORDS OF WISDOM ON LIBYA.... Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) is largely on board with U.S. intervention in Libya, but has reservations.

"Where does it stop?" he said. "Do we go into Africa next? I don't want to sound callous or cold, but this could go on indefinitely around the world."

First, Libya is in Africa. Second, Marino is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House subcommittee on issues related to U.S. policy in Africa.

As it turns out, this isn't even the worst quote I've seen this morning on Libya. That distinction goes to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Here's what he said last night, connecting U.S. military policy with the Affordable Care Act.

"[W]hen you find out we're being sent to Libya to use our treasure and American lives there, maybe there's intention to so deplete the military that we're going to need that presidential reserve officer commissioned corps and non-commissioned corps that the president can call up on a moment's notice involuntarily, according to the Obamacare bill."

So, let's see. President Obama joined a coalition to intervene in Libya so he could deliberately undermine the military, creating the need for a separate, secret presidential army, which is hidden in the health reform law.

There was no indication Gohmert was kidding.

For the record, there's no reason to think the limited mission in Libya is in any way "depleting the military." There's also no provision creating a secret army in the Affordable Care Act, though it did create a health service reserve corps that could be called upon in the event of a crisis. There's nothing nefarious about it.

Remember, Marino and Gohmert are members of Congress, responsible for helping shape policy at the federal level.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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

* Longtime aides to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) are "whispering behind the scenes" that the speed of her recovery may make it possible for her to run for the Senate next year. Wishful thinking? Time will tell.

* Fights over the 2012 GOP presidential nominating calendar are intensifying, with Republican officials in Iowa and South Carolina arguing that if Florida doesn't back off, the Republican National Convention shouldn't be held in Tampa.

* Speaking of Florida, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Bill Nelson (D) looking fairly strong in advance of next year's re-election campaign. Though his statewide approval rating is underwhelming, Nelson currently has double-digit leads over his most likely GOP rivals.

* When Quinnipiac shows President Obama's approval rating going down, the media treats it as a very big deal. When the AP shows his approval rating reaching 53%, it's apparently a non-story.

* In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) appears to be the Democrats' strongest Senate candidate next year, but she's reportedly "torn" on whether to give up her House seat for an uncertain statewide race.

* In Wisconsin, former Rep. Mark Neumann (R), who's already lost one Senate campaign, is reportedly meeting with party leaders about running again next year, this time against Sen. Herb Kohl (D).

* It's been long assumed that Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) would run for statewide office in Indiana next year, but it's been unclear which one he'd seek. As of this week, Donnelly's eyes are apparently on the Senate -- a decision made easier by the credible right-wing primary challenge to Sen. Dick Lugar (R).

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

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TEA PARTIERS DEMAND MORE FEDERAL CONTROL OVER HEALTH CARE.... Jonathan Cohn has a great item this morning, highlighting a baffling health-care effort from Tea Party activists, who don't seem to understand what they're doing.

The idea is to oppose the Affordable Care Act not in the Congress or the courts, where they've been fighting so far, but in the state legislatures. As you may recall, the Act calls upon states to create the new "exchanges," through which individuals and small businesses will be able to buy regulated insurance policies at affordable prices. The simplest way to do that is for state legislatures to pass laws creating exchanges that conform to the Act's standards. Several states have started that process already -- and a few, like California, are well along in their efforts.

But Tea Party activists have been lobbying state lawmakers to vote against such measures and, in a few states, it looks like they're succeeding. [...]

It's a great idea for blocking the law, except for one small problem: The Affordable Care Act anticipates that some states might not create adequate exchanges. And the law is quite clear about what happens in those cases. The federal government takes over, creating and then, as necessary, managing the exchanges itself.

Exactly. In states like Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina, right-wing activists have rallied to undermine, and even kill, proposals to establish state-based exchanges. Apparently, as conservatives see it, if they can defeat exchanges in state capitols, they can undermine the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in their area.

But as is too often the case, the Tea Party crowd doesn't know quite enough about the policy to understand what they're doing. If policymakers in Atlanta don't create an exchange, for example, Georgians will simply join an exchange created in Washington.

In other words, Tea Partiers are unwittingly fighting aggressively to expand federal control over health care.

For the record, I'm fine with that. If it were up to me, the Affordable Care Act would have created federal exchanges anyway, since it seems likely that some states might screw it up.

It just never occurred to me that Tea Partiers might agree.

Jonathan's headline asks whether the Tea Party crowd is "really clever" or "really dumb." I'll assume that's a rhetorical question.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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HOW NOT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT A BIG PAYCHECK.... Rep. Sean Duffy (R) of Wisconsin, perhaps best known for having been on an MTV reality show, has struggled a bit after a few months in Congress, but his latest mess is one that's likely to linger.

Hosting a town-hall meeting in his district last week, Duffy was confronted by an underemployed construction worker whose family is likely to suffer due to Republican budget cuts. The constituent wanted to know how much the congressman makes, and whether Duffy, like the voter's wife who's a teacher, "would be willing to take a cut" in pay.

Duffy, unusually tone-deaf, complained about "struggling" on his $174,000 congressional salary. When the constituent explained that the congressman makes triple what his family brings home, Duffy whined about "student loans," having six kids, and "driving a used minivan."

Look, I realize that members of Congress often effectively pay for two separate households, and that's often not cheap. But if Duffy's looking for sympathy, he's crazy -- there are plenty of families in Wisconsin who have kids, a mortgage, student loans, and a used car, and they're not making $174,000 a year in taxpayer money. The congressman's complaints were ridiculous, and reflect poor judgment.

But then Republicans had the not-so-smart idea of trying to squelch the video of the congressman's remarks. Josh Marshall noted that TPM posted a clip yesterday, only to get a take-down notice.

[T]he fact that Duffy said it was always secondary for us to the fact that the local Polk County Republican party was trying to prevent anyone from seeing the video after they posted it on their own website.

Then this morning, our video hosting service received a take down notice from the Polk County Republican party trying again to prevent anyone from seeing the video. We believe that it's wrong for a political party to use copyright to prevent the public from seeing something a member of Congress said in the course of his public duties. (This was a townhall meeting.) Equally important, our legal counsel believes they have no case. So we have now reposted the video on our own site along with a news report on the Polk County GOP's effort to prevent anyone from seeing the video. See it here.

What was a one-day embarrassment is now a multi-day embarrassment. What was seen by a small group of people will now be seen by a larger group of people.

What Duffy said wasn't smart. The effort to hide the remarks was arguably even dumber.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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WE'RE 'BROKE,' BUT CAN APPARENTLY AFFORD SCHOOL VOUCHERS.... House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn't participate in a lot of floor debates, but he spoke yesterday in support of H.R. 471 -- the bill he's sponsoring to use federal tax dollars to finance private school tuition in the District of Columbia.

Indeed, choking back tears as he touted vouchers, the Speaker implored his colleagues to subsidize private schools, giving their students "a chance."

As expected, the House GOP was only too pleased to spend the money.

House Republicans voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for the only bill that the Speaker is expected to offer this year, a voucher measure that would provide $20 million annually for five years for scholarships for public school children attending poorly performing schools in the District of Columbia, and $20 million each for charter and traditional public schools in the district.

The bill, known as the SOAR act, would reprise a 2004 program that Speaker John A. Boehner helped devise in which over 1,000 low-income students in the District students were given $7,500 annually in federal money to help pay for private schools, the only program of its type in the nation in which children received federal dollars for vouchers.

The 225-to-195 vote wasn't close -- though it was interesting to see nine House Republicans break ranks and vote with Democrats against the voucher scheme.

There are a few interesting angles to this. For one thing, the D.C. voucher program didn't work, and Republican assurances about higher test scores proved to be wrong.

For another, it's fascinating to see House Republicans insist that sweeping budget cuts are a moral imperative ... just as soon as they finish spending $20 million on private school tuition.

But I'm most struck by Boehner's tearful, emotional appeal. Watching him yesterday, one might be tempted to think he genuinely cares about children and quality education.

I obviously can't read the Speaker's mind, but there's reason for skepticism -- while Boehner wants to spend $20 million of our money on private school tuition, he also supports brutal cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

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

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RETRIBUTION POLITICS: HOUSE GOP STILL TARGETING AARP.... The AARP backed the Affordable Care Act, which clearly enraged congressional Republicans. For that matter, the GOP intends to launch a crusade against entitlements, including Medicare, and would love to weaken the AARP in advance of the debate, since the organization is likely to be a fierce opponent of the far-right plan.

Still, it's one thing to expect retribution politics; it's another to see it unfold.

Republicans have launched an assault on AARP, which joins a growing list of groups supportive of the Democrats' agenda that are being targeted by conservatives.

House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday released a report that accuses the influential senior citizens organization of having a conflict of interest because it will financially benefit from the health care overhaul that the group heavily lobbied for last year. AARP collects royalties from endorsing health insurance policies and other products.

The report, which also notes the generous salary and travel benefits of AARP executives, questions the tax-exempt status of the organization; the Members are forwarding the report to the IRS for review. [...]

A GOP lobbyist suggested that the report is part of a pattern of House Republicans going after groups that worked against them on key legislation when they were out of power.

Ya think?

First, House Republicans announce they're going to drag AARP officials to a hearing so that conservatives can yell at them for a few hours. Second, these same House Republicans now want the Internal Revenue Service to launch a probe, based on nothing but imaginary schemes only the far-right can see.

Subtle, this isn't. It's little more than Republicans again acting like thugs -- the GOP wants to punish groups that have disagreed with them, and like any effective organized crime family, send a message to other groups who might consider cooperating with Democrats in the future.

In case there are any doubts, this isn't a two-way street. The AARP sided with Republicans on Medicare Part D, much to Democrats' chagrin, but there was no payback when Dems reclaimed the majority. That's just not how Dems operate -- they'd rather govern than punish former rivals who might become allies.

But Republicans bring a very different approach to the table.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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INCHING AWAY FROM THE BUDGET BRINK?.... House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke behind closed doors to his caucus yesterday, and according to someone in the room, boasted to Republicans, "We're gonna kick their ass."

"They," obviously, refers to Democrats. So much for graciousness and bipartisanship.

Did Boehner's remarks signal heightened tensions and the increased likelihood of a government shutdown next week? Oddly enough, no. In fact, the opposite may be true. As Greg Sargent noted, Boehner's chest-thumping bravado may have been a "signal to conservatives that he's drawing a hard line in talks, partly because he knows that ultimately those talks will likely yield a deal that will be difficult to sell to them."

What kind of deal? This kind of deal.

After weeks of arguing, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill began negotiations Wednesday on a possible budget agreement that would slash federal spending by as much as $33 billion and avert a government shutdown.

"We're all working off the same number now," Vice President Biden told reporters after meeting with Senate Democratic leaders at the Capitol on Wednesday evening. "Obviously, there's a difference in the composition of that number -- what's included, what's not included. It's going to be a thorough negotiation."

If approved, the deal would be the largest single-year budget cut in U.S. history.

At this point, there is no compromise plan and a deal has not been reached. What policymakers have reportedly agreed to is a target -- Republicans wanted $61 billion in cuts; Democrats wanted $10 billion; so they'll agree to $33 billion. That's roughly what House GOP leaders originally wanted when the process began, before rank-and-file Republicans defied their own party's leadership and demanded more.

The $33 billion in cuts would actually be $23 billion at this stage, since the last two temporary extensions already cut spending by about $10 billion. The challenge for policymakers at this point, then, is to identify the $23 billion that all parties can agree to.

But that's not the only challenge. The next major hurdle is the "rider" issue. As if finding $23 billion in cuts wasn't difficult enough, there are these unrelated policy amendments that would restrict federal agencies' actions, which right-wing Republicans insist must be part of any deal.

These GOP "riders" cover everything from environmental protections to Planned Parenthood to implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Many House Republicans have said any compromise that doesn't include "riders" will fail in the lower chamber, and Senate Democrats have said any compromise with them will fail in the upper chamber.

And then there's the small matter of how any deal could actually pass the House anyway. The GOP caucus is dominated by a hysterical wing that has said it won't even consider any compromise that fails to give them everything they want, and even if Republican leaders successfully bring in dozens of centrist Democrats, Boehner & Co. will still need the support of much of the GOP rank-and-file, which may or may not honor a deal reached by their party's leadership.

These high hurdles notwithstanding, the odds of a shutdown appear to have gone down, at least a little, over the last 48 hours. The nominal progress could collapse at any moment, and ongoing talks may break down, but for now, the relevant players appear to be inching away from the cliff.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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DEAR ALAN GREENSPAN, PLEASE STOP TALKING.... Not content with being discredited, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is apparently determined to become a laughingstock.

This week, Greenspan, who's already acknowledged how spectacularly wrong he was about regulation of the financial industry -- a mistake that nearly collapsed the global economy -- has a new argument to share. In the Financial Times, the former "Maestro" argues that Congress should just go ahead and repeal all those pesky safeguards intended to prevent the next disaster.

Henry Farrell flagged this gem from Greenspan's piece:

Today's competitive markets, whether we seek to recognise it or not, are driven by an international version of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" that is unredeemably opaque. With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global "invisible hand" has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.

"Notably rare exceptions" immediately becomes a contender for Ridiculous Phrase of the Year. Farrell calls it "a carefully-thought-out bid for Internet immortality," adding, "It has the sublime combination of supreme self-confidence and utter cluelessness of previously successful memes such as 'I am aware of all Internet traditions' and the 'argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care,' but with added Greenspanny goodness."

Felix Salmon put it this way: "Greenspan could hardly have made himself look like more of an idiot if he'd tried, not only because the 'notably rare exceptions' construction is so inherently snarkworthy, but also because it's so boneheadedly stupid. Anything which normally makes money is a good idea if you ignore the times that it doesn't work."

And Alex Eichler added, simply, "Everyone is laughing at Alan Greenspan today."

As well they should. What's most striking to me about this is the delusional lack of self-awareness. Greenspan thought he knew he was doing, but was spectacularly wrong. The results were catastrophic, with a crisis we're still struggling to resolve. (The efficacy of the response would be greatly improved were it not for policymakers who still think like Greenspan.)

For him to pipe up now, complaining two weeks ago about Obama administration "activism" and this week about Dodd-Frank financial regulation, is evidence that Greenspan still thinks he has credibility and opinions the rest of us should take seriously.

It was Greenspan's incompetence, negligence, and ridiculous ideology that brought the global economy to its knees. At this point, he should hope that the world simply ignores him, and chooses to forgive his role in a failure for the ages. That can't happen so long as Greenspan keeps whining publicly, pretending to know what he's talking about.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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March 30, 2011

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

* The tide turns in Libya: "Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces recaptured a strategic oil town Wednesday and moved within striking distance of another major eastern city, nearly reversing the gains rebels made since international airstrikes began. Rebels pleaded for more help, while a U.S. official said government forces are making themselves harder to target by using civilian 'battle wagons' with makeshift armaments instead of tanks."

* On a related note, Reuters reported today that President Obama "signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi."

* Japan: "At the Fukushima plant, the fight to cool the reactors and stem their release of radiation has become more complicated in recent days since the discovery that radioactive water is pooling in the plant, restricting the areas in which crews can work. It also puts emergency crews in the uncomfortable position of having to pump in more water to continue cooling the reactor while simultaneously pumping out contaminated water."

* During a floor debate yesterday, Republican Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois urged her Democratic colleagues to "stop talking about jobs." Sign of the times.

* Fred Kaplan has a closer look at President Obama's speech on Libya, and is largely impressed, calling it "shrewd and sensible."

* Conservatives keep targeting scholars sympathetic to organized labor. This time, it's Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy: "A conservative research group in Michigan has issued a far-reaching public records request to the labor studies departments at three public universities in the state, seeking any e-mails involving the Wisconsin labor turmoil."

* Victims of the January's shootings in Tucson want Congress to fix gun checks. They have more than a little credibility on the subject.

* General Electric is the parent company for NBC. Did that influence NBC News' decision not to report on GE paying no federal taxes last year, despite $5.1 billion in domestic profits? It seems like a fair question.

* The far-right Washington Times' reporting on the National Security Council's Samantha Power was wrong.

* The first close-ups of Mercury. Cool.

* Why did American University turn down a $300,000 grant to help prevent campus sexual abuse?

* This really is amusing -- Sarah Palin's aides demanded that the conservative Daily Caller run a 650-word statement, in its entirety, as a precondition to providing comment in an article. The publication agreed and followed Palin's demands. Today, she whined anyway, because Palin thought her quote should have been higher up in the piece.

* And what's the new Fox News complaint about the White House? Apparently, the Republican network doesn't like this year's Easter eggs. It's always something.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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FILLING THE NEED FOR A FARM TEAM.... Over the last 10 to 15 years, there was a concerted effort on the part of many progressive leaders to start creating parallel institutions to rival the right. The point was about creating an "intellectual infrastructure" that could establish a foundation for ideas, voices, and candidates on the left, allowing them to thrive.

To a very real extent, these efforts have been successful. Institutions like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters, among many others, didn't exist 15 years ago, but already have an enormous influence.

What the left is still lacking is a farm team. A new initiative, launched this week by Sen. Mark Begich (D) of Alaska and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) of Maryland, intends to change this. It's called the "NewDEAL."

This winter, progressives and elected Democrats in states across the country found themselves blindsided by a coordinated wave of conservative legislation. The policies themselves were tailor-made to both advance right-leaning policy objectives, and undermine the electoral hopes of the Democratic Party: union-busting, voter ID laws, tort reforms.

Despite high unemployment, and a public clamoring for jobs, these political measures popped up in just about every state where the GOP took control of part or all of government after the 2010 midterm romp -- the ideas themselves were drafted and circulated by a network of conservative groups, and advanced by a crop of politicians that has been nurtured by the movement for years.

Looking forward, progressives want a piece of that action.

Begich told Brian Beutler, "The other side has been doing stuff like this for years, and I think that has been their long-term strategy. We have had a void to this area."

The effort is still coming together -- it was literally unveiled yesterday -- but O'Malley and Begich had a piece fleshing out their vision in the Huffington Post, explaining that the NewDEAL intends to create a "national network searching the country for pro-growth progressive state and local elected leaders in order to help them share their innovative ideas to win the future."

As part of the rollout, organizers introduced the first 10 "NewDEAL leaders" this week. The names won't seem familiar -- they're not supposed to, a farm team is about future stars -- but the group offers some hope for the future. The issues they're working on -- from rail to health care to civil rights -- are also heartening.

It's an initiative worth keeping an eye on.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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IF SANTORUM IS LOOKING FOR 'MORE PEOPLE'.... Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R), still promoting his nascent presidential campaign, is happiest when he can combine social conservatism with fiscal conservatism. Yesterday, he did his best to do both.

In a radio interview, the far-right Pennsylvanian said Social Security would be in better shape if only America had "more people." And we'd have "more people," Santorum said, if only abortion were illegal.

"The Social Security system, in my opinion, is a flawed design, period," Santorum told a New Hampshire audience. "But having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends..... [W]e don't have enough workers to support the retirees. Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion."

I can't speak to the accuracy of Santorum's preferred statistics -- though I find them dubious -- and the notion that the United States has unstable demographic trends is itself an unreliable argument.

But putting that aside, if Santorum believes Social Security should be bolstered by "more people," there's a fairly obvious solution.

Santorum is correct that you can accurately describe Social Security's long-term projected solvency problems as the gap between smaller younger generations and a very large baby boom generation headed toward retirement. The payroll taxes younger people pay will get used up faster by the boomers and he's right: one solution to that is to simply have more workers paying payroll taxes. [...]

But If Santorum wants to address Social Security by increasing the younger, working population, isn't there a more immediate, direct answer? Homeland Security says 392,862 immigrants were deported in the fiscal year 2010. There's no certainty that all of those people would make for participating, tax-paying citizens -- DHS claims that half of those deported were criminals -- but there are millions of people in the world who would love nothing more than to move to America and work. Thousands more are already here illegally, working off the books and paying no payroll taxes. Opening the borders is a very straightforward way to get "more people." But I wouldn't hold your breath for Santorum to endorse immigration reform.

This really isn't complicated. If there's a population growth shortfall, and that poses institutional problems, then the answer is to fill it. We can't un-terminate pregnancies, but we can bring in plenty of people -- from a variety of countries -- who are anxious to work in our country and pay taxes into our system.

So, Santorum thinks we "don't have enough workers to support the retirees," a contention plenty of conservatives agree with. Are they serious about addressing the problem or aren't they?

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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PAWLENTY THINKS HE WAS 'STUPID' WHEN HE WAS RIGHT.... Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is wrong about nearly everything, but on one important issue -- climate change -- he's been entirely correct and refreshingly sensible.

Naturally, then, he's apologizing for having been right.

As Republicans go, Pawlenty was actually quite progressive on climate policy. He backed cap-and-trade; he supported ambitious renewable energy policies; and left no doubt that he considered climate change a serious national threat. He even appeared in an Environmental Defense Fund commercial in support of a cap-and-trade plan, alongside then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D).

So, good for him, right? For all of his flaws, at least Pawlenty is right about one thing, right? Wrong. Pawlenty is now repudiating everything he ever said on the subject, hoping it will help him win over right-wing activists and help him get the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

"As to climate change -- or more specifically cap-and-trade -- I've just come out and admitted it," Pawlenty said this week. "Look, it was a mistake, it was stupid.... Everybody in the race, well at least the big names in the race, embraced climate change or cap-and-trade at one point or another. Every one of us."

It's ironic that Pawlenty thinks he was "stupid" on the one policy in which he wasn't stupid, but in terms of his characterization of his GOP rivals, that last part happens to be true. Huntsman, Romney, Gingrich, Palin, and Huckabee all have joined Pawlenty in supporting efforts to combat climate change, even endorsing cap-and-trade explicitly. Though it's unclear if Huntsman has reversed (or will reverse) course, each of the other candidates has abandoned reason on the issue.

Kevin Drum had a good item pondering why GOP leaders, who were sensible literally just a few years ago, completed 180-degree reversals.

The answer isn't very complex. Four years ago, in the wake of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth and growing public concern about global warming, corporate America felt that some kind of action on greenhouse gases was probably inevitable. And if it was inevitable, then cap-and-trade was their best bet. From their point of view it probably looked less threatening than a flat carbon tax, which is harder to game than cap-and-trade, and less costly than flat mandates from the EPA. So they got on board, and Republicans got on board with them.

But then a couple of years ago public concern over global warming started to wane and it became less obvious that action on greenhouse gases really was inevitable. So instead of settling for cap-and-trade as their least worst alternative, they decided to fight instead for their first best alternative: doing nothing. And once again, Republicans got on board with them.

This is also made easier by the lack of public demand. When most Americans -- even most Republicans -- agreed that the climate crisis was a serious threat, prominent GOP officials felt the need to take the issue seriously and present ideas to address the problem.

But now that the mainstream cares less, and the Republican rank-and-file has been told by Fox News that climate science is a communist conspiracy, party leaders no longer feel the need to keep up appearances.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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THE NBPP 'STORY' -- CODA.... Wait, you mean the right hyperventilated about a pointless story for years, and the whole trumped up controversy was completely baseless? Actually, yes, that's exactly what happened.

Yesterday, the Justice Department released the long-awaited results of its inquiry into its own handling of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, and the verdict is in: This whole tale has been complete nonsense from the very beginning. The right has been obsessing over this case for years, insisting that Justice's decision to dismiss the case against three of four defendants accused of voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008 proves that the Obama administration is riddled with anti-white racists.

It should come as a shock to no one that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has "found no evidence that the decision to dismiss the case against three of the four defendants was predicated on political considerations" or that there was "improper political interference or influence from within or outside the Department in connection with the decision in the case." As Ryan J. Reilly reports, this comes after OPR interviewed numerous staffers and sifted through "thousands of pages of internal Department e-mails, memoranda, and notes."

To sum up: The Black Panther tale -- a years-long journey into the fevered right-wing imagination that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and led to no shortage of scurrilous accusations of racism against the first black president and attorney general -- was a colossal waste of time and taxpayer resources.

Remember, folks like Fox News' Megyn Kelly practically committed her legitimacy as a media professional to the seriousness of this story. Can we assume she'll be equally assiduous when it comes to explaining to viewers that she spent years chasing a story that didn't exist?

Indeed, even real news organizations should feel pretty silly this week. Simon Maloy noted that the Washington Post ran at least 20 articles and opinion pieces that referenced this "controversy" just last year, "including a 2,600-word front-page piece detailing the case and the allegations of J. Christian Adams, the bogus story's chief agitator."

The fact that the story has been proven baseless, again, received 350 words on page A4 today.

Well, at least congressional Republicans who took this seriously will finally realize this was a colossal waste of time, right? No, I'm afraid that's not quite the case either: Conservatives, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), "are showing no signs they'll let the issue drop."

Why let reality and definite evidence stand in the way of a perfectly dumb story?

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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PUTTING ENERGY POLICY BACK ON THE FRONT BURNER.... President Obama has been making steady efforts to put energy policy back on the political world's front burner, and today he made a more concerted effort to present a policy vision for the near future.

President Obama called on Wednesday for a one-third reduction in oil imports over the next decade, and said the effort had to begin immediately. In a speech at Georgetown University, the president said that the United States could not go on consuming one-quarter of the world's oil production while possessing only 2 percent of global reserves. He said that the country had to begin a long-term plan to reduce its reliance on imported oil, and that the political bickering that had stalled progress toward that goal for decades had to end.

With oil supplies from the Middle East now pinched by political upheaval, and with calls growing in Congress for expanded domestic oil and gas production, the president referred in his speech to a similar run-up in energy prices in 2008.

"Now here's the thing -- we've been down this road before," Mr. Obama said. "Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. I remember because I was in the middle of a presidential campaign."

He continued: "Because it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians, they were waving their three-point-plans for two-dollar-a-gallon gas. You remember that: 'Drill, baby, drill' and all of that. And none of it would really do anything to solve the problem."

And what would "solve the problem"? The White House plan is intended to protect "America's Energy Security," which is obviously a worthwhile goal. Whether the plan is any good is a separate question.

The bad news is, the administration seems largely willing to buy into GOP rhetoric when it comes to drilling, and the plan emphasizes increased production, though it's focused on areas the industry already has access to, not opening new areas to drilling.

The good news is, the plan is far better on renewables. As Ezra Klein explained, "Fuel standards for commercial trucks. More home weatherization. Doubling funding for innovation through the successful ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, program."

Overall, the plan itself is pretty modest, and shies away from anything that might be seen as ambitious. Part of this is because Americans have decided they don't really care about climate change anymore, and part of this is because the White House knows full well that it could produce an amazing energy plan, but after voters elected Republicans who believe science itself is a nefarious scheme to be ignored, such a policy wouldn't go anywhere no matter the merit.

One could imagine the White House striking a deal, giving the GOP more of what it wants on nuclear and drilling, in exchange for more of what Democrats want on renewables, but (a) the president's team hasn't exactly proven adept in these negotiations; and (b) Republicans may not be willing to strike any deals with Obama on anything.

For what it's worth, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) recently expressed an interest in getting a bipartisan energy "gang" together, in the hopes of crafting a comprehensive package, and apparently these talks are poised to get underway in the upper chamber.

But so long as the House of Representatives exists, it's best to keep expectations low.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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DO WE REALLY HAVE TO PARSE THE MEANING OF 'SHUTDOWN'?.... I can appreciate why congressional Republicans are worried about getting blamed for a government shutdown next week -- it will be their fault, if it happens -- but trying to rebrand the fiasco seems foolish, even for the GOP.

Conservatives are turning to a new message in the escalating budget fight: A government shutdown is not actually a shutdown.

It's a "slowdown," according to the new refrain from Tea Party leader Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Or as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) put it on Monday, the stalemate over spending could cause the government "to partially shut down."

Oh good, with nine days until funding for the fiscal year runs out, leading GOP officials aren't working on a solution; they're working on a way to parse the meaning of the word "shutdown."

"Calling it New Coke didn't make it taste better, and trying to change the name of Speaker Boehner's government shutdown won't make it hurt middle-class families and seniors any less," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

And speaking of hurt, there can be no doubt that the Republican shutdown will have a negative effect on the economy. When the congressional GOP shut down the government (twice) in the mid-90s, the economy was in pretty solid shape and could withstand the setback fairly easily.

That's not the case in 2011.

A government shutdown would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy and could sweep away the recovery's momentum, business leaders warned Wednesday.

Even a short shutdown because of an impasse over spending cuts between the White House and congressional Republicans would hamper the economy, officials with the Business Roundtable said.

When voters were warned about the consequences of voting for Republican congressional candidates last fall, I really wish they'd listened.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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THE CREATIVE-BUT-DUMB GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN PREVENTION ACT.... The Government Shutdown Prevention Act would be more amusing if it weren't quite so ridiculous.

House Republicans announced Wednesday that they would take up a largely symbolic bill this week that would make their long-term spending plan law if the Senate fails to act on a similar measure.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said at a press conference that Republicans would consider the Government Shutdown Prevention Act on Friday. The bill would make H.R. 1 law if the Senate fails to pass a measure "before April 6" to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. H.R. 1, which passed the House but has gone nowhere in the Senate, would fund the government through the end of September and seeks to cut $61 billion in spending.

"We're serious," the perpetually confused House Majority Leader told reporters today. He was soon followed by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who said this little stunt "shows we are serious."

Um, no. If Republicans were "serious," they'd be working on a compromise, not a silly, symbolic stunt masquerading as real work. This isn't "serious," it's the opposite of "serious."

Consider the larger picture here. The House passed a radical spending bill, which the vast majority of Americans oppose. The Senate brought the measure to the floor, held up-or-down vote, and defeated it. Thus the need for a compromise.

Today, House GOP leaders unveiled this new gimmick, which qualifies as creative, in a painfully absurd sort of way. After voting for spending cuts that have already been defeated, the new measure would say the already-failed budget plan would automatically become "the law of the land" -- even without Senate approval or the president's signature -- just because House Republicans would say so.

Cantor, who apparently never saw "Schoolhouse Rock," thinks is a great, "serious" idea that could prevent a shutdown next week.

It's as if the country elected children -- slow, dimwitted, ill-behaved children -- to run the U.S. House of Representatives.

Keep in mind, GOP leaders could be spending time right now on finding a solution to the budget mess. Instead, they're spending time on a gimmick that makes it look like they're finding a solution to the budget mess.

They must seriously believe Americans are fools.

Steve Benen 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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

* Roughly two years after getting started, the Tea Party "movement" is increasingly unpopular with the American mainstream.

* The first formal debate for the 2012 GOP presidential candidates was scheduled for May 2, which is less than five weeks away. However, with no credible candidates having actually launched campaigns, the event has been moved to September 14.

* Add "monetary policy" to the list of policy areas former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) doesn't understand in the slightest.

* Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) is apparently interested in launching a ridiculous presidential campaign, but doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence in its viability. Yesterday, Bachmann filed statement-of-candidacy forms with the Federal Election Commission, with the intention of trying to keep her House seat.

* In Arizona, Rep. Jeff Flake (R) is already looking pretty strong as a U.S. Senate candidate, but this weekend, he'll have a top-tier primary challenger -- Rep. Trent Franks (R) will reportedly launch a campaign on Saturday.

* Former Sen. Rick Santorum's (R) youngest daughter is reportedly suffering from a serious illness, which will keep Santorum off the campaign trail.

* In New Hampshire, Democrat Ann McLane Kuster , a favorite of liberal activists, intends to run against Rep. Charlie Bass (R) again next year. She's reportedly received encouragement to run from, among others, President Obama.

* Speaking of rematches, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) of Arizona lost to political neophyte Paul Gosar last year in the state's 1st congressional district, and she'll give it another try in 2012.

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

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HAS JOE KLEIN BEEN TO THE MOS EISLEY SPACE PORT?.... Obi-Wan Kenobi, trying to prepare Luke Skywalker for the Mos Eisley space port, warns, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."

As it turns out, Joe Klein's assessment of the 2012 Republican presidential field sounds rather similar.

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party's banner. They are the most compelling argument I've seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can't let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage.

There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian President some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the President of Pakistan.

And so I plead, as an unflinching American patriot -- please Mitch Daniels, please Jeb Bush, please run. I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you. And you seem to respect yourselves enough not to behave like public clowns.

Please, in the name of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, run.

When it comes to the existing GOP field, Klein's assessment seems more than fair. Given what we've seen so far -- and it's only going to get worse -- this is a plainly ignominious bunch.

But where I part ways with Klein is his expectation that Daniels and Jeb Bush could somehow put things right. For one thing, when it comes to the major issues of the day, the substantive differences between these two and the Seven Dwarves (Romney, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Barbour, Gingrich, Santorum, and I suppose Bachmann) are quite narrow.

For another, Klein doesn't explain how a sensible, self-respecting, qualified Republican is going to win primaries without also becoming some ridiculous caricature. Indeed, note that Klein made no mention of Jon Huntsman -- who presumably would qualify as a reasonable GOP candidate unwilling to "behave like a public clown" -- probably because no one seriously believes the party base will tolerate him.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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LONGING FOR A MORE SENSIBLE FED.... The New York Times' David Leonhardt explains today that the Federal Reserve always has to weigh two competing priorities: promoting growth and preventing inflation. More progressive-minded Fed officials focus on the former, conservatives focus on the latter.

Far too often, it's the right that wins, contributing to a weaker economy and slower growth, on purpose, because of inflationary fears that have no real basis in reality. With the still-struggling recovery looking shaky, at best -- oil prices, Japan, European debt, and Republican economic policies combine to create a serious threat -- the Federal Reserve could be doing more.

But it doesn't want to.

One group of Fed officials and watchers worries constantly about the prospect of rising inflation, no matter what the economy is doing. Some of them are haunted by the inflation of the 1970s and worry it may return at any time. Others spend much of their time with bank executives or big investors, who generally have more to lose from high inflation than from high unemployment.

There is no equivalent group -- at least not one as influential -- that obsesses over unemployment. Instead, the other side of the debate tends to be dominated by moderates, like Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, and Mr. Meyer, who sometimes worry about inflation and sometimes about unemployment.

The result is a bias that can distort the Fed's decision-making. Just look at the last 18 months. Again and again, the inflation worriers, who are known as hawks, warned of an overheated economy. In one speech, a regional Fed president even raised the specter of Weimar Germany.

These warnings helped bring an end early last year to the Fed's attempts to reduce long-term interest rates -- even though the Fed's own economic models said that it should be doing much more. We now know, of course, that the models were right and the hawks were wrong. Recoveries from financial crises are usually slow and uneven. Yet the hawks show no sign of grappling with their failed predictions.

In other words, politics at the Federal Reserve look an awful lot like electoral politics in general -- conservatives get it wrong, the economy worse, conservatives propose the wrong solution again, the economy starts to improve despite conservative predictions, and conservatives nevertheless keep claiming credibility. And no one laughs them out of the room.

In electoral politics, we have easily-fooled voters who chose last year to reward those who screwed up the most. In Fed politics, misguided inflation hawks don't need voters; they just keep touting a mistaken monetary policy targeting one imaginary threat that doesn't exist (high inflation) while ignoring a real threat that does exist (high unemployment).

The Obama White House, for what it's worth, would love to add some more sensible experts to the Fed's board, but true to form, Senate Republicans won't allow it.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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A PEEK BEHIND THE CURTAIN?.... One of the most talked-about political stories of the day yesterday just didn't seem that interesting. But given that we rarely get to hear politicians speaking candidly, when they think no one else is listening, I suppose stories like these are bound to get at least some attention.

Um, senators, ever heard of the mute button?

Moments before a conference call with reporters was scheduled to get underway on Tuesday morning, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, apparently unaware that many of the reporters were already on the line, began to instruct his fellow senators on how to talk to reporters about the contentious budget process.

After thanking his colleagues -- Barbara Boxer of California, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut -- for doing the budget bidding for the Senate Democrats, who are facing off against the House Republicans over how to cut spending for the rest of the fiscal year, Mr. Schumer told them to portray John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House, as painted into a box by the Tea Party, and to decry the spending cuts that he wants as extreme. "I always use the word extreme," Mr. Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week."

Soon after, someone apparently realized reporters waiting for the call to begin could hear the senators, and quickly muted the line.

To hear the right tell it, the scandal here is that elected officials apparently get talking points from their party, and leaders would like these officials to repeat them when speaking to the media.

Like I said, this just doesn't seem that interesting. Indeed, soon after, Schumer's office issued a statement saying, "There's nothing wrong with reporters overhearing him calling the House Republicans' [position] extreme, because that's what it is.... The sooner Speaker Boehner abandons the Tea Party's extreme demands, the sooner there can be a bipartisan deal on the budget."

But perhaps the most entertaining response came from Jonathan Cohn, who referenced one of my favorite "West Wing" episodes.

But I also couldn't help think back to one of my favorite West Wing episodes, when the fictional President Bartlett (played by actor Martin Sheen) was beginning his re-election campaign. After the end of a television interview, Bartlett lets slip that his opponent isn't too bright--or, as Bartlett puts it, that he has a ".22 caliber mind in a .357 magnum world." It turns out the television camera was still running. The press ends up reporting the comment, ostensibly embarrassing Bartlett but, of course, reinforcing the idea that his opponent is dumb.

Later, press secretary C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney) asks Bartlett whether he knew the camera was on, making the comment purposely. When Bartlett smiles and walks away, she says "that was old school."

Did Schumer "accidentally" slip and get reporters to run a bunch of stories connecting the GOP plan to the word "extreme," straight out of a Sorkin script? I rather doubt it, but it's fun to consider the possibility.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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MICHELLE RHEE'S INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS.... While more than a few major media outlets have offered effusive praise for Michelle Rhee, USA Today ran a very different kind of piece this week. The paper took a closer look at D.C. test scores during Rhee's tenure as the city's schools chancellor.

The results weren't flattering. While her work has been heralded as producing miracles, USA Today's investigation found less magic and more smoke and mirrors. Reported improvements in test scores now appear dubious, and "wrong-to-right erasure rates" suggested there may have been instances of actual fraud.

Rhee did not initially respond to USA Today interview requests, but finally offered a comment after the story was published.

"It isn't surprising," Rhee said in a statement Monday, "that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved ... unless someone cheated."

USA TODAY's investigation into test scores "is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels," Rhee said.

Wait, that's the response? There's credible evidence that Rhee's impressive record is a mirage, perhaps even the result of outright fraud, and her defense is that "enemies of school reform" aren't to be trusted? Does she realize that USA Today is not the National Education Association's newsletter?

Mark Kleiman said the response eliminates any benefit of the doubt he was prepared to extend to Rhee.

[I]t was, barely, possible that Rhee was culpably negligent -- but no worse -- in the cheating and the cover-up via a grossly inadequate "investigation."

However, her slime-and-defend reaction to the exposure of the cheating eliminates that possibility. She was, and is, complicit in the cover-up, if not the cheating itself. There is simply no honest explanation for the very high ratio of wrong-to-right changes to right-to-wrong changes. [...]

So when she blames uncomfortable facts on unnamed "enemies of school reform," she's bullsh*tting.

Rhee may want to come up with a slightly more detailed defense to salvage her reputation.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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BOEHNER EYES BLUE DOGS FOR BUDGET DEAL.... House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has struggled for several weeks with an arithmetical problem. He could strike a budget deal that would make his own extremely conservative caucus happy, or he could strike a deal that the Senate and White House would find acceptable.

But he couldn't do both. If the Speaker went with the former, and stuck to his guns on a right-wing plan that the American mainstream would find offensive, the base would be happy but a government shutdown would be unavoidable. If Boehner went with the latter, he'd lose much of his own caucus, and would (again) need House Democrats to finalize a deal.

As of yesterday, Paul Kane reports that the Speaker is at least open to Door #2.

Having difficulty finding consensus within their own ranks, House Republican leaders have begun courting moderate Democrats on several key fiscal issues, including a deal to avoid a government shutdown at the end of next week.

The basic outline would involve more than $30 billion in cuts for the 2011 spending package, well short of the $61 billion initially demanded by freshman Republicans and other conservatives, according to senior aides in both parties. Such a deal probably would be acceptable to Senate leaders and President Obama as long as the House didn't impose funding restrictions on certain social and regulatory programs supported by Democrats, Senate and administration aides said.

The fact that Republican leaders have initiated talks with some Democrats shows some division within House Republicans just two months after taking over the House.

Ya think?

Ideally, John Boehner would prefer to be a strong House Speaker with resilient credibility among his own members. He could negotiate with Democrats, go to his caucus and assure them he reached the best possible deal, and they'd believe him and vote accordingly.

But that's not the case. Boehner is a weak Speaker, leading a caucus that doesn't necessarily trust him, dominated by freshmen who don't really know him and owe no allegiance to him. The Speaker could work something out with the Senate and White House, explain to House Republicans it's the best deal possible under the circumstances, only to hear from his own members, "No, you're wrong, this isn't good enough."

Which is where "centrist" and Blue Dog Democrats come into the picture. Boehner figures he might be able to thread the needle, crafting a deal the Senate and White House can live with, and get to 218 in the House with a coalition of center-right Dems and sane Republicans.

That would prevent a shutdown and lay the groundwork for future talks. It would also cause widespread apoplexy among conservative activists and the GOP's Tea Party base, and perhaps even put Boehner's role as Speaker in jeopardy.

Indeed, perhaps the only development yesterday that was as interesting as outreach to the Blue Dog Dems was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) noticeably putting some distance between his budget approach and Boehner's. In fact, Cantor suggested he isn't even in the loop when it comes to where things stand, telling reporters, "There is a difference in my knowledge base."

Insert joke here.

If or when push comes to shove, and Boehner feels the need to strike a deal that the hysterical wing of his party won't like, will Cantor have the Speaker's back or will Cantor stab the Speaker in the back?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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JUDGE TO WISCONSIN GOP: WHAT PART OF 'NO' DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?.... Nearly two weeks ago, a state judge issued a restraining order, blocking implementation of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) anti-union measure. Last week, state Republicans came up with a not-so-clever scheme to circumvent the court order and pretend that their proposal is, in fact, ready-to-enforce law.

Yesterday, the same state judge gave this another shot, issuing another order blocking the measure, since GOP officials were apparently confused by the first one.

Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi said that her original restraining order issued earlier this month was clear in saying no steps should be take to advance the law. The GOP governor's administration did so after the bill was published Friday by a state agency not named in Sumi's earlier temporary restraining order.

"Further implementation of the act is enjoined," Sumi said.

"Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of Act 10 was enjoined. That is what I now want to make crystal clear."

So, the ambiguities have been removed and we're finally all on the same page, right? Wrong. Almost immediately after Judge Sumi issued this new order, some Republicans said that as far as they're concerned, the union-busting measure is still the law, court order or no court order.

And how, pray tell, does the GOP reach this conclusion? First, Republicans believe Sumi blocked enforcement of the measure, but didn't say the measure isn't law.

Second, and on a related note, since the GOP thinks the union-busting proposal is now law, and the restraining order still only gives instructions to the Wisconsin Secretary of State's office about blocking implementation, Republicans still believe agencies not mentioned in the order can ignore it.

The Walker administration's Department of Justice said, "Whether the Department of Administration or other state officers choose to comply with any direction issued by Judge Sumi is up to them."

A legal process really isn't supposed to work this way, with officials having the discretion to choose between a court-imposed restraining order and the opinions of a gubernatorial administration.

But for now, that's apparently where we are. We should receive further clarification on Friday with another hearing.

Between now and then, the Walker administration should probably pay careful attention to this language from yesterday's court order:"Now that I've made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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March 29, 2011

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

* Libya: "Having halted a westward push by rebel fighters, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi began a counteroffensive on Tuesday, marching eastward to the outskirts of this critical oil town, as an array of diplomats gathered in London to shape a political vision of a post-Qaddafi era."

* Japan: "Japan said Tuesday it was on 'maximum alert' over a crippled nuclear plant where radioactive water has halted repair work and plutonium has been found in the soil."

* Syria: "President Bashar al-Assad accepted the resignations of his cabinet ministers on Tuesday as some protesters began demanding that he also leave, in the most serious threat to his rule since he assumed power a decade ago."

* Cote d'Ivoire: "The UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) has released a statement saying forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the country's incumbent leader, opened fire on civilians in Abidjan on Monday, killing about a dozen people."

* Not good: "Housing prices slid in January for the sixth month in a row, putting them barely above the lows reached in the depths of the recession, according to data released Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Home Price Index for 20 large cities dropped 1 percent from December, putting it only 1.1 percent above its spring 2009 low. The index is down 31.8 percent from its 2006 peak. Analysts expected a rough winter, but not quite so brutal."

* Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) boasted that Republicans have busted state unions "once and for all." But I thought this was about budget issues? The GOP wasn't lying, was it?

* Any chance yet another short-term budget extension might prevent a shutdown next week? No.

* Good point: "Asking why low income people don't make it to America's most exclusive colleges is sort of like asking why low income people don't buy more BMWs. It's because the price of the good largely prohibits the economically disadvantaged from purchasing that good."

* Congrats to Tom Tomorrow on his new role with Daily Kos.

* Once in a while, Karl Rove repeats a lie so bold, even he isn't willing to defend it when pressed.

* And in an amusing twist, Donald Birther Trump thought he was being clever by releasing his birth certificate yesterday. As it turns out, however, this wasn't his actual, official birth certificate. So, what does he have to hide?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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LIEBERMAN, COLLINS DON'T WANT COPS TO FEAR ISLAM, EITHER.... As regular readers know, we've been closely following an important story here at the Washington Monthly, helping shine a light on the often-inexcusable training law-enforcement officials receive in counter-terrorism.

The problem, as we reported in the March/April issue*, is that the federal government is spending billions of dollars in grants to teach local law enforcement how to sniff out and respond to terrorists, but with little supervision over who provides the instruction or what's being taught. The result is self-styled counter-terrorism "experts" who tell police officers that Muslim radicals can be spotted by the "cone shape" of their beards, Islam is a "violent radical religion," and the Prophet Muhammad was "a pedophile."

It was encouraging, then, to see Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top two senators on the Homeland Security Committee, follow up on our reporting today.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday sought information to ensure that federal funds for counterterrorism training are not being wasted on programs that could undermine the national effort to deter homegrown terrorism.

The Senators, in a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, asked what guidelines and standards counterterrorism training must meet and what qualifications counterterrorism trainers must possess.

Anecdotal evidence suggesting that some local law enforcement officers are being trained by people who are unqualified or provide inaccurate -- even inflammatory -- information led the Senators to ask how the two departments oversee federal grants for counterterrorism training.

In their letter, Lieberman and Collins noted, "Preliminary inquiries by our staffs suggest that improper training may not be limited to mere isolated occurrences. We are concerned that at best, the quality of training is inconsistent, and at worst, is actually detrimental to our efforts to confront homegrown terrorism. Muslim Americans are central allies in our fight against violent Islamist extremism, and any training that implies otherwise is both inaccurate and counterproductive to our shared goals."

Good for them. The point here is not just about misguided and offensive lessons for law enforcement officials; the point here is that we're all paying a bundle for counter-terrorism training that's likely to produce poorly-trained cops. The result is likely to be civil liberties violations and ineffective investigations.

Adam Serwer, who first flagged the Lieberman/Collins letter, concluded, "This is a really good sign that Congress is beginning to take the Islamophobia industry undermining U.S. counterterrorism efforts seriously."

* Update: I neglected to mention that the article that ran in the March/April issue was published with support from our friends at the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund. I regret the oversight.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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THE RIGHT TARGETS, THE WRONG LANGUAGE.... Regular readers know I have no qualms about calling out ridiculous far-right Republicans like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. I consider them national embarrassments, representing the worst American politics has to offer.

And yet, I'm uncomfortable with language like this, even from a talk-show host I generally like.

It's all fun and games until someone brings out the "c" word. Comedian Bill Maher called Sarah Palin just that on Sunday night in Dallas, laying into the former Alaska guv and saying that "there's just no other word for her."

Maher also referred to Palin last week as a "dumb twat." As part of a larger comparison of the Republican presidential field to the characters on Gilligan's Island, the host also characterized Palin and Bachmann as the "two bimbos."

Look, I know Maher is a comedian, and often, he's a good one. I also know that in comedy, being outspoken and over the top is just part of the act -- discomfort and a high shock-value can lead to bigger laughs. And it's not lost on me that Maher hosted a program called, of all things, "Politically Incorrect."

But I don't like language that's demeaning to women, even if I'm offended by the women on the receiving end of the criticism. There are endless ways to mock conspicuously unintelligent conservatives -- from either gender -- without using ugly language like this.

It doesn't matter if Palin and Bachmann are idiots. It does matter how one goes about describing them as idiots.

If this were 2007 and a conservative talk-show host had used identical language to describe Hillary Clinton, I'd be livid. If prominent voices on the right used racial and/or ethnic slurs, they'd face serious pushback, from me and others, and they'd deserve it. If conservative media figures used degrading language to target religious minorities, that'd be unacceptable, too.

The point is not to suggest the need for "language police." Obviously, Maher is free to speak his mind. His word choice is between him, his conscience, and the folks who sign his checks.

But I want to be intellectually honest and consistent. If I don't like it when hosts on the right use language that's demeaning to women, I'm going to call out hosts I do like for doing the same thing.

Wrong is wrong.

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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SAMMON WILL HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THIS.... The latest Media Matters scoop should be a pretty serious problem for Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon. In 2009, onboard a pricey Mediterranean cruise sponsored by a right-wing college, Sammon acknowledged that he tried to link Barack Obama to "socialism" in 2008, as part of "mischievous speculation."

This certainly isn't good news for one of the Republican network's top executives. Sammon said things on the air he didn't believe as part of Fox News' coverage of a presidential campaign -- and he admitted it in public.

Pressed for an explanation, Sammon told Howard Kurtz today he doesn't regret his misconduct because the "socialism" smear was "a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media." By 2009, Sammon added, he was "astonished by how the needle had moved."

Remember, Sammon considers this a defense for deliberately spreading nonsense he didn't even believe on the air.

Greg Sargent's reaction mirrored my own.

That's pretty remarkable. Sammon is conceding that the idea did indeed strike him as far fetched in 2008, even though he and his network aggressively promoted it day in and day out throughout the campaign. And he's defending this by pointing out that the idea ended up gaining traction, as if this somehow justifies the original act of dishonesty!

Now, Sammon is also claiming here that Obama's behavior in office ultimately persuaded him that the original diagnosis of Obama as a socialist turned out to be correct after all. That in itself, of course, is also a ridiculous falsehood. But that aside, the bottom line here is that he doesn't regret having spread an idea he personally found far-fetched, because so doing helped ensure that the far-fetched idea ultimately gained widespread acceptance. That's a peculiar attitude for a "news" executive, isn't it?

I'd just add that Sammon appears to be lying to excuse his lie. He pushed a talking point in 2008 he knew to be wrong, but now says it "a main point of discussion on all the channels." Except, it wasn't. Fox News was all over it -- in part because Sammon distributed a memo to ensure this outcome -- but credible, independent news organizations weren't doing this at the time.

The "everybody does it" defense is itself weak, but it's absurd when everybody else isn't doing it.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?.... At face value, congressional Republicans went into budget talks playing a strikingly weak hand. They're an unpopular party, pushing unpopular spending cuts, going up against a more popular president. Of the three main players -- the House, the Senate, and the White House -- the GOP controls about one-half of one-third of the relevant institutions.

And yet, who seems to be calling the shots here?

The New York Times had an interesting summary of the lay of the land, emphasizing the fact that Democrats seem to realize they let this debate slip away from them.

Both parties remain uncertain about which of them would bear the brunt of public anger if Congress cannot agree on financing federal operations for the final half of this fiscal year and government agencies shut down or drastically scale back the services they can provide.

Even many Democrats believe that House Republicans have gotten the better of the antispending, antigovernment argument. But Democrats insist that is because much of the public does not appreciate the impact the Republicans' $61 billion in proposed reductions would have on spending for popular social programs if those cuts were to become law with just half of the current fiscal year remaining.

Democrats are right; most of the country has no idea the extent to which the GOP's proposed cuts would be devastating to key domestic priorities. These are cuts that, if put to a poll, the vast majority of the American mainstream would reject out of hand.

But here's another thought: maybe most of the country has no idea how brutal these cuts are because Dems haven't told them.

In 1995, when the Gingrich-led Republicans confronted the Clinton White House, the president had a mantra he'd repeat endlessly -- it was called M2E2. Clinton would say he's prepared to negotiate with Republicans, but wasn't prepared to go along with deep cuts to "Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment," four popular measures voters didn't want to see slashed.

In 2011, Dems never quite got around to picking their own M2E2. Criticisms of the GOP plan have been all over the map, made more complicated by the fact that Democrats themselves have been far too quick to buy into the dubious notion that Americans actually want a focus on the deficit instead of the economy.

This debate quickly got away from Dems, but it didn't have to be this way. Republicans are winning, at least for now, with a very weak hand.

If I'm a Democratic strategist, I would have recommended a couple of things. First, pick a handful of the most jarring cuts in the GOP plan, and repeat them ad nauseum. Ideally, they'd be cuts most Americans would find offensive -- "Republicans want to slash funding for education, medical research, job training, and homeland security. We think that's irresponsible." Say this over and over again, and sooner or later, folks will start to know that the GOP wants to cut education, medical research, job training, and homeland security.

Second, turn the GOP line around and start calling the cuts what they are: job killing. There are multiple independent analyses -- from Macroeconomic Advisers, Ben Bernanke, Moody's Analytics, Economic Policy Institute, and others -- all saying that the Republican plan would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs. John Boehner gift-wrapped this by saying, "So be it" when asked about the GOP plan to deliberately make unemployment worse.

Dems made some hay out of this for a while, but let it fade. It should have been the only thing the party talked about for weeks -- Republicans want to make the jobs crisis worse, on purpose -- but it wasn't. They could have come up with a simple little slogan -- "the GOP plan is bad for the middle class and bad for jobs" -- that could have been easily repeated, instead of, "Don't worry, we like cuts, too."

Sure, I realize it might be frustrating to Democrats in Washington to be on the defensive right now, but much of this is the result of the party choosing not to go on the offensive when it had the chance.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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WHAT MCCAIN DOESN'T UNDERSTAND.... Is this what passes for foreign-policy depth among congressional Republicans?

President Obama's policy against using military power to unseat Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi could lead to a situation similar to the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday night.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Gadhafi, the dictatorial leader of Libya whose forces have endured U.S. and allied airstrikes, must have been "somewhat comforted" by Obama's speech.

"Gadhafi must have been somewhat comforted by that. It was, at least to some degree, counter to the president's statement that Gadhafi must go," McCain said on CNN shortly after Obama's address to the nation.

Actually, what I suspect Gadhafi must have found somewhat comforting is when John McCain stopped by his house a year and a half ago for a lengthy chat, visiting until late in the evening, all as part of a discussion about delivery of American military equipment to the Libyan regime.

If I had to guess, that friendly meeting, after which McCain praised the dictator, was probably pretty "comforting " to Gadhafi.

On a more substantive note, McCain sees a contradiction -- President Obama wants to see Gadhafi's ouster, but isn't pursuing a policy of regime change. McCain called this "very puzzling."

I'm not sure why the senator finds this confusing. It's really not that complicated -- the administration would prefer to see Gadhafi go, and will pursue this through non-military means, but won't use force to overthrow the regime because it would splinter the international coalition and exceed the legitimacy of the mandate. It would also likely require U.S. ground forces, which isn't much of an option right now.

As Alan Pyke explained, "President Obama was not, as McCain claimed, ruling out 'regime change by force' in general -- he was simply saying that the ground forces who eventually force Gaddafi out of Libya ought to be Libyan, and not American."

What's "very puzzling" about this?

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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THE FREAK SHOW CAN GET WORSE.... I mentioned Roy Moore's apparent interest in a presidential campaign briefly yesterday morning, but it's worth considering in a bit more detail. There are already plenty of likely GOP candidates who have the capacity to turn the primaries into a freak show -- Trump, Bachmann, Cain, Palin -- but the disgraced former Alabama judge can make matters much worse.

Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who lost his job after erecting a monument of the Ten Commandments outside the state's courthouse, plans to announce in mid-April that he is setting up a presidential exploratory committee, an aide told CBS News.

The aide, Zachery Michael, said Moore's platform will be focused on repealing the health care overhaul law, replacing the progressive income tax with a flat tax and bringing "commonsense solutions" on immigration and border control.

Michael said Moore is entering the fray because "we're just seeing the same type of politicians run for president." He said Moore is someone "who can connect with over 300 million Americans across the country, which is something we've been lacking with today's leaders across society."

I've been following Moore's story for quite a while -- even before getting into blogging -- and saying that he lost his job after erecting a Ten Commandments display isn't quite right. In fact, if Moore actually goes through with this, reporters should know what happened.

It's true that Moore rose to right-wing notoriety as a state judge that promoted the Christian version of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. This led to court fights that made Moore a far-right celebrity, which he then parlayed into a successful campaign to be the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

But the reason Moore was forced from the bench in disgrace wasn't just his decision to use his office to promote his faith. Rather, Moore insisted that he could defy the First Amendment whenever he wanted because the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to the states. What's more, when a federal court judge told him otherwise, Moore said he could ignore him too, because federal courts didn't have jurisdiction over his defiance of the First Amendment.

That's why he lost his job.

As for the notion that Moore has a unique ability to "connect with" voters, note that Moore twice ran for governor in Alabama, and suffered humiliating losses in Republican primaries.

This apparently won't get in the way of his presidential ambitions, but maybe it should.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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RICK SCOTT'S SUPPORT COLLAPSES IN FLORIDA.... Go figure. A bizarre criminal gets elected governor of Florida, deliberately turns his back on job creation, slashes funding for popular and necessary programs, unveils a plan to "reform" Medicaid that would line his own pockets, and all of a sudden, voters start to feel buyers' remorse.

You could say Rick Scott's honeymoon is over ... but that would suggest he had one in the first place. A December PPP poll shortly before Scott took office found that only 33% of Florida voters had a favorable opinion of their new Governor to 43% who viewed him negatively. After a few months in office those numbers have only gotten worse -- Scott's approval rating is just 32% while 55% of voters in the state are unhappy with his work so far. [...]

Outside of his own party Scott's support is close to nonexistent. [...]

The Florida Governor's race was one of the closest in the country last year with Scott winning by a razor thin margin even in one of the best Republican years ever. If voters got to do it over again today it would be no contest -- Alex Sink leads Scott 56-37 in a hypothetical rematch.

Before Republicans complain that perhaps the poll leaned Democratic, it's worth noting that this same poll shows Sen. Marco Rubio (R) as the state's most popular politician, and most of the poll's participants said they voted for John McCain in 2008, not Barack Obama.

Scott, in other words, really has seen his support deteriorate to remarkable depths in just a couple of months.

Floridians, don't say you weren't warned. The guy you voted for had one notable accomplishment in his professional life: defrauding taxpayers, getting fired, and narrowly avoiding a criminal indictment. Now he's proving to be a terrible governor, but you really should have seen this coming.

And in the larger context, Scott is part of a new crop of far-right Republican governors, taking the helm in large swing states, and quickly annoying their own constituents. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has seen his approval rating fall off a cliff, and if voters had it to do over again, they wish they'd elected the Dem.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich (R) has seen his support plummet in recent months, a trend bolstered by the latest Quinnipiac poll showing his approval rating down to just 30%.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) -- the one who's desperate to make brutal cuts to education, while increasing spending on prisons -- hasn't exactly impressed his constituents, either. Last week, a statewide poll found only 31% of Pennsylvanians had a positive impression of his job performance.

Polls in Wisconsin have shown widespread opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's (R) agenda, and if voters had it to do over again, they wish they'd voted for former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), who lost to Walker by six points in November.

Will this prove relevant in 2012? Time will tell, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does. Republicans scored big wins in 2010, not because the GOP was popular, but because much of the public was dissatisfied with the status quo, and Dems happened to be the dominant majority.

But now those same voters have been reminded exactly why they didn't like Republicans in the first place.

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

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

* Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) recent moves have led many to assume he isn't running for president again, but it's apparently a little too early for those conclusions. Yesterday, Huckabee said he's "very much considering another run at the presidency."

* In Indiana, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock's Republican primary campaign against Sen. Dick Lugar looks fairly serious. He's already raised $125,000 fairly quickly, a respectable start under the circumstances, and by some accounts, Mourdock has received some encouragement from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

* Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, not quite three months into his first term, was pressed this morning on whether he'll run for president in 2012. Rubio ruled out the possibility, though he wasn't nearly as categorical about being a vice presidential candidate.

* Mitt Romney, hoping to curry favor with state parties in advance of his 2012 campaign, is sending $25,000 to the New Jersey state Republican Party. The Garden State is one of only a handful of states that will hold legislative races this year.

* In Arizona, Rep. Jeff Flake (R) is gearing up for a Senate campaign by blatantly, shamelessly flip-flopping on everything he's ever said about immigration policy. The reversals have not gone unnoticed.

* The Obama administration's Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, has added two campaign advisors in New Hampshire in advance of his expected presidential campaign. Huntsman is running as a Republican.

* And former pizza company executive Herman Cain, also running for the GOP presidential nomination, has kinda sorta backed off his contention that he would proudly discriminate against Muslim Americans while picking cabinet officials.

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

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WHAT GINGRICH SAID -- AND WHO HE SAID IT TO.... We talked yesterday about disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R), and his belief that the nation will become "a godless society" unless voters reject President Obama, college professors, and journalists. As it turns out, that's not all he said.

"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

Now, I'm not a theologian, but I'm fairly certain that a country cannot be atheistic and dominated by radical Islamists at the same time. This has something to do with the fact that they're complete opposites.

But putting aside Gingrich's jaw-dropping foolishness, let's also note the audience. More to the point, who Gingrich was talking to was every bit as interesting as what he said.

In this case, the former House Speaker was sharing his unique brand of idiocy at a San Antonio ministry called Cornerstone Church. And who's church is that? It's run by a radical preacher by the name of John Hagee.

If that name sounds familiar, it should. In 2008, John McCain sought out Hagee's support for his presidential campaign, but the Republican was ultimately forced to disavow the right-wing preacher and repudiate his endorsement.

As Jamil Smith recently explained:

Mr. Hagee's name should ring a bell. He is the Texas megachurch pastor that, as Mother Jones reminds us today, senator John McCain couldn't escape fast enough in 2008 after news of his endorsement brought forth revelations (natch) that Hagee blamed gays for Hurricane Katrina and called Catholicism a "false cult" and a contributor to Hitler's anti-Semitism.

Hagee also believes Jews are to blame for centuries of persecution, called the Roman Catholic Church is "the great whore," and preached that Hitler and the Nazis had operated on God's behalf.

And while we're at it, there was also the time Hagee said God is using Muslim terrorists to massacre Americans because the United States supports a two-state solution in Israel.

This is who Newt Gingrich is reaching out to for political support.

The crazy quote about Islamists in atheistic America is hilarious, but let's not lose sight of the context here. The forest is more scandalous than the trees.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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BILL SAMMON SAYS THE DARNDEST THINGS.... Any reasonable consumer of American media has come to expect shameless hackery from leading Fox News figures, but the Republican network's managing D.C. editor, Bill Sammon, certainly makes it more difficult for Fox News to even keep up appearances.

In newly uncovered audio, a Fox News executive boasts that he lied repeatedly during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism."

Speaking in 2009 onboard a pricey Mediterranean cruise sponsored by a right-wing college, Fox Washington managing editor Bill Sammon described his attempts the previous year to link Obama to "socialism" as "mischievous speculation." Sammon, who is also a Fox News vice president, acknowledged that "privately" he had believed that the socialism allegation was "rather far-fetched."

"Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to quote, 'spread the wealth around,' " said Sammon. "At that time, I have to admit, that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched."

So, let me get this straight. Fox News' Washington managing editor, shortly before a presidential election, deliberately advanced a smear against the Democratic candidate that even he didn't believe? And he's willing to admit this publicly?

Try to imagine, just for a moment, what the reaction might be if NBC News' top editor in Washington had said this. Or worse, NPR's.

Also note the larger context here. Shortly before Election Day 2008, Sammon not only repeated talking points he considered dubious, he also wrote a memo urging Fox News' on-air talent to link Obama to "Marxists" and "socialism."

What's more, we recently learned that Sammon ordered the network's journalists to downplay the science of global warming, and circulated a memo telling Fox News reporters to use Republican-endorsed rhetoric, exclusively, to describe the public option during the health care debate.

If I didn't know better, I might think Sammon has some kind of partisan political agenda or something.

Is any of this surprising? Of course not; Fox News is obviously a Republican propaganda outlet. But when examples like Sammon's come to public light, it helps add additional weight to the larger indictment against the ridiculous cable news outlet.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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CAN WE END THE 'EXCEPTIONALISM' DEBATE NOW?.... Not surprisingly, President Obama's remarks last night on U.S. intervention in Libya did not end the debate on the mission's value. No one seriously expected it would.

But maybe it can help end the debate on "American exceptionalism"?

About midway through the speech, Adam Serwer noted, "After this speech, anyone who argues Obama doesn't believe in 'American exceptionalism' deserves to be laughed out of town." That's entirely right (though those folks probably deserved to be laughed out of town before last night).

Mark Kleiman, pushing back against the right's odd preoccupation with the "e" word, highlighted this portion of the speech, in particular:

"To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and -- more profoundly -- our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

I can only assume this won't satisfy the Kathleen Parkers of the world, who are needlessly literal about Obama and use of the word "exceptionalism," but the principles here are plainly evident for anyone who cares to hear them. Indeed, the president wasn't subtle -- the United States isn't like other countries; ours is a country with unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations.

It follows Obama's State of the Union address, when he talked about the qualities that "set us apart as a nation" and the things we do "better than anyone else." And his belief that America is "not just a place on a map, but the light to the world" and "the greatest nation on Earth." And his reminder that "as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth."

The notion that the right is sincere about debating the "exceptionalism" question in good faith is itself patently absurd, but for anyone who actually cares about the substance of the debate, the question has been answered.

Garance Franke-Ruta didn't seem especially impressed with last night's speech, but noting the larger thrust of the remarks, she explained that Obama offered "a reminder to a war-weary nation that it is exhausting to be globally exceptional."

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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TAKING A SHORTCUT AROUND THE RULE OF LAW IN WISCONSIN.... When a state judge issued a restraining order against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) union-busting bill about 10 days ago, most expected the next move to be a series of legal appeals.

What few expected was Wisconsin Republicans trying to take a shortcut around the rule of law, but that's remarkably what's happened.

To briefly recap, the way a bill becomes a law in Wisconsin is pretty straightforward: bill passes legislature, bill signed by governor, bill published by Secretary of State's office, law is on the books. A state judge, recently finding that the union-busting bill violated the state's open-meeting laws, blocked the Secretary of State's office from taking that final step.

So, late last week, Wisconsin Republicans made up a new process because they felt like it: bill passes legislature, bill signed by governor, bill goes around by Secretary of State's office, bill published by some agency called the Legislative Reference Bureau, law is on the books.

The Legislative Reference Bureau itself said it can't publish measures into law and also can't take the place of the Secretary of State's office, but the Wisconsin GOP doesn't care. They're making up the rule of law as they go along.

And what does the rookie governor have to say about all of this? As of yesterday, Walker began enforcing a law that has been blocked by a state court's restraining order.

Gov. Scott Walker's administration no longer is collecting dues on behalf of state unions and, as of Sunday, is charging employees more for their pensions and health care, even though nonpartisan legislative attorneys say the changes are not yet law.

When I describe Wisconsin Republicans as being "out of control," this is what I'm talking about.

So, as of today, what's the law in Wisconsin? According to the GOP, the union-busting measure is in effect, and according to Democrats, it's not. Some local communities in the state are enforcing the law, and some local communities are not.

Great.

Expect some kind of court intervention fairly soon.

Update: If you missed it, Rachel Maddow had a terrific segment on this and related labor issues last night, including an interview with the estimable Amanda Terkel.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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INCHING CLOSER TO A SEEMINGLY INEVITABLE SHUTDOWN.... As expected, Democrats offered Republicans an additional $20 billion in budget cuts for this fiscal year, bringing the Democratic position in line exactly with the original request made by the GOP leadership. And as expected, Republicans promptly said it wasn't good enough.

With a shutdown deadline just 10 days away, no one at any level, in any chamber, in either party is even remotely optimistic. On the contrary, a shutdown seems practically inevitable.

The key here, oddly enough, isn't just the size of the cuts, though that's part of it. The real problem, as of yesterday, was where the cuts could come from.

Another point of contention is a demand, as one Democrat put it, "to broaden the frame" of cuts. Rather than taking the cuts entirely from the discretionary budget, Democrats are eager to include items from the much larger portion of the budget that finances mandatory programs, otherwise known as entitlements.

For example, Obama proposed in his most recent budget request reducing commodity payments to wealthy farmers for a savings of $2.5 billion over the next decade (though the proposal would save nothing this year). The budget also proposes to eliminate Pell college grants for summer school, for a savings of $60 million this year. And it offers a host of provisions intended to streamline the major government health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, in part by expanding federal program integrity authority.

Republicans are resisting this approach.

And that's why this process isn't going well.

To briefly recap, the federal government is a massive document, broken up into a variety of areas. We devote enormous resources to Defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, interest on the debt, etc. Congressional Republicans are insisting not only on deep, recovery-risking cuts, but are also demanding that the cuts come exclusively from a sliver of the budget known as "non-defense discretionary domestic spending."

And what does "non-defense discretionary domestic spending" include? Pretty much "everything else." It's the part of the budget that pays for everything from education to environmental protections, law enforcement to the Centers for Disease Control, transportation to food safety.

At this point in the debate, Democrats are effectively arguing, "If cuts are the name of the game, fine, let's look at the whole budget." To which Republicans respond, "Absolutely not. We want deep cuts, but only from a small portion of the budget. And if you disagree, we'll shut down the government."

Indeed, Brian Beutler arguably published the most important paragraph of the day yesterday.

Asked about the offer the White House has floated, a top Republican aide says, "This debate has always been about discretionary spending -- not autopilot 'mandatory' spending or tax hikes."

It's hard to overstate how foolish this is. The debate has "always been about discretionary spending"? Since when? I thought Republicans believed the debate was about cutting spending and reducing a deficit that the GOP believes threatens the fabric of civilization. Who decided that the debate has to be about slashing education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and homeland security?

Not that such a reminder was necessary, but this should remove all doubt as to the Republicans' lack of seriousness about the budget process. They're allegedly desperate to make a huge dent in the deficit, but they're only willing to look at a sliver of the budget, and only willing to make cuts to programs that actually help America's middle class and working families.

This isn't the position of a party committed to deficit reduction, so can the political world stop pretending otherwise?

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

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A COMPELLING CASE FOR A JUST MISSION.... If the point of President Obama's speech last night on U.S. intervention in Libya was to answer the "Why Libya?" and "Why now?" questions, it was a great success. Indeed, as a relative skeptic of this mission, the remarks exceeded my expectations.

These two paragraphs, in particular, drove home what we're doing and why.

"It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country -- Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

"To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and -- more profoundly -- our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

In terms of making the case for a humanitarian-based mission, this is pretty compelling. In fact, the president repeatedly emphasized what makes this mission just and morally necessary.

It became easy to imagine Obama, listening to his team a few weeks ago, and being told that he could prevent the massacres of thousands by assembling a coalition, with limited risks to United States, earning international imprimatur, and launching a short-term mission.

This isn't about taking oil reserves or no-bid contracts for the administration's buddies; this is about Obama's desire to avoid images of mass graves, knowing he could have prevented it.

What's more, I was also struck by the president taking a moment to boast about just how effective U.S. officials have been of late.

"[I]n just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians. It took us 31 days.

"Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America's role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge."

Well, sure, when you put it that way, the administration's work has been pretty impressive.

Like a lot of high-profile Obama speeches, this one seemed geared towards anticipating and answering questions. Why didn't we go on the offensive sooner? Because we needed time to assemble a strong international coalition. Why isn't regime change part of the mission? Because it would shatter the coalition and exceed the legitimacy of our mandate. Why not wait for sanctions and diplomatic pressure before using force? Because Gadhafi was poised to commit horrible atrocities, and create a refugee crisis for neighboring countries like Egypt, if the coalition hadn't acted precisely when it did. Why isn't the U.S. "taking the lead" in the larger mission? Because "real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all."

And yet, as persuasive as I found all of this, and as earnest and strong as I perceived Obama to be last night, I still can't say with any confidence what the end game of this mission is. I still don't know what happens if rebels and Gadhafi forces fight to a standoff. I'm still not sure what kind of responsibilities the West will have to keep Libya together if the regime falls.

A transfer of responsibility will shift from the United States to NATO tomorrow, but no one can say with any certainty when U.S. forces can extricate themselves altogether, or even what kind of conditions would make that possible.

As a matter of conscience, the president's case stood on a strong foundation. But that doesn't negate lingering questions that may not have answers anytime soon.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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March 28, 2011

POTUS SPEECH ON LIBYA.... In about 10 minutes, President Obama is scheduled to deliver his speech on U.S. intervention in Libya. I'll have some coverage and analysis in the morning, but in the meantime, you can watch the remarks right here.

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

Steve Benen 7:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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

* Libyan rebels regain the momentum, for now: "Rebel forces' westward charge was repulsed on Monday by a barrage of tank and artillery fire from forces guarding one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's most crucial bastions of support, while the American military warned on Monday that the insurgents' rapid advances could quickly be reversed without continued coalition air support."

* President Obama will deliver a speech tonight, at 7:30 eastern, spelling out U.S. policy in more detail.

* Japan: "Workers discovered new pools of radioactive water leaking from Japan's crippled nuclear complex, officials said Monday, as emergency crews struggled to pump out hundreds of tons of contaminated water and bring the plant back under control."

* The Washington Post had an impressive piece over the weekend about Mohammed Bouazizi, who lit himself on fire in Tunisia, and instigated a regional uprising that was hard to predict just a few months ago.

* Remember reports about Michelle Rhee's extraordinary successes as chancellor of D.C. schools? Many of her accomplishments may have been radically exaggerated, to the point where her entire record may now be suspect.

* Indiana: "Indiana House Democrats who fled the state nearly six weeks ago to protest a Republican agenda they considered an assault on labor unions and public education planned to return to the Statehouse on Monday, ending one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history."

* Maine's buffoonish governor, Paul LaPage (R), quietly completed the removal of a mural depicting Maine's labor history from the state Department of Labor.

* Well worth reading: "From Poll Taxes To Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression."

* I didn't realize the system was quite this ridiculous: "From the FT: stock in Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet's company, jumps every time Anne Hathaway, the actress, gets a lot of media play. Why? The claim is that it's the fault of robotrading algorithms, which now account for most of the market, and which sometimes rely among other things on trends in news coverage."

* Getting more people through college will probably mean a focus on non-traditional students, not high school students.

* Dear gullible conservatives, I think Bill Ayers is messing with you.

* Donald Trump isn't just spewing idiocy, he's now spewing idiocy that was popular among extremists in 2007. Ben Smith added, "Trump isn't even up to date on his Birther lunacy."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO A BUDGET LEDGER.... We've talked quite a bit recently about how voters are increasingly unimpressed with the new crop of far-right Republican governors, each of whom are pushing severe austerity measures during difficult economic times. To that end, Politico has a similar report, though the article has some flaws.

The first is the underlying assumption that these GOP governors are doing the right thing, and ungrateful constituents just don't realize it.

As Josh Marshall noted earlier, the Politico article "perfectly captures the assumptions [of] most national political reporters," by stating as fact that "'we' all agree that the message of the 2010 election was that the public has decided that government is too big and wants dramatic budget cuts. But now it seems like the governors who are really going whole hog on this ... are getting really unpopular. Ergo, the public isn't really ready for the 'grown-up conversation' about budgets that it seemed they might be."

But there's another angle that's worth keeping in mind. McClatchy's Tony Pugh reports that some of the states slashing key priorities are facing budget problems because of tax cuts the states couldn't afford.

In his new budget proposal, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for extending a generous 21 percent cut in state income taxes. The measure was originally part of a sweeping 2005 tax overhaul that abolished the state corporate income tax and phased out a business property tax.

The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio's economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state's $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.

"At least half of our current budget problem is a direct result of the tax changes we made in 2005. A lot of people don't want to hear that, but that's the reality. Much of our pain is self-inflicted," said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal government-research group in Cleveland. [...]

Across the country, taxpayers jarred by cuts to government jobs and services are reassessing the risks and costs of a variety of tax reductions, exemptions and credits, and the ideology that drives them. States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn't worked.

Yep.

Arizona's budget crisis is the direct result of tax cuts. A third of Texas' budget shortfall is tied to a property tax reduction. Louisiana would have a budget surplus right now, were it not for its income tax cut.

And this is largely before the new governors took office this year and -- you guessed it -- started cutting taxes, assuming the tax breaks would lead to more growth.

Their willingness to forgo needed tax revenue is hard to fathom, as states face a collective $125 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, said Jon Shure, the deputy director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a respected liberal research institute in Washington.

"To be cutting taxes when you're short of revenue is like saying you could run faster if you cut off your foot," Shure said.

"States have suffered an unprecedented collapse in revenue, and they are at the bottom of a deep hole looking up, and these governors are saying, 'You need a ladder to climb out, but I'm going to give you a shovel instead, so you can dig the hole deeper.' "

When he says "these governors," he's referring specifically to Republicans like Ohio's Kasich, Wisconsin's Walker, Michigan's Snyder, and Florida's Scott, all of whom are eyeing deep cuts that will hurt struggling families, while also cutting taxes, exacerbating their own budget problems.

Somehow, the Politico piece neglected to mention any of this.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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MURKOWSKI WAS WRONG BEFORE SHE WAS RIGHT.... Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the first congressional Republican to break ranks in support of Planned Parenthood, and depending on how one perceives Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) ridiculous vacillating, she's arguably the only congressional Republican to show real leadership on this.

To her credit, Murkowski isn't backing down.

In an interview this weekend with the Anchorage Daily News, Murkowski explained the stakes:

"More fundamentally, without the care Planned Parenthood provides -- without access to Pap smears, pelvic exams and breast exams -- women will die," the senators said.

Indeed, one in five women in the U.S. have used one of Planned Parenthood's 800 health centers, where the organization provides nearly one million Pap tests and more than 830,000 breast exams each year. The organization also administers nearly four million STD tests every year, including those for HIV. Just three percent of the organization's work is related to abortions.

What's more, Alex Seitz-Wald noted that as Murkowski continues to say the right things, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are all expressing discomfort with their own party's move on this.

And while I hate to sound picky, it's still worth emphasizing a pesky detail: the House GOP spending bill -- the one including brutal domestic spending cuts -- eliminated every penny of federal funding for Title X and Planned Parenthood.

And who voted in support of the House Republican proposal when it reached the Senate floor? Murkowski, Scott Brown, Snowe, Collins, and Kirk did.

Given the extremist tilt of the Republican Party, I'm genuinely pleased that these relative moderates are on the correct side of this debate. But the political world shouldn't have short memories -- it was less three weeks ago that the Senate considered a House package that would deny family planning and contraception to Americans who need the aid. Each of these senators knew the legislation would fail, and knew the GOP cuts went too far, but they voted for it anyway, basically because his party told them to.

Update: It appears ThinkProgress has walked back its report, and attributed a quote to Murkowski that actually came from 20 Democratic senators. The larger point, about Murkowski and GOP "moderates" getting wrong before they got it right, stands, but the rest of the original TP report should be reconsidered accordingly.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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NOTHING IS EASIER THAN DOING NOTHING.... For reasons that continue to exasperate, deficit reduction continues to trump job creation as the obsession of choice within in the D.C. establishment. There's not much we can do about that, much to my chagrin.

Fine. If we grudgingly accept this as the political world's central focus, the question then becomes how to reduce the deficit responsibly. With that in mind, I have good news: there's a fairly easy way to cut the deficit in half fairly quickly.

It's called "do nothing."

Matt Yglesias had a good item last week, explaining the value of the "do nothing" strategy, whereby policymakers make a massive dent in the deficit, simply by allowing time to elapse.

If you don't repeal the Affordable Care Act, don't do a Medicare "doc fix" and don't extend the Bush tax cuts then the medium-term deficit problem basically goes away. Most people don't regard this as a credible policy trajectory because they think congress wants to do "doc fixes" and wants to extend at least some of the Bush tax cuts. Which is fine. But it means that all a member of congress needs to do in order to effectuate massive deficit reduction is say "I'm open to voting for doc fixes or ACA repeal or tax cut extensions, but only if they're offset -- I refuse to vote for any measure that increases the deficit."

Those who claim to care most about the deficit don't care for this advice at all, probably because they don't really care about the deficit. These folks -- I believe they're generally known as "congressional Republicans" -- prefer to approve policies that make the deficit worse, without even trying to pay for them, just as they did during the Bush era when they added $5 trillion to the debt.

But hypocrisy aside, it's important to appreciate how correct Matt is about the budget arithmetic. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities's Robert Greenstein explained late last week:

So how then can sufficient savings be achieved in the coming decade to stabilize the debt as a share of the economy, and thereby buy us time for the reforms -- especially in health care delivery and payment systems -- that are the most important component of longer-term deficit reduction? There is an obvious answer to this question, which stands out when one examines the analysis of the nation's fiscal problems that the Congressional Budget Office issued in January. The CBO report shows that if we continue on the current policy path (including extension of all of the current tax cuts, relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax, and relief from the scheduled deep cuts in Medicare physician fees), deficits will run close to 6 percent of GDP even after the economy recovers, reaching 6.1 percent of GDP in 2021 -- and the debt will climb by 2021 close to 100 percent of GDP.

Yet the data and projections in the CBO report also indicate that if policymakers simply let all of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 (not just the tax cuts for people with incomes over $250,000) expire on schedule at the end of 2012, or if they paid for any of those tax cuts that they wish to extend with offsetting revenue increases or spending reductions -- deficits would be cut nearly in half.

What's more, as Ezra noted earlier, "[B]ecause expiration is the legislative status quo, you wouldn't need to break a filibuster to do it. Quite the opposite, in fact: You'd need to break a filibuster in order to keep it from happening."

Obviously we know Republicans consider this approach absolute madness, even though it was their policy that put an expiration date on the tax cuts to begin with. But the point is, it's equally obvious that these same GOP officials just don't have any credibility when it comes to fiscal sanity.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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'WE LOOK LIKE CAMP CHRISTIAN OUT HERE'.... The notion of a culture war "truce" is fading fast, at least among those who'll decide the outcome of the first Republican nominating contest.

The ailing economy and the Tea Party's demand for smaller government have dominated Republican politics for two years, but a resurgent social conservative movement is shaping the first stage of the presidential nominating contest, complicating the strategy for candidates who prefer to focus on fiscal issues over faith.

Here in Iowa, whose caucuses next winter will open the campaign, social and religious conservatives are pressing the likely candidates on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rather than on jobs, the budget deficit and other economic concerns that leaders of both parties expect to dominate the general election.

Doug Gross, a prominent Republican activist in Iowa, expressed concern that the GOP isn't positioning itself well for appealing to a broader mainstream. "We look like Camp Christian out here," he said.

There's a credible case to be made that Iowa is fairly unique, at least among the early nominating contests, with a dominant religious right presence one won't find in, say, New Hampshire.

But that realization doesn't matter much when prominent GOP candidates trip over one another to embrace "Christian Nation" claptrap, endorse reinstatement of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," condemn the existence of public schools, and argue over who hates gays, abortion, evolution, and sharia most.

And over the long haul, after these candidates have locked themselves in as culture warriors, desperate to impress vaguely theocratic activists in Iowa, it becomes that much more difficult to shift back to appealing to the mainstream.

But the key takeaway here is that fiscal issues have largely been relegated to afterthought status. That's just not what these right-wing activists -- the ones who'll largely dictate the outcome of the caucuses -- are focused on. Indeed, even Ron Paul, after pandering to a home-school crowd last week, conceded, "I haven't been asked too much about fiscal issues."

From time to time in recent years, I've bought into the notion that the culture war is losing its salience and relevance as most Americans either (a) want to move on; (b) shift to the left on the hot-button issues; or (c) both.

The passion on these issues among Republican leaders, though, including likely presidential aspirants, hasn't faded, in part because folks like these Iowans won't let it. It's why Pawlenty wants DADT back, Gingrich is pretending to take Christianity seriously again, Santorum wants to eliminate public education altogether, and the Boehner-led Congress has prioritized abortion over jobs.

The Tea Party phenomenon was supposed to mark a shift -- away from the culture war and towards an obsession over taxes and spending. As the presidential jockeying gets underway in earnest, the shift may have been more wishful thinking than fact.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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REPUBLICANS TAKE AIM AT AARP.... I suppose this was inevitable.

Newly empowered House Republicans are getting ready to renew their attacks against AARP over its support for the healthcare reform law, The Hill has learned.

The Ways and Means health and oversight subcommittees are hauling in the seniors lobby's executives before the panel for an April 1 hearing on how the group stands to benefit from the law, among other topics. Republicans say AARP supported the law's $200 billion in cuts to the Medicare Advantage program because it stands to gain financially as seniors replace their MA plans with Medicare supplemental insurance -- or Medigap -- policies endorsed by the association.

The hearing will cover not only Medigap but "AARP's organizational structure, management, and financial growth over the last decade."

It's what House GOP majorities tend to best: identify rivals, launch fishing expeditions, stay on the offensive.

I spoke to AARP spokesperson Drew Nannis, who told me, "AARP has a long-standing and good working relationship with Congress and we look forward to appearing before the Committee on behalf of our millions of members, and the entire 50+ population, on April 1st. AARP is committed to transparency, and the hearing will provide us yet another opportunity to answer any questions as we continue to be a champion for the wants and needs of Americans 50-plus."

Given the larger context, the hearing makes quite a bit of sense. AARP supported passage of the Affordable Care Act -- which, among other things, made it tougher for Republicans to argue that the reform measure was bad for seniors and Medicare -- so the new House majority finds it necessary to target the massive organizations. It's retribution politics at its most obvious.

But also note that these same House Republicans intend, very soon, to launch a crusade against entitlements, including Medicare, as part of a larger budget strategy. With the AARP all but certain to oppose the GOP schemes, it also stands to reason that Republicans would want to undermine the credibility and standing of the powerful group that stands in the party's way.

It's thuggish behavior on the part of congressional Republicans, but it's also predictable.

Update: For the record, the notion that the AARP supported the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of financial gain appears to be baseless -- Republicans are grasping at straws -- and by all appearances it's just a pretext to harangue the organization at a public hearing.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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THE NEXT ROUND IN THE GOP'S ANTI-UNION PUSH.... It's been challenging to keep up with all the union-busting schemes we've seen in recent months at the state level, but let's not forget that congressional Republicans are eyeing a similar agenda.

This week, as federal lawmakers return to work, we're likely to see action on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. That may not sound like an especially interesting or high-profile piece of legislation, but as Sam Stein and Laura Bassett recently explained, there's a key labor provision that matters quite a bit.

The goal, in this case, is the Republican drive to make it much more difficult for rail or aviation workers to unionize.

Sponsored by House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) -- a major recipient of campaign contributions from the airline industry, totaling more than $620,000 in his career -- the controversial provision states if an eligible voter fails to vote for union representation, he or she will be tallied as an active vote against representation.

Such a policy, which puts an extra burden on union organizers to round up all voters, rather than a simple majority, existed up until last July, when the federal National Mediation Board, which adjudicates labor-management disputes, ruled that absent votes ought not be counted against unionization. Labor officials hailed that decision as one of their signature victories last year, and the proposal to strip it away has sparked an equally emotional reaction.

"This was the one advancement that you had seen in organizing rights and here they have launched an all-out effort in the House to go after unions again," said Shane Larson, the legislative director for the Communications Workers of America. "Currently, this is the biggest issue federally right now in terms of organizing rights. There is nothing else that is on the table."

This is just straight up union-busting, plain and simple. If aviation and rail workers want to unionize, as they should, they'll have a very difficult hurdle to clear.

This may sound complicated, but it's pretty straightforward -- under the status quo, the workers would get together and hold a vote. The majority wins. Under the Republican idea, workers who don't participate in the vote would be counted as "no" votes.

To help drive home the point that this isn't a fair approach, the Communication Workers of America are circulating a report today, noting that of the recently-elected members of Congress, literally all of them would have lost if their non-voting constituents were counted as having voted against them.

A vote on the House floor is expected Thursday.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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

* Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said over the weekend that the likely GOP presidential field may not be good enough to capture voters' excitement. "I think you might see a whole new cast of Republican candidates out within the next couple of months," he said. DeMint wasn't specific about this "new cast," but suggested New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) as a possibility.

* Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa said "only two or three" of the candidates in the prospective Republican presidential field are actually qualified to be president. He wouldn't say which ones.

* Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a week after launching his presidential exploratory committee, is now unveiling his fundraising team.

* As Virginia Democrats wait to see if Tim Kaine will run for the Senate, Rep. Bobby Scott (D) is talking about running, too, setting up a difficult, costly, and potentially divisive primary.

* Nearly six months after narrowly losing his reelection bid, former Rep. Dan Maffei (D) of New York is "strongly considering" a comeback in 2012. He presumably would seek a rematch against Republican Ann Marie Buerkle.

* Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, perhaps best known as the leading Republican advocate of marijuana legalization, will apparently launch a presidential campaign next month.

* In case it seemed the freak-show qualities of the GOP field couldn't get worse, also note that disgraced former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, kicked off the bench for refusing to acknowledge federal law, is also interested in launching a presidential exploratory committee. (thanks to H.S. for the tip)

* Remember Ian Murphy, the guy who pretended to be a Koch brother while pulling a prank on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)? It appears Murphy now wants to be a Green Party congressional candidate in New York's 26th congressional district.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE SHORTCUT FROM RADICAL FRINGE TO A MUCH LARGER AUDIENCE.... New York magazine has an interesting profile piece in its new issue of Alex Jones, the deeply strange conspiracy theorist. If you're not familiar with his work, the piece certainly helps bring you up to speed.

As Joe Hagan's article explains, Jones believes there's a network of shadowy elites -- which includes the Bushes, Obamas, Clintons, journalists, Saudis, and Google -- who are "trying to enslave the Earth's population through orchestrated terror attacks and revolutions, vast economic manipulation, vaccines and fluoride, and an ever-widening system of surveillance that includes Facebook."

Jones is a Truther, an opponent of the New World Order, and a believer in the notion that powerful globalists who run the world are "creating a super bioweapon." And did you know the super bioweapon is based on mouse pox?

I imagine most reasonable people would consider all of this ridiculous and move on, the way one might hesitate to make eye contact with a mentally ill person screaming these same ideas on a street corner.

But here's the part of the New York article that stood out for me.

It was Matt Drudge, whose obsessions with overreaching corporations like Google and his daily charting of the most granular signs of the Apocalypse add a nonpartisan element to his site's right-wing cant, who did more than anyone else to make Jones more visible. "If you had to say there was one source who really helped us break out, who took our information, helped to punch it out to an even more effective level, he's the guy," says Jones. "Three years ago, there was almost no news coverage of Bilderberg [an elite conference] in this country; there was an electronic Berlin Wall. Drudge, every year, takes our reportage and links to it on our site."

Jones says that it's now "intensifying how much he links to us and promotes us," recalling how Drudge, this past Christmas, made every link on the site green for the holidays -- except links to Infowars, which Drudge published in red. "It was like a Christmas present," says Jones.

So, the guy whose site is still considered a must-read by much of the D.C. political establishment is trying to bring Alex Jones' nonsense to the masses.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE GREAT 'KINETIC' FREAKOUT OF 2011.... Last week, hoping to draw a distinction between coalition efforts in Libya and an actual, literal war, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes used the "k" word with reporters.

"I think what we are doing is enforcing a resolution that has a very clear set of goals, which is protecting the Libyan people, averting a humanitarian crisis, and setting up a no-fly zone," Rhodes said. "Obviously that involves kinetic military action, particularly on the front end."

Soon after, Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, "I think as we are successful in suppressing the air defenses, the level of kinetic activity should decline."

And with that, The Great "Kinetic" Freakout of 2011 got underway.

Rush Limbaugh flipped out over the use of the word "kinetic," insisting the Obama administration had "come up with the ludicrous term," which he called "pathetic" and "surreal." Tucker Carlson was equally outraged on Fox News this morning, and in my personal favorite, Frank Luntz said he's never heard anyone use the word "kinetic" in military contexts. (thanks to V.S. for the tip)

These folks really need to calm down.

George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld used the "k" word all the time to describe military efforts, as did top military leaders like Gen. Tommy Franks, then-Brig. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and then-Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Conservative Byron York didn't seem especially pleased with the Obama administration's use of the word, but he nevertheless noted:

"Kinetic" is a word that's been used around the Pentagon for many years to distinguish between actions like dropping bombs, launching cruise missiles or shooting people and newer forms of non-violent fighting like cyber-warfare.

Remember, Frank Luntz told a national television audience he's never heard anyone use the word "kinetic" in military contexts, and Limbaugh thinks the word itself is "ludicrous."

Operations in Libya are obviously controversial, and deserve intense scrutiny. Given the gravity of the situation, I'm glad the right is interested in having a debate.

Except we're not having a debate; we're watching conservatives hyperventilate over pointless trivia for no apparent reason.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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CUTS AND CONSEQUENCES.... About a year ago, Republican policymakers in Nebraska approved a policy that cut off Medicaid funding for prenatal care for about 1,600 low-income women, many of them undocumented immigrants.

Andrea Nill reported the other day on the consequences of those cuts.

The elimination one year ago of Medicaid funding for prenatal care for about 1,600 low-income women has had dramatic effects, doctors and health clinic administrators reported Wednesday. At least five babies have died. Women are traveling 155 miles to get prenatal care. Babies have been delivered at clinics, in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms. [...]

Andrea Skolkin, chief executive officer of One World Community Health Centers in Omaha, said that in the past year, only about half of uninsured women are receiving any prenatal care. The health center has more premature births to uninsured women, compared to insured women. Uninsured mothers were twice as likely to deliver through cesarean section, which is more expensive. [...]Four infants died in utero at the Columbus health center, she said. In the previous seven years, the clinic had never had an in utero death.

After seeing these results, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is also pushing to restrict prenatal care assistance.

Remember, these are the folks generally known as "pro-life."

Or, as Matt Yglesias reminds us, "Life ... begins at conception, ends at birth, and doesn't count if you're from Mexico."

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... That disgraced former House Speaker sure does say strange things.

Newt Gingrich "warned that America is headed toward becoming a godless society unless voters take a stand against President Obama and liberal-minded college professors and likeminded media pushing his agenda," the San Antonio News-Express reports.

He also "called for a return to historic, Christian roots he said were critical to protecting the nation's freedoms."

Said Gingrich: "There's a desperation with which our elites are trying to create amnesia so that we literally have generations who have no idea what it means to be an American."

Yeah, just think about it. Unless we all become conservative Christians, the next thing you know, prominent leaders might start cheating on multiple wives.

Oh wait.

Everything about Gingrich's little tirade is bizarre. First, the United States remains among the most religious industrialized powers on the planet, so the threat of creeping godlessness seems out of place.

Second, even if the ranks of atheists and agnostics are growing -- and they are -- isn't this just a natural development in the marketplace of ideas? Exactly how does Gingrich suggest using political power to "return" America to its "Christian roots"?

Third, the growth in the number of non-believers began in earnest during the Bush era. Blaming Obama, the media, and college professors sounds like the mad rantings of a deeply paranoid person.

And finally, "what it means to be an American"? The true test of patriotic ideals is sharing Newt Gingrich's religious faith? Really?

This "Holier Than Thou" shtick is already pretty tiresome. Gingrich fears widespread "amnesia," but I have a pretty good memory, and I remember when the former Speaker was in office and he pretty much ignored the Republican Party's religious right base. In fact, the vaguely theocratic movement grew so disgusted with Gingrich blowing them off that in the spring of 1998, James Dobson and a bunch of religious right heavyweights said they were prepared to abandon the GOP altogether and form a Christian conservative party. They had no choice, they said, because Gingrich refused to take a faith-based agenda seriously.

Gingrich eventually talked the movement leaders out of it, brought them back into the fold by making a bunch of promises, and then proceeded to ignore the religious right all over again. All the while, Gingrich was conducting his personal life in ... how do I put this gently ... an ungodly kind of way.

And now he wants to hold himself out as the paragon of all things Christian? Please.

Update: Atrios asks a good question: would Romney, who is Mormon, meet Gingrich's standards? Since LDS didn't exist in 1776, the answer, from Gingrich's bizarre perspective, isn't obvious.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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HOW NOT TO NEGOTIATE, 101.... In just 11 days, if policymakers in D.C. do not strike a compromise on a budget for this fiscal year, the government will shut down. There were some high-level talks last week, but by all indications, they went very poorly.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are prepared to do even more to make Republicans even happier.

The White House and Democratic lawmakers, with less than two weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, are assembling a proposal for roughly $20 billion in additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to people close to the budget talks.

That would come on top of $10 billion in cuts that Congress has already enacted and would represent a deeper reduction than the Obama administration and Senate Democrats had offered previously in negotiations. But it isn't clear that would be enough to satisfy Republicans, who initially sought $61 billion in spending cuts and face pressure from tea-party activists not to compromise.

Now, I haven't seen confirmation of this elsewhere, and the Wall Street Journal isn't always the most reliable of sources, especially when it comes to Democratic plans.

But just for the sake of conversation, let's say this is accurate. It would mean that Democrats are prepared to give Republicans about $30 billion in cuts, just for this fiscal year, just to make the GOP happy enough to let the government stay open -- at least until the next spending fight.

Some of you might be thinking, "Wait, $30 billion in cuts sounds kind of familiar." That's because we've seen this figure before -- back in February, House Republican leaders had no intention of keeping their campaign promise, and instead proposed about $30 billion in cuts.

At the time -- we're talking about just six weeks ago -- Democrats thought this level of reductions was outrageous, and they were right. Indeed, the $30 billion in cuts was considered so severe, one report referred to the proposal as "the GOP Chainsaw Massacre."

And yet, here we are in late March, and now Democrats are prepared to accept the exact same number used by Republican leaders, and it seems likely GOP lawmakers still won't think this is good enough. Indeed, rank-and-file Republicans balked at their own leadership's plan when $30 billion in cuts were put on the table, and it stands to reason the caucus won't be any more impressed now that a similar offer is presented by Dems.

But putting aside whether this is likely to work, the lesson I'd like Democrats to take from this is simple: you're not good at negotiating. Republicans approved a ridiculous proposal, pushing the extreme in one direction, knowing that negotiations would ensue. One need not be a game theorist to know those talks would go better if Dems had pushed in the opposite direction.

That way, when the two sides tried to meet "in the middle," that middle would be in a more favorable location.

But, no. The discussion boiled down to one side that wanted to cut a little, and one side that wanted to cut a lot. The new Democratic offer is effectively the same as the old Republican leadership's offer. Adding insult to injury, the original GOP leaders' plan was itself supposed to be the starting point for negotiations, and was expected to move closer to the Democratic position in order to find a compromise.

That's what would have happened if, (a) the GOP's rank-and-file weren't quite so hysterical, and (b) Dems were better at this game.

Update: It looks like Ezra is thinking along the same lines.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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HOW QUICKLY THEY FORGET.... This past week saw the first anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which generated some discussion on "Fox News Sunday." Brit Hume, for example, took the opportunity to revisit some old talking points. (Heather at C&L posted the video.)

"Well, what I would say about this is, think how different this would be now had the president and the Democrats in Congress been willing to incorporate some Republican ideas, a serious attempt at tort reform, for example. He would have gotten, I think, not only much of what he, the president, wanted, the Republicans would have gotten some of what they wanted. A bunch of them would have voted for it. This notion that it's a partisan bill would be gone, and the whole picture would look different right now from the way it does.

"I actually in my life have never seen anything like this. I've never seen a bill with this much consequence rammed through by one party alone.

"And it raised questions about the legitimacy of the measure from the start. And those questions persist today."

I'd hoped we were past all of this, but as long as Hume wants to repeat nonsense to a national television audience, we might as well set the record straight.

First, the bill wasn't "rammed through." It took a year of painfully-slow hearings, discussions, summits, debates, and votes. It was completed with the support of one party because Republicans refused to participate, and moderates who wavered were told by GOP leaders they were forbidden from playing a constructive role.

Second, the notion that Dems refused to "incorporate some Republican ideas" is very silly. Digby had a good post on this yesterday, explaining that the bulk of the legislation itself was based on Republican ideas -- remember, it mirrored a plan floated by GOP moderates in 1993 -- and that center-right Democrats ensured that the most progressive elements weren't included in the final package. Indeed, the individual mandate itself, now the most controversial element of the law, originated as a Republican idea.

But of particular interest is a meeting that has been largely forgotten. In April 2009, as the reform process was just getting underway, President Obama sat down with congressional Republican leaders in the hopes of finding some common ground on health care. Obama said he'd be willing to strike a deal that included medical malpractice reform, for example, and asked what areas the GOP would be willing to give ground on in return. Nothing, they said.

In other words, Brit Hume has it exactly backwards. He argued yesterday that the whole effort would have gone so much better if only Dems had been willing to compromise and embrace Republican goals. Except, in Grown Up Land, that's exactly what happened, and Republicans refused to take "Yes" for an answer.

Fox News personalities may not like this history, but that doesn't change the fact that it's true, and Republican media figures shouldn't lie about it.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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FROM THE WEEKEND.... We covered a fair amount of ground over the weekend. Here's a quick overview of what you may have missed.

On Sunday, we talked about:

* The congressional Republicans' economic plan doesn't just include deliberately more job losses; it also wants lower wages for American workers.

* I'm used to right-wing attacks on President Obama's upbringing. I just wish they'd learn a little more about the subject.

* Herman Cain wouldn't allow Muslim American in his cabinet. As offensive as that is, don't forget, Mitt Romney said the same thing four years ago.

* At an Iowa event for prospective GOP presidential candidates, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) "stole the show."

* Geraldine Ferraro died Saturday at the age of 75.

And on Saturday, we talked about:

* Is a government shutdown unavoidable? Maybe.

* As if Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) wasn't offensive enough, his new Medicaid scheme would put a lot of money in his own pocket.

* At this point, just about every claim about the Affordable Care Act from congressional Republicans is demonstrably false.

* In "This Week in God," we covered, among other things, the distance between Roman Catholics' beliefs on social issues and the stances of church officials.

* With Barbour, Pawlenty, and Huckabee all vowing with reinstate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the dead-enders really need to get over themselves.

* And in Wisconsin, state Republican lawmakers think they've found a short cut around a court-imposed restraining order.

Steve Benen 7:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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March 27, 2011

HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT AND LOWER WAGES -- ON PURPOSE.... About a month ago, I described the Republican economic plan as "higher unemployment, lower wages, and slower growth." It's worth appreciating the fact that (a) I meant that literally; and (b) occasionally, GOP officials will acknowledge their intentions.

Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley reported this week on a little-noticed report distributed by House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office last week, summarizing the findings of the Republican staff of the Joint Economic Committee.

[T]he paper predicts that cutting the number of public employees would send highly skilled workers job hunting in the private sector, which in turn would lead to lower labor costs and increased employment. But "lowering labor costs" is economist-speak for lowering wages -- does the GOP want to be in the position of advocating for lower wages for voters who work in the private sector?

The report also touts the value of cutting "transfer payments," or subsidies, to private firms, suggesting cuts to Amtrak and ethanol support. But many Republicans back both of those objectives, and the GOP has long been a staunch defender of corporate subsidies through both spending and the tax code, including direct payments to agricultural firms.

Remember, independent economists, including some who have no sympathies for Democrats, have said the Republican spending cuts, if approved, would lead to roughly 700,000 job losses. (Told about making unemployment worse, John Boehner replied, "So be it.")

But the GOP plan isn't just to increase layoffs, at least in the short term, it's also to intended to make sure Americans are earning less money.

Paul Krugman summarized the economic thinking embraced by congressional Republicans.

The idea is this: we'll lay off government workers; this will raise unemployment, putting downward pressure on wages; and lower wages will lead to higher employment.

So, for this to work you first have to have a downward-sloping demand for labor as a function of the nominal wage rate. There's no reason to believe that's the case: in a liquidity trap, falling wages probably reduce the demand for labor, because they worsen the burden of debt.

And even if you somehow bypass this objection, the argument is still nonsense: it says that by reducing demand, you cut the price, which increases demand, which means that you end up selling more than before. Um, no -- that's the kind of answer that, in Econ 101, has you suggesting that the student get special tutoring.... As Wolfgang Pauli used to say, what we have here is an argument that isn't even wrong.

If pressed, I suspect GOP leaders would say their radical experiment would only cause temporary pain throughout the economy. Sure, unemployment would go up and workers' wages would go down, but that would only continue during a transition period.

And how long would America suffer while this transition continued? Republicans haven't quite answered that one yet.

We really are in a through-the-looking-glass debate at this point. Republicans benefited greatly from a weak economy in 2010, riding a wave of public frustration to massive electoral gains. Voters, looking for a change from the status quo, expected the GOP to focus heavily on job creation and economic growth.

Just a few months later, Republicans have responded with a plan that would make unemployment worse, on purpose, while lowering Americans' wages, on purpose.

And if Democrats resist, Republicans -- who don't believe in compromise -- will shut down the government, block an extension of the debt limit, and push the economy back towards a recession.

One wonders if this is what midterm voters had in mind six months ago.

Down the rabbit hole we go.

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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THEY STILL DON'T KNOW THEIR ENEMY.... The right's preoccupation with President Obama's upbringing seems rather pointless -- what's that old saying about fighting the last war? -- but I suppose conservatives' old habits die hard.

I do wish, however, that the right-wing attack dogs would at least brush up on the basics. David Koch, for example, the far-right financier behind a massive Republican attack operation, offered this assessment of the president's youth.

"His father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya... So he had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve."

Now, Koch's vast wealth proves that one need not be intelligent to get rich, but remarks like these are still just embarrassing.

For one thing, the whole "anti-business" talking point is just stale. After two years under the Obama administration, corporate profits have soared, the private sector is where nearly all of the new jobs are being created, and all of the major investment indexes are way up. The president is reaching out to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he's pushing trade deals that the business community wants to see, and he's even raised the prospect of reforming the corporate tax code. Hell, he even brought in a White House chief of staff from the corporate world. It's time for a new area of criticism.

But even putting reality and pesky facts aside, the president wasn't raised by his father. He barely knew his father, and wrote a best-selling book about this. To argue that Obama's father's ideology "affected" the president "almost all his life" is to prove that one knows very little about Barack Obama.

And I guess that's what rankles most here. David Koch is going to attack the president, and that will simply be a daily occurrence so long as Obama is in the White House. But is it too much to ask that those suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome at least learn a little bit about the guy?

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THE RIGHT'S SELECTIVE EMBRACE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.... It's hardly a secret that in modern politics, conservative Christian Republicans tend to think the issue of religion in public and political life is "theirs." It's one of those things that "everyone knows" -- Democrats dominate when it comes to workers, health care, education, and the environment; the GOP dominates on guns and God.

Except, this framework has never really made any sense -- it's just a lazy shorthand -- and the assumptions about the right and faith have always been overly broad. Republicans don't love religious liberty; they love religious liberty for people who think as they do.

ThinkProgress, for example, caught up with GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain yesterday at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa. Cain argued this week that all Muslims have "an objective to convert all infidels or kill them," and TP asked a good follow-up question: "Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?" Cain replied:

"No, I would not. And here's why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they've got a social problem that they don't know what to do with hardly.

The question that was asked that 'raised some questions' and, as my grandfather said, 'I does not care, I feel the way I feel.'"

To be sure, this is deeply stupid. Refusing to consider qualified Muslim Americans for public posts because one fears a conspiracy to "gradually ease Sharia law ... into our government" is so laughably absurd, one wonders if Herman Cain is a liberal plant, running to make Republicans look ridiculous.

Indeed, in most of American life, deliberately refusing to hire religious minorities, solely because of their faith, isn't just an example of bigotry, it's literally illegal employment discrimination.

For a party that allegedly celebrates religious liberty, the irony is rich.

At a certain level, this seems fairly easy to dismiss because Cain is clearly not a credible candidate for national office, and won't win the Republican presidential nomination. But before we move on, let's not forget one key aspect to this: nearly four years ago, Mitt Romney said something awfully similar.

In the fall of 2007, Romney said he would not consider Muslim Americans for his cabinet. Indeed, he said this more than once, in front of plenty of witnesses.

Cain's bigotry seems remarkable, and it is, but he's an afterthought in Republican politics. Romney, meanwhile, is arguably the frontrunner, and despite his pleas for tolerance of religious diversity when it comes to his own personal faith, Romney is already on record favoring Cain-like discrimination.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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GUESS WHO 'STOLE THE SHOW' IN IOWA?.... Iowa will host dozens of "cattle call" events for 2012 Republican presidential candidates over the next several months, and the latest was yesterday's gathering in Des Moines, hosted by far-right Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). Five likely aspirants showed up, and the receptions they received matter.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, and pizza-company owner Herman Cain were all on hand, and by all accounts, each delivered remarks that generated polite applause. But the Washington Post noted it was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) who "lit up the gathering."

NBC's First Read had a similar assessment, noting that of the five, only Bachmann was able to "fire up" attendees with "criticisms of the administration, an artful weaving of audience response, and backing up her points with a litany of 'statistics.'" (The scare quotes were NBC's, not mine, and a reminder that the congresswoman is prone to making stuff up.)

Politico's report from the event said Bachmann "stole the show" in Iowa.

Michele Bachmann served up red meat to the crowd at the Iowa conservative principles conference Saturday, slamming President Barack Obama as a Jimmy Carter retread, dissing the Mitch Daniels "truce" call for social issues, and saying she wants a "waiver" from the last two years of White House leadership.

Talking loudly and waving her hands, a pumped Bachmann used a slide presentation of various numbers -- the national debt, the cost of a gallon of gas two years ago the day before Obama took office, the corporate tax rate -- to make her points and pull the crowd in.

Suggesting that Iowa caucus voters had the power to halt Obama, Bachmann wrapped up her speech by asking, "Are you in? Are you in for 2012?"

"I agree with you!" she said as the crowd cheered, and added, "I'm in!"

You can watch the video -- though I don't recommend doing so on a full stomach -- and you'll notice that the Iowa crowd loved Bachmann's nonsense, practically hanging on her every word.

In the context of the 2012 race, the next question is what kind of love we're dealing with here. Are those right-wing activists enamored with Bachmann thinking, "I can't wait to support her campaign" or are they thinking, "She's terrific, but there's no chance I'll ever vote for her"?

Don't assume the latter. Extremely conservative social activists tend to dominate the Iowa caucuses -- radical televangelist Pat Robertson came in second in 1988, well ahead of Reagan's sitting vice president -- and may very well make Bachmann viable, at least in the first nominating contest.

Also note, the more the ridiculous congresswoman excites the base and makes bizarre remarks -- yesterday Bachmann called the federal tax code a "weapon of mass destruction" -- the more media attention she'll take from other candidates who may find themselves struggling to stay in the spotlight.

If this isn't making the GOP establishment -- plus candidates like Pawlenty, Daniels, and Barbour -- nervous, they're not paying close enough attention.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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GERALDINE FERRARO, TRAILBLAZER, DIES AT AGE 75.... The 1984 presidential election was the first I followed in any detail. I was 11, just old enough to notice how interesting this whole "politics" thing really was.

One of the things that made the year unique, of course, was the historic nature of the Democratic ticket. Like plenty of kids, I can recall looking in books and noticing that every major-party ticket in American history featured candidates with the same qualities: they were all white men. Walter Mondale, to his credit, was committed to changing that.

On the short list was an up-and-coming San Francisco mayor by the name of Dianne Feinstein, but Mondale ultimately went with New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, who died yesterday at the age of 75.

Dave Weigel flagged the statement released by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), which did a nice job capturing the role for which Ferraro will always be remembered.

I'll never forget when Walter Mondale chose Gerry for his running mate in at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. She became our first woman Vice Presidential candidate. It sent shock waves through the country. The entire nation was proud that we had broken this barrier. It changed the way we thought of ourselves. Women began looking at themselves in a new way. They would say -- she's not that much older than me. She's not that different than me. She definitely has worked hard. But she did it. Maybe I can do it too.

I was so proud of her. So proud of the Democrats. And so honored to second her nomination at the Democratic Convention that August. It was electric. The male delegates had given their tickets to their female alternates so they could witness this grand moment in history. Ten thousand people packed the auditorium, including lots of children. So many people there never thought they'd live to see the day we'd have a woman candidate for vice president.

After the campaign -- I told her, "Gerry -- it's kind of like breaking the sound barrier for the first time. You know, those guys in those planes starting to get to Mach 1 and then they got to Mach 2, or whatever it is they do to break the barrier. We got shaken up and pushed and pulled in a lot of directions just like they did. We didn't do it, but it's only the first time out."

Geraldine Ferraro cracked the marble ceiling. She paved the way for women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Someday, a woman will become President of the United States -- and Geraldine Ferraro paved the way. But she also paved the way for women in their day-to-day lives.

In the more than quarter-century since the 1984 campaign, further progress on gender equality in the political world has been, at best, mixed. The number of women in Congress has grown considerably since the mid-80s, though last year, it shrank, and Capitol Hill is still dominated by men. We've seen women rise to prominence in national media -- Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Rachel Maddow, Christiane Amanpour. Leslie Stahl -- but most of the voices that dominate the discourse are also still men. The number of women on the U.S. Supreme Court has reached record highs, but the total has still only gone from one of nine to three of nine. We finally had a woman as Speaker of the House, but she only had two terms, and was ruthlessly demonized by the far-right.

And in national electoral politics, there's only been one other woman to make a major-party ticket, and her nomination was little more than a campaign stunt gone horribly awry.

Ferraro blazed an important trail for women at the national level, but the point is that trail remains too narrow and traveled by too few. As Time noted yesterday, Ferraro's passing "is a moment to consider how much work remains for the cause of gender equality that she symbolized."

President Obama also issued a statement yesterday, saying, "Michelle and I were saddened to learn about the passing of Geraldine Ferraro. Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether it was as a public school teacher, assistant district attorney, Member of Congress, or candidate for Vice President, Geraldine fought to uphold America's founding ideals of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. And as our Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, she stood up for those ideals around the world. Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live."

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

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March 26, 2011

IS A LOOMING GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN UNAVOIDABLE?.... Last week, facing the latest in a series of deadlines, there was bipartisan support for another budget extension, funding the federal government through April 8. It gave policymakers three weeks to craft a deal that would finance the rest of the fiscal year, and discussions have been quietly ongoing.

So, has there been any progress? Not really.

Yesterday morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed some optimism, saying he's "feeling better" about the prospects for a larger compromise than he had been. As for completing a package that would prevent a shutdown in the short term, Schumer added he's seen "some progress."

A few hours later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a statement saying the negotiations are going nowhere, and said Democrats who refuse to give Republicans what they want should be blamed.

By late yesterday, everyone involved in the process agreed on only one thing: this process isn't going well.

With time running short and budget negotiations this week having reached an angry impasse, Congressional leaders are growing increasingly pessimistic about reaching a bipartisan deal that would avert a government shutdown in early April.

Senior Democratic officials involved in high-level efforts to bring House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House to a budget agreement said that while some progress had been made toward an accord on an overall level of spending cuts, the parties remained divided on the final figure and had to resolve the fate of ideologically charged policy provisions demanded by House conservatives.

Republicans remain unwilling to go "too far below" the $61 billion in economy-hurting cuts approved by the House; they're reluctant to debate which parts of the budget the cuts can come from; and the notion of combining cuts with some modest tax increases on the wealthy -- an idea with broad public support -- has been deemed entirely out of the question by the GOP.

Talks also suffered a major setback on Tuesday when Republican negotiators blindsided Democrats, refusing to consider the existing stopgap plan as a budget benchmark, despite previous agreements.

And then, there's the "rider" issue. As if it weren't quite difficult enough to reach an agreement on the size of the cuts, and determine which programs would face the knife, there are also unrelated policy amendments that would restrict federal agencies' actions.

For example, instead of passing a bill to stop the EPA from monitoring for clean air and water, Republicans are demanding that the budget include a rider to give them what they want. And, the GOP says, they'll shut down the government unless they get the riders and the cuts. While Democrats consider these measures immediate deal-breakers, a leading House Republican aide insisted this week, "A bill without any riders cannot pass the House."

And a bill with riders cannot pass the Senate.

There are 13 days left to work something out, but given the extremism and inflexibility of the hysterical House Republican caucus, I can't find anyone who thinks a deal is likely. As a quantitative matter, I'd say the likelihood of a shutdown on April 8 is at least 85%, if not higher.

Thanks again, midterm voters, for electing radicals and putting us in this mess.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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THE MORAL OF THE STORY: DON'T ELECT A CRIMINAL TO BE GOVERNOR.... Before inexplicably becoming the governor of the state of Florida, Republican Rick Scott's most notable accomplishment was pulling off a major health care scam, defrauding taxpayers, and narrowly avoiding a criminal indictment.

That felonious background is of particular interest given Scott's new scheme to "reform" Medicaid, which may make him an even wealthier man. Suzy Khimm had this rather remarkable report yesterday.

Republican governor Rick Scott's push to privatize Medicaid in Florida is highly controversial -- not least because the health care business Scott handed over to his wife when he took office could reap a major profit if the legislation becomes law.

Scott and Florida Republicans are currently trying to enact a sweeping Medicaid reform bill that would give HMOs and other private health care companies unprecedented control over the government health care program for the poor. Among the companies that stand to benefit from the bill is Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics aimed at providing emergency services to walk-in customers. The Florida governor founded Solantic in 2001, only a few years after he resigned as the CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare fraud scandal. In January, he transferred his $62 million stake in Solantic to his wife, Ann Scott, a homemaker involved in various charitable organizations.

Florida Democrats and independent legal experts say this handover hardly absolves Scott of a major conflict of interest. As part of a federally approved pilot program that began in 2005, certain Medicaid patients in Florida were allowed to start using their Medicaid dollars at private clinics like Solantic. The Medicaid bill that Scott is now pushing would expand the pilot privatization program to the entire state of Florida, offering Solantic a huge new business opportunity.

This happens to coincide with a new Scott initiative: mandatory drug testing for state employees, state job applicants, and welfare recipients.

Care to guess what Florida company would stand to make a lot of money administering these wildly unnecessary drug tests? If you guessed, "Solantic," you're right.

Even at face value, the governor's privatization scheme is itself a mess, slashing funding and inviting fraud. But even if we put merit aside, Scott is pushing a controversial measure that stands to put millions of tax dollars into his own family's bank account, profiting from a government-run health care plan after running on a platform in opposition to government-run health care.

I also enjoyed Ezra's take on this: "In the 1990s, [Scott] made his money off single-payer health-care programs by cheating them. Today, he's making his money off single-payer health-care programs by running them. No matter how you look at it, it's a step up."

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

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THEY JUST CAN'T HELP THEMSELVES.... The gap between congressional Republicans' rhetoric on health care and reality continues to grow. Yes, that's apparently still possible.

This week, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, claiming to rely on a report from the Congressional Budget Office (which the GOP allegedly no longer trusts), insisted that the price tag for the Affordable Care Act just got much bigger. How much bigger? The committee Republicans issued a press release that read, "Obamacare Price Tag Spikes by 54%"

Well, that would be quite a significant jump, wouldn't it? If Republicans were telling the truth, this would be quite a development.

Except, as Glenn Kessler explained, there's nothing honest about the GOP's assessment.

The Energy and Commerce Committee came up with its increase by mixing apples and oranges. It compared the gross cost of insurance coverage provisions calculated for 2010-2019 (that's the $938 billion number) with new figures for a different budget window, 2012-2021 (that's the $1.445 trillion figure.) That's kind of like saying the cost of pizza went up by comparing last year's price for a 12-inch pie with this year's price for a 16-inch pie. [...]

The CBO generally remains aloof from the political back-and-forth over its numbers. But late Wednesday, the CBO addressed this question in its Director's Blog. It lined up the numbers for all three of its estimates and then made the following point, underlying it for emphasis:

"Over the eight-year period that is common to all three analyses (2012 through 2019), the latest estimate of the net cost of the coverage provisions ($794 billion) differs by only about 2 percent from the original estimate ($778 billion) ; the projected gross costs ... differ by only about 4 percent over that period."

In budget terms over such a long period of time, these differences amount to rounding errors.

As the CBO put it, again underlining its point: "The evolution of the estimates does not reflect any substantial change in the estimation of the overall effects of [the health care law] from what was projected in March 2010."

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee presumably know all of this, but don't care. The goal is to try to pull off a clumsy con, hoping reporters and the public just won't know the difference.

The point is to deceive, not inform.

We're pretty much at the point in this debate at which every claim the GOP makes about the Affordable Care Act is deliberately untrue.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting new report from the Public Religion Research Institute that found, contrary to the wishes of church officials, American Catholics have fairly progressive, mainstream views on marriage equality and gay rights.

Nearly three-quarters of Catholics favor either allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (43%) or allowing them to form civil unions (31%). Only 22% of Catholics say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship. [...]

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63% of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. [...]

Less than 4-in-10 (39%) Catholics give their own church top marks (a grade of either an A or a B) on its handling of the issue of homosexuality.

Jamelle Bouie added, "This also holds true for abortion, the death penalty, and divorce, where there is almost no difference between Catholics and the public writ large."

Given the larger public debate about these social issues, the opinion research should matter quite a bit. For policymakers worried about "the Catholic vote," assuming that the church's conservative attitudes are shared by adherents, it's important for the political world to realize the difference. A priest's message on the political culture war doesn't always resonate with his parishioners -- on the contrary, more often than not, it's the opposite.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The latest twist in Oklahoma's bizarre war on sharia has led Republicans to try to ban the use of all foreign law in state courts.

* In related news, the anti-sharia crusade in Tennessee was scaled back, just a little, when its leading proponents agreed to change the wording of their legislative proposal, making clear that "peaceful religious practices" would not be made criminal. How progressive of them.

* A Methodist pastor in North Carolina was forced from his church after saying he doesn't necessarily believe that hell is a literal place.

* President Obama, as part of an ongoing effort to communicate directly with Iranians, delivered a Nowruz message this week.

* The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, still reeling from its role in covering up the systematic sexual abuse of many children, was hit this week with yet another lawsuit.

* And the Rev. Franklin Graham believes the recent disasters in Japan may be evidence that the Second Coming is near. Remember, in some circles, Franklin Graham is considered a credible religious figure.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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DADT DEAD-ENDERS NEED TO GET OVER IT.... To listen to high-profile Republicans, including credible presidential candidates, you'd think the fight over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was still ongoing. It's not -- the debate ended months ago, and the right lost.

But the list of prominent dead-enders is surprisingly long. This week, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) sat down with Bryan Fischer, an extremist in the religious right movement, and promised to reinstate the DADT policy. Indeed, asked if he'd bring back the ban, Barbour said, "Of course."

"[I]t's not necessarily over homosexuality. It's over the fact that when you're under fire and people are living and dying of split-second decisions you don't need any kind of amorous mindset that can effect saving people's lives and killing bad guys. [...]

"I think it ought to be rolled back. I just don't see how you can take any other position if the person you are trying to protect is the soldier who is actually in combat."

As a substantive matter, this is all pretty silly. But note the larger context -- months after DADT repeal was approved by large, bipartisan majorities, with the support of the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the vast majority of the American public, Republicans just can't let this go.

At the national level, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a former moderate, announced in January he would "support reinstating" the unpopular and discriminatory policy. This week, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) also promised to bring back the old law.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel, has also vowed to fight to bring DADT back, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is looking for ways to prevent implementation.

This is pretty pathetic. I can appreciate the need to pander to homophobes and the electoral value of hate in Republican politics, but even the most hysterical conservatives have to realize this one's over. It's time to move on.

But they won't. On the contrary, with Barbour, Huckabee, and Pawlenty all publicly supporting reinstatement, it's possible, if not likely, that this might become another 2012 litmus test for the GOP field. The party's base may expect nothing less.

Postscript: It's worth noting that Barbour, Huckabee, and Pawlenty all announced their position on this to the same guy: the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer. As these leading Republicans probably know, Fischer is one of the nation's most hate-filled nuts . We're talking about a hysterical right-wing clown who wants Muslim Americans to be "deported" (to where is unclear); equates gay sex with "domestic terrorism," and is convinced that the U.S. military is being run by "fundamentalist Muslims and homosexual activists."

On Wednesday, he argued on the air that Muslim Americans do not deserve protection under the First Amendment. Over the next 48 hours, Bachmann, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Barbour appeared on his show anyway. Try to imagine what would happen if a liberal extremist spewed hate like this every day, and prominent Democrats pandered to him on a regular basis.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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A CREATIVE TAKE ON THE RULE OF LAW IN WISCONSIN.... In Wisconsin, a measure doesn't become state law immediately after the governor puts his/her signature on a bill passed by the legislature. The process concludes, and the bill becomes a law, once it's published by the Wisconsin Secretary of State's office.

Most of the time, this is just a formality. But last week, a state judge blocked Gov. Scott Walker's (R) union-busting measure with a restraining order, barring the Secretary of State's office from publishing the law because of its apparent conflict with the state's open-meeting laws. The meaure, the state judge said, could not take effect.

There were a variety of possible next steps. Wisconsin Republicans ignoring the restraining order wasn't one of the options, but that's apparently what happened late yesterday afternoon.

A law to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers in Wisconsin was unexpectedly published by a state agency on Friday despite a temporary restraining order barring publication, sparking confusion and more animosity among legislators who have fiercely debated the issue for weeks.

State officials disagreed over whether publication of the law -- a procedural requirement -- would allow it to be in force on Saturday. The state's Legislative Reference Bureau said it is required to publish all laws within 10 days after they are enacted. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed the bill on March 11, but a county judge issued an order last week blocking the secretary of state from publishing it. The order did not bar the legislative bureau from publishing the law.

Democrats argued on Friday that the law would not go into effect on Saturday because it still required official publication by the secretary of state.... But Republicans said they believed the law would take effect on Saturday. Senator Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican and the majority leader, said publishing the law was the right thing to do and the Legislature could now focus on the budget.

Confused yet?

The process is supposed to go as follows: bill passes legislature, bill signed by governor, bill published by Secretary of State's office, law. Republicans decided yesterday they'd create a new process, just off the top of their heads: bill passes legislature, bill signed by governor, bill goes around by Secretary of Sate's office, bill published by the Legislative Reference Bureau, law.

Since when can the Legislative Reference Bureau do the job of the Secretary of State's office? Apparently, as of yesterday, after Republicans made it up.

Oddly enough, the Legislative Reference Bureau itself says it can't publish a measure into law, but state Republicans are ignoring this assessment, too.

So, as of right now, where do things stand? Wisconsin Republicans believe the union-busting scheme is state law, while Wisconsin Democrats believe the union-busting scheme has been blocked by a court restraining order. Wisconsin Republicans believe they've come up with a way to ignore a court order -- rarely a good idea -- while Wisconsin Democrats believe Republicans can't just blow off the rule of law when they feel like it.

Expect quite a bit more action in the courts.

If progressives were looking for more motivation to recall an out-of-control state GOP, this ought to do the trick.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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March 25, 2011

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

* Syria: "Military troops opened fire on protesters in the southern part of Syria on Friday, according to news reports quoting witnesses, hurtling this strategically important nation along the same trajectory that has altered the landscape of power across the Middle East and North Africa."

* Libya: "Overcoming internal squabbles, NATO prepared on Friday to assume leadership from the United States of the military campaign against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's forces, senior NATO officials said, while the allied effort won rare military commitments in the Arab world when a Qatari fighter jet flew on patrol with the Western allies and the United Arab Emirates said it would send warplanes to join them."

* Japan: "News signs emerged on Friday that parts of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are so damaged and contaminated that it will be harder to bring the plant under control soon. At the same time, Japanese officials began encouraging people to evacuate a larger swath of territory around the complex."

* Yemen: "As populist pressure mounted for his resignation, President Ali Abdullah Saleh told a large gathering of his supporters Friday that he was willing to hand over power as long as he can leave the nation in 'safe hands.'"

* U.S. economy: "The United States economy grew more quickly in the fourth quarter of 2010 than previously estimated as businesses maintained fairly solid spending and restocked shelves to meet rising demand." GDP was revised up to 3.1%, up from the previous 2.8% estimate.

* G.E. made over $5 billion in profits from its domestic operations. What'd it pay in taxes? Nothing.

* Vermont moves closer to becoming the first state with single-payer health care, with the state House approving a reform bill on a 92 to 49 vote. (Vermont's first-term governor, Democrat Peter Shumlin, ran on a single-payer platform and won.)

* It's not like Michigan has a problem with a struggling economy, right? "Michigan moved Thursday to significantly cut its unemployment program, becoming the first of what could be a flurry of debt-laden states to reduce aid even as high jobless rates persist." If voters didn't want this, they shouldn't have elected Republicans.

* Dear Newt, just stop digging.

* First Frank Rich, now Bob Herbert: "Bob Herbert, a columnist for The New York Times Op-Ed page, is leaving the paper after nearly 20 years. Mr. Herbert's resignation was announced in a memo to Times staff members on Friday. His last column will appear in the paper on Saturday."

* Let's just say some of the Washington Post's reporting on Social Security is ... incomplete.

* I know this has nothing to do with politics, but I'm really glad "Fringe" is getting a fourth season. I love that show.

* Good point: "Trying to making an academic education directly about specific job skills is pretty much impossible. Train students to think critically. That's the talent companies that hire for professional jobs want most anyway. Trying to do anything else at the American college is a waste of time."

* And finally, I have to admit, I feel kind of bad for Doug Hampton. First, family-values conservative Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) slept with his wife. Then, Ensign's parents try to buy him off. And finally, when he tries to get back on track with a lobbying career, he gets indicted, but Ensign doesn't. Ouch.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FIRE, 100 YEARS AGO TODAY.... Republican policymakers have traditionally opposed unions and worker rights, but the anti-labor crusade that's underway is striking in its aggressiveness and broad scope. The basics of American worker rights -- concepts like collective bargaining and prohibitions on child labor -- are suddenly under fire from a radicalized GOP that has lost all sense of limits.

With that in mind, it's important to reflect on the Triangle Shirtwaist that occurred exactly 100 years ago today. Harold Meyerson's column this week offered a timely reminder.

The seamstresses were just getting off work that Saturday, some of them singing a new popular song, "Every Little Movement (Has a Meaning of Its Own)," when they heard shouts from the eighth floor just below. They saw smoke outside the windows, and then fire. As David Von Drehle recounts the ensuing catastrophe, in his award-winning book "Triangle," just a couple minutes later the ninth floor was fully ablaze.

The fire engines that rushed to the scene did not have ladders that reached to the ninth floor. The fire escape -- which didn't reach all the way to the street anyway -- was not built to accommodate more than a few people and soon collapsed. The stairwell that led to the roof was already burning, and after a few minutes was consumed by flames. The other stairwell led down to the street, but the door was padlocked from the outside so that the men and women who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company would be compelled to use just the one stairwell or the two elevators to exit, lest any of them elude inspection and make off with leftover scraps of cloth.

The elevator operators made runs up to the ninth floor several times before their cables stopped working, and before desperate sewers sought to escape by jumping down one of the elevator shafts, hoping to find a softer landing atop the descending elevator than on the sidewalk nine stories down.

But many, facing the choice of death by fire or death by impact on the city streets, chose the latter and leapt. Down they came, some already engulfed in flame -- first a few, then a torrent, before the horrified crowd that had gathered by the building, which was just off Washington Square in the heart of New York's Greenwich Village.

When it was over, 146 people had either died by fire or jumped to their deaths. Most were young women, almost entirely Jewish or Italian immigrants, many still in their teens, one just 14.

Fortunately, we haven't seen many tragedies like this in modern America, but our fortitude is not the result of luck. There was a movement -- you may have heard of it; we call it the labor movement -- that fought hard to change the conditions that led to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. We take it for granted today -- just like we tend to forget that unions brought us weekends, 40-hour work weeks, and sick leave -- but workplace health and safety regulations weren't part of our daily lives 100 years ago. On the contrary, men, women, and sometimes children were at great personal risk just going to earn a living every day.

At the time, there were voices on the right decrying "big government" for trying to impose burdensome regulations on private enterprise, wondering why the free market couldn't just be left alone to work its magic. They tried to break up organizers, and sent thugs to commit acts of violence against those who would try to create workplace safety standards. Republicans of the era said efforts to protect workers would "wipe out" whole industries and cause economic calamity.

Those voices were wrong, as the tragedy in New York a century ago today helped prove. In time, Democrats and unions worked together to create worker rights that wouldn't otherwise exist. The country was safer and stronger as a result.

In 2011, unfortunately, these fights continue. Indeed, in the wake of right-wing gains in the midterms, the efforts to turn the clock are suddenly being fought with a reactionary zeal we haven't seen in a long while.

With the 146 victims from the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in mind, here's hoping today's right loses this round, too.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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THE (FINANCIAL) COSTS OF WAR.... Ezra Klein has a good post this afternoon, reminding folks that "wars cost money." It's one of those observations that should be obvious, but isn't.

In the case of the offensive in Libya, we're looking at a price tag of at least $1 billion, and that's if the conflict goes well. But Ezra's larger point is to use that as a reminder about budgeting responsibly for these conflicts.

Gordon Adams, a senior White House budget official for national security in the Clinton administration, points out that historically the practice of paying for war through off-budget legislation called "emergency supplementals" was governed by a few clear standards: They had to be modest, unanticipated expenditures for conflicts that were not expected to run long. The Bush administration turned them into massive, predictable expenditures serving two of the longest-running wars in American history -- and didn't even allow them to distract us from tax cuts.

The Obama administration has improved the process some, mostly by asking for war funding when the budget is submitted (although the funding itself is still classified as "emergency" spending and so is not actually ruled by the budget process), including some funding in the budget and more tightly defining what can go into the emergency packages so they don't simply become budgeting by other means for the Pentagon. But the wars are still charged to the credit card, and the Pentagon is still protected from trade-offs.

The two recommended reforms seem like common sense, but are worthwhile reminder to policymakers: cost projections for military conflicts should include a range of scenarios, including severe setbacks, and paying at least some financial costs for combat while it's ongoing. Ezra added, "If a war is not worth a tax or spending cuts, then perhaps it is not worth engaging in" -- a sentence that should be published on postcards and sent to every member of Congress.

I'd emphasize just one related point: history. When presidential administrations have launched major military campaigns, invariably they've raised taxes. Lincoln raised taxes to pay for the Civil War. McKinley raised taxes to finance the Spanish-American War. Wilson raised the top income tax rate to 77% to afford WWI. Taxes were raised, multiple times, to help the nation pay for WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Even the first President Bush raised taxes after the first war with Iraq to, you guessed it, keep the deficit from spiraling out of control.

The notion of having future generations pick the tab -- literally, the entire tab -- for one generation's military/combat efforts has traditionally been unthinkable. Indeed, the only president in American history to actually cut taxes and launch a war was George W. Bush -- and he added $5 trillion to the debt en route to becoming the single most fiscally irresponsible chief executive the country has ever seen.

The offensive in Libya is clearly not on par with those conflicts, but it does coincide with an ongoing effort in Iraq, and the longest war in U.S. history, Afghanistan.

And yet, the very idea of raising a penny of additional revenue from anyone has been deemed completely unacceptable by one major political party (which happens to the party that most supports continuing the ongoing military conflicts).

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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By: Paul Glastris

REMEMBERING JONATHAN ROWE…Sunday evening, I received word that my friend and mentor Jonathan Rowe, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, had died that morning, swiftly and unexpectedly, apparently of a sudden infection. The shock of this news has not worn off. The tragedy of it is still sinking in.

Jon was 65, by all accounts healthy and supremely happy, living the good life in Point Reyes Station California with his wife Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe and their eight-year-old son Josh. As a writer, he was in a zone, producing well-crafted pieces for a variety of outlets on the subject that had occupied his brilliant mind for decades: the failure of conventional economic thinking to account for or explain the workings of vast parts of our lived reality, in particular the cooperative realms of family and neighborhood and civic society, and the way the market has been relentlessly eating into these invaluable realms. Much recent history, from the collapse of the financial markets to the rise of behavioral economics to the failure of rising GDP to increase wages or well-being, has essentially validated Jon's insights. In a just world he would have lived long enough to garner some glory for his prescience. (You can read some of his recent work here and here. Links to his many wonderful pieces for the Washington Monthly are below.)

jonrowe2.jpg

The funny and touching thing about Jon, though, was his almost complete lack of interest in personal glory. I have never worked with someone -- certainly no writer -- more genuinely humble and self-effacing. He was unfailingly kind, with an unmistakable inner light -- he was a man of faith, though he almost never talked about it. He spoke with a gentleness bordering on diffidence, but also with a winning twinkle of humor. He had a subtle, original and powerful mind, and a way of elevating any conversation such that you found yourself trying to express your own ideas with greater care, the intellectual equivalent of sitting up a little straighter in your chair. (Mickey Kaus recollects his conversations with Jon here.) He was indifferent to money and material possessions -- a characteristic he shared with his first boss in Washington, Ralph Nader (who calls Jon "as incorruptible a person as you will ever meet -- honest to his intellectual and ethical core.") and with his first editor, Charlie Peters (who says Jon was "the nearest thing to a saint" to ever come out of the magazine).

His talent was such that when he left the Washington Monthly in 1985 I'm sure he could have landed a job and become a star at the Times or Post or at one of the newsmagazines. He chose instead to join the humbler Christian Science Monitor, where he had the freedom to pursue the kinds of stories that furthered his vision.

For Jon, journalism was not so much a career as a means to an end, the end being the advancement of his ideas and the causes he believed in. After leaving the Monitor he found, or founded, venues in which to do this. He edited a short-lived magazine, New York Mix, dedicated to providing jobs for the homeless. He worked as a staffer and idea guru for Senator Byron Dorgan, a man he very much admired (and I know from Dorgan that the feeling was mutual). He joined a start-up nonprofit, Redefining Progress, and co-wrote with its founder Ted Halsted a famous Atlantic piece called "If the GDP Is Up, Why Is America Down?" He then created his own nonprofit, the Tomales Bay Institute, to further develop his ideas, while on the side hosting a talk show on his local community radio station.

But it was during his years as an editor at the Washington Monthly that I got to know him. I was an intern at the magazine, and Jon, along with fellow editors Tim Noah and Phil Keisling, took me under their wings. Jon assigned me my first big story, a survey of the Reagan administration's budget-cutting record called "The Reagan Scorecard." I did vast amounts of reporting on it, but got completely lost in the writing; Jon had to jump in and rewrite the thing top to bottom -- I felt like a drowning man rescued by a lifeguard -- and we shared the byline.

In those years and after, much of Jon's best work appeared in the Washington Monthly. We've pulled those pieces from our archive and made them available below. It seemed the least we could do to memorialize our dear friend.

If you'd like to share your thoughts or express your condolences, please feel free to do so in the comment section below. If you'd like to contribute to a fund to support his family, please email his friend Gary Ruskin for details at gary.ruskin@gmail.com.

UPDATE: Check out two other tributes to Jon by collaborators David Bollier and Russ Baker.

1. The Cult of M1 (November 1983)

2. Weirton Steel: Buying Out the Bosses (January 1984)

3. Murder by Deportation (February 1984)

4. Why Liberals Should Hate the Insanity Defense (May 1984)

5. Nobel Fever: Why the Engineers Left the Shop Floor (June 1984)

6. The Official 1984 Reagan Scorecard (July 1984)

7. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Foreign Policy (October 1984)

8. I Was a Spear Carrier in the War on Poverty (November 1984)

9. What the Democrats Can Learn From Jack Kemp (January 1985)

10. Ralph Nader Reconsidered (March 1985)

11. Down and Out in Washington on $89,000 a Year (July 1989)

12. America's Inc. Stain (September 1990)

13. The Case for the Clean Slate (November 1994)

14. What's Un-Christian About the Christian Right (December 1995)

15. Reinventing the Corporation (April 1996)

16. The GDP Myth (March 1999)

17. Reach Out and Annoy Someone (November 2000)

18. Reassigning Tim Russert (March 2001)

19. Is the Corporation Obsolete (July 2001)

20. The Majesty of the Commons (April 2002)

21. Maid to Order (July 2003)

22. Gubernatorial Goldrush (December 2003)

23. The Freedom Tax (October 2004)

24. The Coffeehouse Candidate (April 2006)

Paul Glastris 3:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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'MCCARTHYITE' VS. 'CHILLING'.... Bill Cronon, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, has been critical of Gov. Scott Walker's (R) anti-union efforts, and over the last two weeks, has published an op-ed and a blog post explaining his concerns. For his trouble, the Wisconsin GOP has targeted the professor, demanding access to his personal/university email account.

Cronon talked to Greg Sargent today, and the historian talked about the efforts against him.

Cronon theorizes, based on the keyword requests, that Wisconsin Republicans are trying to catch him in violation of state university rules by using a state email account to engage in "lobbying and electioneering to try to unseat these Repubican legislators." In other words, he says, Wisconsin Republicans want to damage him professionally in response to his criticism of them.

"That's what they're hoping to find," Cronon says. "They're trying to intimidate me. What they're saying is that if an academic raises these kinds of questions, we're going to make his life really uncomfortable. Intimidating people from asking legitimate questions is a McCarthyite tactic."

Cronon says the Wisconsin GOP will not find evidence of what they're looking for. "It's not there," he says.

For their part, state Republican leaders are outraged, not just that a university professor would dare to criticize a governor, but also that others might criticize them for their tactics against Cronon.

"[I]t is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request," state GOP executive director Mark Jefferson said this morning.

What a curious response. Wisconsin Republicans are angry that their efforts to intimidate Walker critics might have a chilling effect on others who might also want to intimidate Walker critics?

Indeed, as Dave Weigel noted, the state GOP added that asking questions about the party's efforts are a form of "intimidation," which is kind of bizarre.

Anyone hoping Wisconsin Republicans would be a little less ridiculous in the wake of the labor dispute is bound to be disappointed.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... On Fox News this morning, Bill Hemmer, after some gratuitous shots at President Obama, asked Sen. John McCain about U.S. policy in Libya, most notably who would replace Gadhafi if McCain gets his wish about regime change.

HEMMER: I know you want Gadhafi out; the whole world knows he's a bad man. But what takes his place? You were just in Afghanistan, I believe, right? And you know, some of the al Qaeda fighters -- they're hiding out in Pakistan or crossing the border into Afghanistan -- come from Libya. Now, how concerned are you that if you kick Gadhafi out, that you allow Islamists then, as bad as he might be, to take control in Tripoli?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think we worried too much when we wanted to get rid of Hitler as to who would take his place.

McCain then changed the subject, letting viewers know that the rebels have a website. (Seriously, that's what he said. He even encouraged viewers to visit it, saying, "Go on it. They are people from all over Libya.")

By any reasonable standard, this isn't a real answer to a legitimate question. It's the guy-at-the-end-of-the-bar kind of response, not the kind of thing one would hope to hear from the ranking U.S. senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But putting aside McCain's intellectual laziness, I'm curious about the follow up Bill Hemmer didn't think to ask: if Gadhafi is Hitler, and the Libyan dictator has American blood on his hands, why did McCain personally visit with Gadhafi in August 2009 to discuss delivery of American military equipment to the Libyan regime?

Why, after his face-to-face chat, did the senator offer praise for Gadhafi, instead of condemning him?

Indeed, if McCain was having a friendly chat at the ranch of a tyrant he considers a modern-day Hitler, shouldn't the senator have tried to strangle the monster right there on the spot, instead of talking about U.S. aid to the guy?

Update: Here's the clip of this morning's Fox News interview:


Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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IT'S ONLY NUCLEAR SECURITY, RIGHT?.... We talked the other day about one of the broader concerns regarding the House GOP's proposed spending cuts: they're so awful, it's hard to even know where to start. Should the focus be on cuts to Head Start? How about undercutting job training? And children's immunizations? And infrastructure?

But just because there are a lot of rhetorical targets doesn't mean one should just throw up their arms in disgust and stop criticizing a truly horrid proposal.

We've talked before about the GOP's plan to slash funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration's counter-proliferation programs, and even eliminating funds to maintain the nation's nuclear stockpile -- which sounds crazy, but which is actually what Republicans are proposing. Rachel Maddow's segment on this last night helped summarize the issue nicely:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For those who can't watch clips from your work computers, I've included a transcript of the relevant portion below, but let's be clear about what's on the table here. There's a National Nuclear Security Administration that's responsible for locking loose nuclear material around the world. To call this work "important" is a laughable understatement -- securing these materials keeps dangerous governments and terrorists from acquiring even rudimentary nuclear capabilities.

And House Republicans -- the ones who believe we can afford hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts -- voted for a plan to take $550 million from the agency that already has a modest budget, despite helping keep nuclear materials off the black market.

This, the GOP says, is an example of responsible governing in the 21st century.

From the transcript:

MADDOW: America's fear-mongering history about the nuclear end of the world is kind of too bad because it is not fear-mongering to talk about the nuclear end of the world if you are actually working directly to stop the nuclear end of the world. That is the job of one part of the United States government.

It's an obscure office in the Department of Energy called the National Nuclear Security Administration. They lock down unprotected loose nuclear material around the world to keep it off the black market and out of terrorist hands, which without being hysterical about it, does seem like an important job when you consider that groups like al Qaeda have said over and over again they want to buy nuclear material so they could use it in a terrorist attack and there is evidence that they have tried to buy it on the black market. There is part of the U.S. government that finds the most vulnerable nuclear material in the world and secures it.

So, if you're worried about this sort of thing, the appropriate response is: good. I'm glad we're doing that.

After that agency locked down 111 pounds of nuclear material in Ukraine around Christmas time, we hosted the head of the nuclear administration here on this show. We christened him the "under secretary for saving the world."

Now, the Republicans in Congress want to strip the funding for that agency. Even though they said they wouldn't make any national security cuts, they want to cut $550 million from the agency that locks down unprotected loose nuclear material to keep it off the black market around the world, which means that for what may be the first time in U.S. history, an ad that starts this way is actually true and is not fear-mongering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. ROBERT GARD, JR. (voice-over): What I am about to tell you sounds crazy but it's true -- Speaker John Boehner is making it easier for terrorists to get nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Sounds crazy? Also true. It sounds like a generic "be afraid" ad from the Bush administration era. In this case, Republicans really have proposed making it a half billion dollars easier for terrorists to get nuclear material.

That was the first line of a new ad voiced by Retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard. He's part of a counter-proliferation group running these ads against the nuke terrorism cuts in key congressional districts. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARD: Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the successful U.S. program to secure dangerous weapons-grade nuclear material all around the world. Terrorists can make nuclear weapons with it. John Boehner's reckless cut to our nuclear security budget goes way too far. We all want Congress to cut the budget but do it responsibly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)\

MADDOW: The ads are targeting not just John Boehner but Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Hal Rogers and Thad Cochran, all elected Republicans supporting g this big cut -- this big cut on the part of the U.S. government that actually works on that whole smoking mushroom cloud problem instead of just freaking you out about it to accomplish some other unrelated political thing.

We do not have a word in the English language that means the opposite of fear-mongering but if we ever do have that word, this will be the example next to that word in the political science dictionary.

Steve Benen 12:35 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 necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* In something of a surprise, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) of Florida announced this morning that he will not run for the Senate next year, despite press accounts yesterday saying he would. His absence leaves a GOP field featuring state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, all of whom have expressed interest.

* Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza report on the national Republican Party's Census problem: "While much of the shifting population is moving to red states, there is increasing evidence that it's making those red states bluer, and most of the demographic trends are heading in Democrats' direction."

* Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina flirted with the possibility of seeking national office next year, but yesterday, ruled out a run for president.

* In Wisconsin, Democrats believe they now have more than half the petitions they'll need to recall eight Republican state senators.

* It's still hard to imagine how Huntsman gets ahead in a GOP primary, but he's apparently going to try: "Horizon PAC, the organization widely seen as a presidential campaign-in-waiting for U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, has signed on Kyle Roberts as its media buyer and digital strategist."

* On a related note, a statewide poll in Utah this week finds that in-state Republicans overwhelmingly prefer former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over their own former governor, Jon Huntsman, at the presidential level, 65% to 16%.

* In Virginia, the field of Republican Senate candidates may not be quite set yet. Former Sen. George Allen is obviously the favorite, but Tim Donner, the founder of Horizon Television, is also eyeing the race.

* And in New Mexico, where there's an open U.S. Senate race, former Rep. Heather Wilson appears to have the support of the GOP establishment, but Lt. Gov. John Sanchez is now expected to get in the race. Greg Sowards, a local businessman, is also planning to run, and has vowed there will be "no one to my right" in the Republican primary.

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

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WHY FISCHER MATTERS [UPDATED].... At first blush, this may seem just another religious right nut saying something outrageous. But I continue to think idiocy like this matters.

Bryan Fischer, the "Director of Issues Analysis" for the social conservative group the American Family Association, says that when it comes to Islam, the First Amendment is a privilege, not a right. "Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam," Fischer wrote today.

"The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. They were making no effort to give special protections to Islam. Quite the contrary," Fischer wrote on his Renew America blog.

Now, as a matter of principle, the notion that the First Amendment only provides religious liberty to those Americans the Christian right finds tolerable is obviously insane.

But the reason I care about this is that prominent Republican officials, including GOP candidates for president of the United States, continue to reach out to Bryan Fischer as if he were a credible figure, worthy of influence and power. Remember when Mike Huckabee argued (three times) that President Obama was raised in Kenya? He was talking to Fischer at the time.

As my friend Kyle at Right Wing Watch recently explained, Fischer's record of over-the-top hatred towards everyone who isn't like him "does not seem to bother any of the Republican leaders who continually appear on his radio program."

Just last week, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker joined Fischer to discuss his anti-choice legislation, and before that it was presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty telling Fischer he'll reinstate Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

And the pattern continues, as in the last few days Fischer has had two more Republican members on Congress on his program, starting last Friday with Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey who joined Fischer to discuss his anti-choice efforts....

And then on Monday, Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia also joined Fischer to discuss his appearance on Bill Maher and defend his Creationist views.

To reiterate a point from a few weeks ago, if Fischer wants to say crazy things on his radio show, that's obviously his business. Most of his nonsense is so absurd on its face, I generally find it easier to laugh at him than be offended.

But it's far more troubling that powerful Republican officials, including some would-be presidents, have no qualms reaching out to a hate-filled radio host who, on a daily basis, lashes out at other Americans.

I seem to recall, in 2008, the right took a pretty strong interest in who Democratic candidates chose to associate themselves with. With that in mind, what are Huckabee, Pawlenty, and others doing paling around with an extremist like Bryan Fischer?

Update: To further prove the point, Rep. Michele Bachmann was on Fischer's program yesterday, and today, listeners can find Huckabee (again), Newt Gingrich, and Haley Barbour.

The fact that Fischer is an unabashed bigot doesn't seem to matter.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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WISCONSIN'S TRUE THUGS.... Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) loves to blast the Obama administration for running what she considers a "gangster government." But if we're looking for officials who actually resemble an organized syndicate, a more obvious examples is found in Madison.

Josh Marshall reported overnight on Bill Cronon, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. Like a lot of scholars in the Badger State, Cronon has been critical of Gov. Scott Walker's (R) anti-union efforts, and over the last two weeks, has published an op-ed and a blog post explaining his concerns.

That may not seem especially noteworthy, and under the circumstances, it shouldn't be. Alas, the Walker team has its own concerns.

Less than two days after Cronon published the blog post, the Wisconsin Republican Party filed a state open records request to gain access to Cronon's personal emails to get a look at what communications or discussions or sources or anything else went into writing it.

Now, 'personal' is up for some reasonable debate here. This is his university email. And he's a Professor at the University of Wisconsin, the state university. So he's a state employee. Still, he's not an elected official or someone doing public business in the sense you'd ordinarily understand the term. Nor are they looking at anything tied to the administration of the University, which is legitimately a public matter. In the ordinary sense we tend to understand the word it's his personal email. And the range of requested documents leave no doubt about what they're after.

Specifically, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is demanding access to any and all Cronon emails that reference the governor, the Republican Party, unions, state senators, collective bargaining, or "recall."

Josh calls it a "pretty transparent attack on academic freedom" and "another example of the kind of thuggish behavior that has become the trademark of Walker's rule."

That about sums it up.

The irony is, as the recent labor dispute intensified, the standard line on Fox News and from other Republican activists is that unions and their allies were acting like "thugs." Except in reality, all they had done was organize a massive, peaceful protest.

The real thugs were the ones being protested against, not those doing the protesting.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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RON JOHNSON MANAGES TO GET LITERALLY EVERYTHING WRONG.... In recognition of the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin published an ugly screed in the Wall Street Journal. In a piece that was almost impressive in its offensiveness, the rookie senator suggested his adult daughter, born with a heart defect, would have died had the Affordable Care Act been in place at the time.

I can't help but reflect on a medical miracle made possible by the American health-care system. The procedure that saved her, and has given her a chance at a full life, was available because America has a free-market system that has advanced medicine at a phenomenal pace. [...]

The plain truth is that the American system is better at rewarding innovation and responding to consumer needs. But the history of government-led care is there for all to see.

As we discussed the other day, Johnson's argument isn't just wrong, it's ridiculous. Aaron Carroll offered perhaps the most detailed, substantive critique of the piece, and simply tore the senator's garbage op-ed to shreds.

But Igor Volsky discovered an error that's actually rather amusing.

[T]he procedure Johnson's daughter received may not have been developed in the United States but rather in Brazil or France -- nations that now benefit from some form of universal coverage.

According to CAP Senior Fellow (and resident biochemist) Dr. Lesley Russell, it is most likely that the surgery Carey had was first performed and reported in Brazil in 1975, where doctors described their version of the procedure as "the first successful report of total correction of transposition of the great vessels at the arterial level." Alternatively, Johnson's daughter may have had what's known as The LeCompte procedure, which was developed in France in 1981.

In other words, we're left with a case in which Ron Johnson got literally everything wrong, including his premise.

It stood to reason the WSJ would run a piece from a congressional Republican trashing the reform law on Wednesday, but the paper couldn't find someone who at least pretends to know what he/she is talking about?

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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OLIVER NORTH AND THE DEATH OF IRONY.... There's a reasonable debate to be had of a White House's responsibilities, military action, and congressional authorization. I think talk about impeaching President Obama over intervention in Libya is silly, but criticism about Congress' role (or lack thereof) is certainly not ridiculous.

But those raising concerns should at least try to have some credibility.

[Yesterday], Fox News' Oliver North took to the airwaves to complain that President Obama didn't seek congressional authorization before intervening in Libya.

"Quite frankly, it's unparalleled in my entire experience in the military going all the way back to the 1960s," North complained. "Every president has gone to the Congress to get a resolution to support whatever it is he wanted to do. And [Obama] doesn't ask the Congress because he doesn't know what he wants to do."

First, Oliver North is still around? And Fox News is still paying him? How odd.

Second, "every president" has not gone to Congress to get a resolution to support military action. That's precisely why Obama's move wasn't particularly scandalous -- because there are modern, accepted norms related to the powers of the executive, and this president hasn't done anything at all unusual.

And third, has Oliver North forgotten his own professional claim to fame? This guy illegally circumvented Congress to sell weapons to Iran, and then used the money to illegally finance a war in Nicaragua.

He wants to whine on national television about a Commander in Chief launching an offensive in Libya without Congress' permission? Seriously?

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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THOSE COLORFUL GOP PROSECUTORS IN INDIANA.... About a month ago, the deputy Attorney General for the state of Indiana threw a tantrum about pro-labor protestors in Wisconsin. The state deputy A.G. suggested he'd like to see local law enforcement use "live ammunition" and "deadly force" when dealing with the crowds, which he characterized as "political enemies."

The prosecutor, Jeff Cox, was soon fired.

As it turns out, he's not the only Republican prosecutor in Indiana who took an unhealthy interest in developments in Wisconsin.

A deputy prosecutor in Johnson County, Indiana, has resigned his job after it was revealed that in February, during the large protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union bill, he e-mailed Walker's office and recommended that they conduct a "false flag operation" -- to fake an assault or assassination attempt on Walker in order to discredit the unions and protesters.

As Wisconsin Watch, a project of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reports, Carlos Lam initially denied that he had sent the e-mail, which was part of the tens of thousands of e-mails released in an open-records settlement the Walker administration reached with the local paper the Isthmus and the Associated Press.

When contacted by Wisconsin Watch, Lam had initially denied sending the e-mail, claiming that he had been the victim of identity theft, and said he did not support the criminal activities described in the e-mail.

Lam, however, was lying -- he had recommended perpetrating a massive public fraud, and sent the suggestion directly to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) at the height of the protests.

In addition to marveling at the treachery, also note the specifics of Lam's claim. In his email, the Republican lawyer explained, "I've been involved in GOP politics here in Indiana for 18 years, and I think that the situation in WI presents a good opportunity for what's called a 'false flag' operation."

The implication seems to be that he, as a long-time veteran of Republican politics in Indiana, is familiar with schemes of this nature.

Also note, Walker himself admitted -- in a phone call he thought was private -- that he and his team "thought about" orchestrating a similar public scam.

There's something deeply rotten in much ot today's GOP.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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WHEN THE GOP'S HOSTILITY TOWARDS PUBLIC SCHOOLS BECOMES MORE OVERT.... Just last week, Rick Santorum brought his presidential ambitions to New Hampshire, and after targeting the usual suspects, the former senator turned his fire on ... public schools.

"Just call them what they are," Santorum said. "Public schools? That's a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools."

He's not alone. Reuters reported yesterday that several other Republicans considering presidential runs blasted public schools at a home-schooling rally in Iowa.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul told the crowd government wants "absolute control" of the "indoctrination" of children. Paul spoke along with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.

"The public school system now is a propaganda machine," Paul said, prompting applause from the crowd of hundreds of home schooling families. "They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism -- and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American."

Bachmann said home schooling is the "essence" of freedom and liberty. "It's about knowing our children better than the state knows our children," she said.

For his part, Cain said there should be no government involvement in education at any level. He wasn't kidding.

To be sure, Bachmann, Paul, and Cain are not exactly the top tier of the 2012 GOP field, and strange, borderline-fringe candidates can be expected to take radical positions.

But Santorum is also blasting the existence of public schools, and this talk is picking up in right-wing media. CNSNews' Terry Jeffrey argued a few weeks ago, "It is time to drive public schools out of business." Townhall columnist Chuck Norris has begun calling public schools "indoctrination camps." Townhall columnist Bill Murchison argued last week that the American middle class has pulled its support for public education.

Keep in mind, polls show that the American mainstream considers the public education system one of the nation's most cherished institutions. When asked what areas of the public sector most deserve budget cuts, schools invariably come in last.

Indeed, Republican pollsters have advised GOP candidates repeatedly in recent years to avoid calling for the end of the federal Department of Education, largely because it gives the appearance of hostility towards public education, which is thought to be an electoral loser for Republicans.

And yet, here we are. Republicans aren't just criticizing public schools, they're overtly calling for the institution's complete elimination. This isn't something they're embarrassed about; these GOP voices are stating the goal plainly, as if there's a genuine appetite among voters to scrap the entirety of the American public education system.

All of this, by the way, comes against the backdrop of Republican governors slashing funds for public schools, and even the reinvigoration of the school voucher movement, which has been largely dormant for years.

This seems like an important opportunity for Democrats -- labeling the GOP as the party that's explicitly hostile towards public schools would hurt Republicans, and it happens to be true.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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THERE'S A LOT OF THIS GOING AROUND.... Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) ran into a little trouble this week when he told a national television audience, "I would not have intervened" in Libya, shortly after demanding that President Obama intervene in Libya.

As it turns out, he's not the only one. A variety of Republican officials have discovered they were for intervention before they were against it.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., endorsed a no-fly zone in a Feb. 26th press release when she said "stronger penalties must be imposed in order to hold the regime accountable for its heinous crimes, and to prevent further violence against the Libyan people. Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone..."

But after the President imposed the no-fly zone, on March 20th, Ros-Lehtinen had concerns which she expressed in a new press release.

"I am concerned that the President has yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya," she said.

Remember, she's the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, not just some random backbencher with a fleeting interest in international developments.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) condemned the Obama administration two weeks ago for not taking action in Libya, and then criticized the Obama administration on Sunday for taking action in Libya.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, calling for U.S. intervention in Libya last month, said it's in "our vital national interests" to assist anti-Gadhafi rebels. On Monday, the Republican said the administration's mission lacks a "compelling U.S. national interest."

There's no point in even being disappointed in the lack of depth in Republican leaders' approach to the issue -- this is now the norm -- but it's still worth appreciating that the foreign policy for much of the Republican Party in 2011 is, "We don't like President Obama."

Remember when the GOP used to consider foreign policy its dominant issue? No matter how much it struggled on domestic policy, the Republican Party could be counted on to be the grown-ups when it came to national security and international affairs?

Those days are gone.

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

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March 24, 2011

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

* Libya: "Prominent members of the NATO alliance reached a tentative agreement Thursday evening to separate the political and military leadership of the Libyan air campaign, senior Western diplomats said, as allied warplanes delivered a ferocious round of airstrikes on Libyan ground forces, tanks and artillery that seems to have begun to shift momentum from the forces loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi to the rebels opposing him."

* Earlier in the day, a Libyan plane defied the no-fly zone, and was destroyed by French fighter jets.

* If the Libyan rebel army "consists of only about 1,000 trained men," that's a problem.

* Filling Congress in: "The White House will hold a classified Congressional briefing Wednesday on Libya, aides confirmed. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and National Intelligence Director James Clapper are among the Obama administration officials slated to address Members of Congress."

* Japan: "Levels of a radioactive isotope found in Tokyo's water supply fell by more than half on Thursday, testing below the country's stringent maximum for infants, even as three workers at the stricken nuclear plant to the north suffered radiation burns as they struggled to make emergency repairs."

* We're actually inching towards a genuinely good number: "Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, evidence that layoffs are slowing and employers may be stepping up hiring. The Labor Department says the number of people seeking benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000 in the week ended March 19, the fourth drop in the past five weeks."

* Portugal: "Portugal's government collapsed Wednesday after the parliament rejected a budget-cutting plan, pushing the country closer to an international bailout and triggering another test of Europe's ability to deal with an ongoing public debt crisis."

* Why did Abdulmutallab buy a ticket to Detroit for his Christmas 2009 terror plot? Because it was a cheap flight.

* Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), still a buffoon.

* When voters elect Republicans, they have to live with the consequences. Take this gem out of Alaska: "Gov. Sean Parnell's appointee for the panel that nominates state judges testified Wednesday that he would like to see Alaskans prosecuted for having sex outside of marriage."

* Erick Erickson on the administration and Libya: "[I]t's the women's fault.... It's, apparently, the women in the Obama administration who have decided we needed to go to war in Libya.... This is typical. ... [T]his is like women drivers. We're going to war in Libya, we have no plan, we have no map, even if we have a map of war, um, it wasn't going to get read, they were going to pull over and ask the French apparently for help, or at least make the guy pull over and ask the French for help." Remember, CNN actually pays this man money to offer on-air political commentary and analysis.

* If only local reporters took an interest in the implementation of health care policy.

* The wrong way to pay for higher ed: "The American model, funded by individual debt and state appropriations, is more expensive, and the recipe to keep college attendance and graduation low. So it's not just problematic, it is, in the words of many higher education administrators, 'a broken model.'"

* And Fox News' John Stossel argued, with a straight face, "[N]o group in America has been more helped by the government than the American Indians." The things one learns watching Fox News.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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NO WONDER NEWT WANTS TO PURGE THE RECORD.... Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has long considered himself something of a techie. He's been more engaged with computers and online innovations than most, and has been tweeting for quite a while.

But don't expect to go back and look at his old Twitter messages. Vanity Fair reported today that every tweet Gingrich published before July 22, 2010 have been expunged, and even permalinks to individual messages now go nowhere.

It's unlikely, I suspect, that anyone has screen-grabs of all of those earlier messages, making it likely that whatever ol' Newt wanted to hide will remain hidden.

When, exactly, Gingrich and his team erased the Twitter record is unclear, and it may or may not have related to yesterday's unpleasantness regarding the blatant, shameless flip-flop on Libya. But under the circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising if the former Speaker feels like he needs to be a little more careful.

After all there are other examples like these floating around.

Just a few weeks ago, Gingrich insisted that the Obama administration needed to end the "conspiracy of silence" regarding U.S. policy towards Libya, and administration officials must no longer "stay quiet." And then this morning, Gingrich offered very different advice to the administration:

"[Y[ou should have said nothing. Be very quiet. Condemn the violence. Do everything you can covertly."

I suspect there's a part of Gingrich's brain that can rationalize all of this. If President Obama thinks day, the truth must be night. If the White House believes up, the best move is to believe down. It doesn't matter what one says or does before; as long as you're saying the opposite of whatever the administration is saying today, you're doing the right thing.

But such shallow and pathetic laziness can only go so far. Eventually, the knee-jerk rhetoric starts to look ridiculous, and it apparently becomes time to start purging Twitter messages to help stop the embarrassment from spreading.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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A NEW PLAN TO STOP STRIKES BEFORE THEY START.... Most of the union-busting schemes we've seen in recent months have come at the state level, but Zaid Jilani flags one at the federal level that hasn't generated much attention at all.

GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (OH), Tim Scott (SC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Dan Burton (IN), and Louie Gohmert (TX) have introduced H.R. 1135, which states that it is designed to "provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements, and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs."

Much of the bill is based upon verifying that those who receive food stamps benefits are meeting the federal requirements for doing so. However, one section buried deep within the bill adds a startling new requirement. The bill, if passed, would actually cut off all food stamp benefits to any family where one adult member is engaging in a strike against an employer.

If this seems unusually punitive, that's because it is. The message these Republican lawmakers want to send is as straightforward as it is callous: if you go on strike, your family should have less access to food.

Jon Chait added, "I don't believe these members of Congress actually sought to punish the spouses and children of striking workers, but when you're waging class war, collateral damage is inevitable."

All of this, by the way, comes against a backdrop of GOP policymakers trying to cut the entire food-stamp program, regardless of a person's employment situation, while leaving wasteful agriculture subsidies alone.

It's worth noting, of course, that's extremely unlikely the Democratic Senate and/or Democratic White House would go along with the House Republican plan to punish striking workers like this, but the fact that several prominent GOP lawmakers would even consider this worthwhile says a great deal about their priorities.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE AT-RISK PATIENTS GOP REPEAL EFFORTS WOULD LEAVE BEHIND.... When we think about those who'll suffer if the Affordable Care Act is eliminated -- either by Republican lawmakers or Republican Supreme Court justices -- we tend to focus on familiar groups of people.

Seniors would have to pay more for prescription medication; children with pre-existing conditions would go back to facing discrimination; young adults would no longer be covered by their family plans; small businesses would see their taxes go up; etc.

But Brian Beutler today shines a light on a different group of people who Republicans hope to leave high and dry: patients who've begun critical long-term treatments, working under the assumption that the law will be the law.

If the health care reform law were to disappear tomorrow, Dallas Wiens would be in trouble.

Earlier this week, in a 15-hour procedure, Boston surgeons grafted a donor's face onto Wiens' skull. Weins is a 25-year-old boom lift operator from Texas who came into contact with a live electrical wire, costing him his lips, nose, and eyes and leaving him severely disfigured.

The Department of Defense covered the cost of the surgery through a grant to Brigham and Women's Hospital, where the surgery was performed -- an investment the military hopes will pay off in new surgical techniques that will benefit wounded soldiers. But all the Pentagon's largesse would have been for naught without the new health care law.

At 25, Wiens was too old to be a beneficiary on his parent's health insurance policy, until the health care reform law raised the maximum age to 26. Without that coverage, Weins wouldn't have been able to afford the expensive immunosuppressant drugs that he must take for the rest of his life to prevent his body from rejecting his new face. Patients have to demonstrate that they will be able to afford the anti-rejection drugs to qualify for a transplant.

If the health care reform law were to be wiped off the books before Wiens turns 26, he'd have to figure out, quickly, how to get those drugs by other means.

In Wiens' particular case, he might be able to transfer to Medicare, but there's a much larger group of transplant patients who would find themselves in a "perilous situation" if Republicans successful. These are folks who've already committed to transplant surgery, basing their decision on the American health care system as it currently exists -- post-ACA reforms.

If those reforms and associated benefits were suddenly and completely eliminated by the GOP crusade, these patients would have their new organ, but no way to pay for the medication they need.

And somehow, it seems unlikely these patients will be comforted by the Republican message: "We're going to fight like hell to take away your benefits, but don't worry, you'll love our ideas about medical malpractice reform."

Brian's piece is a solid contribution to an under-covered aspect of the larger policy debate. Take a look.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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AN UNHEALTHY COMMITMENT TO IDEOLOGICAL ENDS.... At first blush, this sounds like a great American success story. A creative American physician comes up with an invention that can save lives and money, and looks for available grants to help bolster his innovation. The doctor runs into trouble, though, when his Republican senator has different priorities.

Welcome to Jim DeMint's version of America. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

Dr. David Cull, a prominent vascular surgeon in Greenville, S.C., had invented a small valve system that could spare 300,000 dialysis patients across the country enormous suffering -- and save American taxpayers billions of dollars in Medicare costs.

Yet, Cull's hometown senator, Jim DeMint, refused to write a letter supporting the surgeon's application for a federal grant under the landmark health care bill that President Barack Obama signed into law a year ago this week. [...]

Backing a doctor's grant application under the law -- even from a constituent who lives in the same city as DeMint -- would leave the senator open to charges of hypocrisy.

And really, what's more important? Saving lives and money, or one strange senator's politics?

Regardless of what Republicans think of the Affordable Care Act, there are grants available to medical professionals. Officials, regardless of ideology, should want more innovation that leads to better and more affordable care for American consumers, and lawmakers would presumably want that work done in their states and districts, rather than somewhere else.

But that's not what Jim DeMint wants. The goal isn't to make a stronger, healthier system; the goal is to crush Democratic efforts.

In this case, DeMint's constituent, Dr. David Cull, is ready to start clinical trials on what he's labeled his Hemoaccess Valve System. Fortunately, Cull was able to get nearly $250,000 in federal funding for his research through the Obama administration -- taking advantage of a project aimed at encouraging cutting-edge biomedical research -- but he had to work around his own senator's opposition.

"It's a good sound bite on Fox News, but he's looking at it so simplistically," Cull said. "He's completely ignoring the huge (possible) savings."

A typical dialysis patient will undergo 10 to 12 operations over a lifetime to treat the complications, with 1 million performed each year -- all paid for by Medicare.

With dialysis one of the few medical conditions covered by Medicare regardless of a patient's age, such surgeries cost taxpayers one-fifth -- $15,000 -- of the $75,000 a year the federal program pays per person with acute kidney failure.

Cull's valve system, by contrast, can be closed when not used for dialysis, cutting off the blood flow and thus decreasing or even eliminating the costly and painful complications.

The grant Cull got from the federal government supplements money from private investors.

"This is money that, in my view, was very well spent," he said of the grant. "If our valve doesn't work, the government will have lost $250,000. If it does work, they will have saved a gazillion dollars."

But DeMint doesn't want to save a gazillion dollars; he wants to wallow in a rigid right-wing ideological agenda. The senator isn't looking for better care at a lower price; he's looking for a presidential "Waterloo."

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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WHEN GIMMICKS SOUND BETTER IN A FOCUS GROUP THAN IN PRACTICE... House Republicans probably thought it'd be an easy way to impress the party's base -- promise to cite the exact constitutional authority for every bill they introduced. This seemed so popular with the right, the House GOP made it a rule as soon as they retook the majority.

So, how's that working out for them? It's apparently a little tougher than Republicans realized. In fact, the GOP has to start to fudge their own requirements -- instead of citing something in the Constitution that gives them the authority to do whatever it is they want to do, Republican lawmakers have simply started making assertions about constitutional law.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), for example, justified a health care bill he liked by saying the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. That's obviously a debatable point, but either way, it's not in keeping with the promise about citing constitutional provisions. As Rachel Maddow joked a few weeks ago, "When they say they're going to cite the Constitution, sometimes that just means they're going to say a variant of the word 'Constitution' but no quotes from the actual Constitution will be there."

Dave Weigel had a good report on this last night, noting that "some Republicans" have decided not to "worry too much" about the party's commitment, enshrined just two months ago.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who introduced the NPR bill, filed a "Constitutional Authority Statement" that consisted entirely of six words: "Article I, Section 8, Clause 1." For those of you scoring at home, that part of the Constitution allows Congress to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises."

"No lawyer takes this seriously," said an exasperated Sandy Levinson, a professor at the University of Texas's law school. "As any lawyer would know, it is not hard to come up with a constitutional justification for anything you want to do."

The Constitutional Authority Statements filed so far in the 112th Congress tend to support that view. They're a fascinating exercise. More than 1,200 pieces of legislation have been introduced so far in this Congress, slightly more coming from Republicans than from Democrats, and all of them are accompanied by statements. The main lesson is the same that a lot of legal cynics predicted last year: Almost anything can be justified by citing the Commerce Clause, which allows Congress "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes" or the Necessary and Proper Clause, which allows Congress to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers."

I don't blame GOP members for looking for shortcuts to work out the silly rule. It's no doubt proving to be quite inconvenient to follow through on this.

I blame them, however, for thinking this gimmick was worthwhile in the first place.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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VASTLY IMPROVED GLOBAL STANDING.... Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, there was a fair amount of talk about how the United States had lost much of the respect we once enjoyed on the global stage. Barack Obama made a point of saying he wanted to improve America' international reputation and get the world to start respecting us again.

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It's worth pausing from time to time to note that he's been largely successful on this front. Gallup has a new report out today, documenting the results of an international survey, featuring the results from more than 100 countries. Gallup asked whether people around the world approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States and the same question about the leadership of six other major countries.

In 2007 and 2008, the last two years of the previous administration, the U.S. was sixth of seven, trailing Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and China. Yes, in the Bush/Cheney era, a repressive Chinese regime was actually more popular around the world than us.

In 2009 and 2010, the first two years of the Obama administration, the U.S. now once again is out in front.

Of course, it's not just Gallup. We've seen similar trends in America's popularity in the Obama era in similar international polls, including the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which also found a vast improvement in global views of the United States since the president's election.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THE WEATHER IN ROVE'S REALITY.... In Karl Rove's latest Wall Street Journal column, the Republican activist turns his attention to the aftermath of the labor fight in Wisconsin. As Rove sees it, Republicans in the Badger State took on "the tough fight first," and in turn, "drew fire away from similar reform efforts" in other states.

For weeks, the nation's attention has been drawn to the storm in Madison over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit the power of government unions. Yet 500 miles to the southeast, in Columbus, Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is on the verge of passing a more extensive reform. [...]

In attempting to re-energize itself by battling in Madison, the labor movement is making itself appear weaker and more thuggish than before. Scott Walker didn't expect this fight, but he is winning it. He absorbed body blows in the process, as strong and effective leaders do. The lasting damage has not been done to Mr. Walker but to the labor movement, whose desperation grows as its power, numbers and reputation wane.

There's quite a bit wrong with this, which is to say, Rove has everything backwards.

The crux of the piece is that Wisconsin's anti-worker campaign cleared the way for even more expansive efforts in states like Ohio, which aren't generating as much attention because Walker and the Wisconsin GOP already took all the heat. But that's not true. As Jon Chait explained today, "Kasich's proposal is less controversial precisely because, unlike Walker's, it is not an attempt to destroy the public employee union as an economic and political force."

Second, I'm not sure how an entity looks "weaker and more thuggish" at the same time, but Rove's perceptions notwithstanding, the labor movement appears to have been reinvigorated by recent GOP assaults on working families -- union activism hasn't been this energized in a long while. That's not evidence of looking "weaker"; that's the opposite.

And third, citing nothing, Rove insists Walker is "winning." If by "winning," Rove means, "losing the support of most of his constituents, and finding other GOP governors keeping their distance from him," then sure, I'll agree that the rookie governor is "winning."

Of course, using a saner definition, we see that polls in Wisconsin have shown widespread opposition to Walker's agenda. If Wisconsin voters had it to do over again, they wish they'd voted for former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), who lost to Walker by six points in November.

That sure doesn't look like a guy who's "winning."

Stepping back, though, I often marvel at how easy it must be to be Karl Rove. Imagine being paid extremely well to make stuff up and attack working people and their political allies all day.

It's nice work if you can get it.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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

* Last month, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), his wife, and three aides flew in a luxury jet to D.C., in part because the governor wanted to deliver a speech on spending fewer taxpayer dollars. Barbour then had taxpayers pay for the trip.

* In related news, Barbour claims he wasn't involved with this corporate lobbying firm's work on creating pathways to citizenship for undocumented Mexican immigrants. His firm's federal filings suggest he's not telling the truth.

* This controversy keeps getting a little worse for the senior senator from Missouri: "Sen. Claire McCaskill's final bill for back taxes on her airplane now totals close to $320,000. That's because of $80,000 in additional interest that she expected would be added to the final amount."

* In Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) leading a generic Republican opponent next year, 45% to 29%.

* Speaking of Ohio, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) is apparently considering a Senate campaign against Brown. The far-right Blackwell is perhaps best known for losing a gubernatorial race in 2006 by a whopping 24 points, followed by a failed bid to become chairman of the RNC.

* In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow's (D) re-election prospects also appear to be improving. The latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows the incumbent leading all of her likely Republican challengers by double digits.

* In California, a new Field Poll shows Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) with a 48% approval rating, and a 46% plurality believes she deserves another term. Those are underwhelming numbers, but Feinstein is in better shape than Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was at this point in 2009.

* The far-right Club for Growth has already raised $350,000 for Rep. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) Senate campaign.

* Former Reagan consultant Fred Karger is apparently the first Republican presidential candidate to formally launch a national bid this year, but he's not expected to do well -- he's running as a conservative gay rights activist.

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

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GINGRICH'S BAD DAY.... By all indications, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) wasn't having any fun yesterday. ThinkProgress documented the fact that Gingrich blatantly, shamelessly flip-flopped on U.S. policy in Libya, and for a change, reporters noticed and cared.

By late yesterday, Gingrich tried to mount a defense via Facebook, but it wasn't even close to being coherent.

ThinkProgress piled on today, noting that Gingrich also has a habit of saying things like, "You can't flip-flop and be commander-in-chief." Oops.

But as long as we're on the subject, Kevin Drum had a terrific item yesterday, pondering what possesses someone like Gingrich to be so brazen. If the question comes down to whether they assume they won't get caught, or just don't care either way, Kevin made a persuasive case for the latter.

Back in the day, I remember a lot of people saying that it was getting harder for politicians to shade their positions -- either over time or for different audiences -- because everything was now on video and the internet made it so easy to catch inconsistencies. But that's turned out not to really be true. Unless you're in the middle of a high-profile political campaign, it turns out you just need to be really brazen about your flip-flops. Sure, sites like ThinkProgress or Politifact with catch you, and the first few times that happens maybe you're a little worried about what's going to happen. But then it dawns on you: nothing is going to happen. Your base doesn't read ThinkProgress. The media doesn't really care and is happy to accept whatever obvious nonsense you offer up in explanation. The morning chat shows will continue to book you. It just doesn't matter.

And that's got to be pretty damn liberating. You can literally say anything you want! And no one cares! That's quite a discovery.

The part about the media seems especially important. Officials and candidates know how this game works, and they know that there are no costs for going on national television and just making up nonsense as they go along. It won't affect future invitations, and in almost every instance, they won't get called on it.

These folks need the media to create an incentive to be honest. Right now, that incentive doesn't exist.

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

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BACHMANN POISED TO FORM EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE?.... I find this rather hard to believe, but strange people do strange things.

CNN has exclusively learned that Rep. Michele Bachmann will form a presidential exploratory committee. The Minnesota Republican plans to file papers for the committee in early June, with an announcement likely around that same time.

But a source close to the congresswoman said that Bachmann could form the exploratory committee even earlier than June so that she could participate in early Republican presidential debates. [...]

Meanwhile, CNN has also learned that Iowa Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson has been hired to be Bachmann's political director for the state -- and that Bachmann aides hope to have a complete team together for Iowa by this weekend.

It's probably fair to say that most reasonable political observers, regardless of party or ideology, would agree that Michele Bachmann is stark raving mad. I don't mean this in a name-calling sense, I mean it objectively -- her record of truly insane rants and conspiracy theories makes Bachmann an embarrassment to herself and the institution she serves. There's just something deeply wrong with this person.

Bachmann's odds of becoming leader of the free world next year are about as good as mine. But that doesn't mean her candidacy, if it exists, won't matter.

For one thing, Bachmann is so boldly ridiculous, she's bound to generate quite a bit of attention for herself, which could have a real impact on the race. There's only so much media oxygen available for a sizable presidential field, and if Bachmann's clownish antics capture reporters' attention, lesser-known candidates like Pawlenty and Daniels may find themselves struggling to stay in the spotlight.

For another, Bachmann could prove competitive in Iowa, where radically-conservative activists tend to dominate. (Remember, in 1988, radical televangelist Pat Robertson came in second place in the Iowa caucuses, well ahead of the eventual president, George H.W. Bush.)

Ed Kilgore had an item last week explaining that the theocratic religious right -- which adores Bachmann -- is uniquely powerful in the Iowa caucuses, and Bachmann enjoys a strong alliance with Iowa's Steve King (R), one of the few members of Congress who's as crazy as she is.

Kilgore added, "Even if Bachmann doesn't win a state outright, she could wreak havoc on the field. Given her fanaticism about root-and-branch repeal of ObamaCare, is there any doubt she would make sure every Caucus-goer knows about RomneyCare? Plus, she represents a deadly threat to the ambitions of her fellow Minnesota Republican, Tim Pawlenty, who has been quietly consolidating a position as likely Republican frontrunner: When she was a state legislator, Bachmann once assaulted a Pawlenty proposal for an enterprise zone, saying it represented Marxist principles. She won't need an oppo research firm to dig up other alleged Pawlenty violations of conservative dogma. And it's unlikely Pawlenty could survive running behind a fellow Minnesotan in a state so close to his own."

If Bachmann runs, she'll be a sad, cringe-worthy sideshow, making a circus of the entire nominating process. But much to her competitors' chagrin, that's unlikely to stop her.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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BEFORE THE FIRST PUNCH IS THROWN.... Chris Cillizza takes a look at the latest 2012 polls and notes a result that isn't entirely in line with expectations: the former moderate governor of Massachusetts is doing better than expected with the conservative Republican base.

Mitt Romney is the choice of nearly one in four of those who agree with the tenets of the tea party, according to a new Pew poll, a surprising result that suggests the former Massachusetts governor's support heading into 2012 may be broader than previously assumed.

Among tea party supporters, Romney took 24 percent to 19 percent for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, 15 percent for former House speaker Newt Gingrich and 13 percent for Texas Rep. Ron Paul.... The Pew poll comes less than two weeks after a Washington Post/ABC News survey showed Romney running strong among the party's conservatives; more than seven in 10 Republicans who described themselves as "very" conservative had a favorable opinion of Romney. [...]

The Pew and Post results -- coming so close to one another -- seem to make clear that Romney, who has largely been cast as an establishment pick, has wider reach within the party than first imagined.

Agreed, that's certainly what the data shows at this point, and it's why Romney is generally considered a weak frontrunner -- he's hardly the prohibitive favorite, but as the candidates take their place in the starting blocks, Romney looks ready to lead the field.

But my suggestion for the poll watchers is simple: wait.

Romney has high name recognition, and he's been campaigning for president every day since at least 2007. It stands to reason that he'd out in front before the process gets underway in earnest, when voters aren't engaged and haven't heard much about any of the candidates.

But that's going to change. At this point in 2007, Rudy Giuliani looked very strong as a presidential candidate, right up until voters were told who he is and what his positions are, at which point he went from first to last in record time. When he was riding high, the media concluded that the GOP base cared more about national security than Giuliani's record on social issues, when in reality, the problem was that the voters hadn't heard about Giuliani's record on social issues yet, and once they did, his candidacy was doomed.

Romney's not quite as vulnerable, but the attack ads won't even have to stretch the truth -- he's a former pro-choice governor who supported gay rights and combating climate change, who distanced himself from Reagan. Romney's sole accomplishment served as a blueprint for President Obama's health care policy, considered poison in Republican politics.

Indeed, Public Policy Polling recently asked Republican voters, "Would you be willing to vote for someone who supported a bill at the state level mandating that voters have health insurance for president?" A whopping 61% said they would not.

And guess who that affects?

Those who are surprised right-wing activists are supporting Romney despite his health care policy are assuming those activists know about Romney's health care policy. They don't -- but they will.

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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WHAT PASSES FOR OUR PUBLIC DISCOURSE.... This was the lead story on Mark Halperin's "The Page" yesterday afternoon.

In heated exchange on The View, real estate magnate [Donald Trump] says there's "something on that birth certificate" that Obama doesn't like.

Behar: "Are you a birther, Donald?"

Trump: "Why doesn't he show his birth certificate? ... I can't rely on some newspaper ... I want him to show his birth certificate."

Goldberg: "That's the biggest pile of dog mess I've heard in ages."

Hasselbeck: "Then why not show it?"

It was also the lead story on CNN's political blog last night and this morning.

Note that Trump wasn't the only idiot on the stage -- co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck also demanded to know where the president's birth certificate is.

There was no heated argument about Libya, the economy, the budget, Afghanistan, oil prices, housing, or unemployment, just a lengthy series of shouts on this mainstream television show about a birth certificate, stemming from a truly insane conspiracy theory that was debunked years ago.

It's 2011. I just thought I'd mention that.

Sometimes, what passes for our public discourse is so painfully ridiculous, it's just depressing.

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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SCOTT BROWN FALLS TRYING TO WALK A FINE LINE.... Two weeks after voting for a radical plan to eliminate all federal funding for Title X and Planned Parenthood, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) reversed course this week. In a press statement, the often-confused senator said his own party's plan on family planning "goes too far."

Almost immediately, Brown received quite a bit of credit for being a fair-minded moderate, uncomfortable with his party's extremist agenda, and much of the political world simply overlooked the fact that he'd just voted for the same cuts he now opposes. But yesterday, a new wrinkle came up: did Brown really say what we thought he said?

Opponents of abortion rights read his statement carefully, and concluded that Brown never actually said he supports Planned Parenthood funding. In fact, the statement didn't even mention Planned Parenthood at all.

So, what's going on here? It seems Brown is either trying to walk a line that doesn't exist, or he's just confused again about the policy details.

The senator's office sent out the press statement with this headline: "Scott Brown Statement On Budget Negotiations And Planned Parenthood." This suggested Brown was talking about Planned Parenthood, since it was right there in the headline. But when the group wasn't referenced in the statement itself, it gave the appearance of wiggle room -- maybe the senator only opposes defunding Title X and could still go along with the House effort to gut Planned Parenthood.

The Weekly Standard's John McCormack tried to get to the bottom of this.

So does Brown really just oppose defunding Title X? Or does he also oppose defunding Planned Parenthood? Despite emails and phone calls over the past 24 hours requesting clarification, Senator Brown's spokesmen have not replied to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

What's going on here? One possibility is that Senator Brown and/or his staff simply confused the two proposals. Another possibility is that Brown and/or his staff deliberately issued a statement that the media would interpret as a comment on Planned Parenthood, while pro-lifers would see it as merely a statement on Title X.

Brown could very easily clarify matters, but wouldn't you know it, he no longer wants to talk about this.

I realize polls suggest Brown remains popular in the Bay State, but I wonder whether there will come a point at which Massachusetts voters realize this guy is clearly in over his head.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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KARL ROVE FINDS A NEW HOBBY.... Crossroads GPS, a secretive right-wing attack operation founded in part by Karl Rove, launched a new project yesterday called "Wikicountability." The point, apparently, is to collect as-yet-unfulfilled Freedom of Information requests of the Obama administration.

The group said the effort is aimed at reporters and others who have asked for -- but not received -- information from the administration under the Freedom of Information Act laws. Crossroads also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday demanding the release of documents about waivers the department has granted to states seeking escape from provisions of Mr. Obama's health care law.

But the effort immediately drew criticism from Democrats and campaign watchdog groups who noted that Crossroads has been under fire since its inception for a refusal to reveal its donors.

There are a couple of angles to this. The first is the question of hypocrisy, and on this, Rove may have a point.

Crossroads' project is ostensibly about transparency and openness, while the organization itself resists any and all efforts to be transparent and open. That makes it ripe for criticism, but the fact remains that the standards are different for government agencies and private political operations. There's no such thing as a FOIA request for a private group, so this isn't as clear a case of hypocrisy as Rove's critics might hope.

Sure, Rove's attack shop should expect mockery for running around saying, "Transparency is paramount ... except when it applies to us," but given the competing disclosure requirements for public and private offices, the criticism falls rather flat.

At least, the first part of the criticism does. The second part of the pushback against Crossroads is that's peddling patently false claims -- and this criticism has real merit.

Rove's operation launched yesterday claiming to have proof of a shocking revelation: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Elizabeth Warren had dinner with journalists, including Mother Jones' David Corn and Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas. Of course, that wouldn't be especially shocking if it were true, and as it turns out, that dinner never happened -- neither Corn nor Moulitsas ever broke bread with Warren. Rove's little "scoop" was made up.

Crossroads also "exposed" Labor Secretary Hilda Solis yesterday for having met with union leaders "or attended their events" many times over the course of the last year. That's not even interesting.

So to review, Rove's attack operation deserves slack on the hypocrisy question, but it also deserves criticism for running with "scoops" that are either false or dumb (or both).

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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March 23, 2011

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

* Libya: "Having all but destroyed the Libyan air force and air defenses, the allies turned their firepower Wednesday on the military units loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi that are besieging rebel-held cities."

* Pentagon: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged Wednesday that there is no clear end to the international military enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, and says no one was ever under any illusion that the assault would last just two or three weeks. He added that the U.S. could turn over control of the operation as soon as Saturday, but could not say how the coalition operation might be resolved."

* A fascinating story about how the U.S. pulled off a major freeze of Libyan assets in just 72 hours.

* Japan: "Radioactive iodine detected in Tokyo's water supply prompted Japanese authorities on Wednesday to warn that infants in Tokyo and surrounding areas should not drink tap water, adding to the growing anxiety about public safety posed by Japan's unfolding nuclear crisis."

* Israel: "A bomb exploded at a crowded bus stop near Jerusalem's main bus station on Wednesday, killing one woman and leaving at least 24 other people injured. It was the worst attack in Jerusalem in four years, putting Israelis on alert and prompting international condemnation."

* Not good: "Purchases of new U.S. homes unexpectedly declined in February to the slowest pace on record and prices dropped to the lowest level since December 2003, adding to evidence the industry is floundering."

* I'm glad someone's saying it: "'I frankly don't understand why policy makers aren't more worried about the suffering of real families,' former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Christina Romer, who left the Administration last fall, said during a discussion at Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tuesday. 'I think there are tools we have tools we have that we can use, and I think it's shameful that we're not using them.'"

* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said most of the emails he received during the recent labor fight urged him to eliminate union rights for state workers. Was that true? Apparently not.

* Ouch: "It's official: Newt Gingrich now has had as many positions on Libya as he's had marriages."

* Arizona state lawmakers still pondering "birther" legislation.

* Daniel Luzer: "Gigantic student loan company Sallie Mae announced Monday that students receiving its loans can now get refunds the same day the school generates such refunds.... The catch? Well, it turns out that in order to receive their own refunds promptly students have to sign up for Sallie Mae Bank's 'Sallie Mae No-Fee Student Checking account with Debit MasterCard.'"

* Fox News takes a great deal of pleasure from bashing CNN. The Republican network seems outraged, though, when CNN bothers to hit back.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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HE'S PROBABLY UNDERSELLING THE STATE.... The fine folks at Mother Jones have flagged perhaps the greatest journalism job announcement in the history of the world, apparently released by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, on Florida's Gulf Coast. I say "apparently" because I can't speak to the legitimacy of the announcement -- it seems to have gone out over a listserv -- but here's hoping it is true.

We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: "I can't believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer." As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you're the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble ... well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you're our kind of sicko.

For those unaware of Florida's reputation, it's arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

As some who was born and raised in Florida, I think the editor left out a few things. Also note the original anthrax letters appeared in Florida, the Terri Schiavo and Elian Gonzalez fiascos were in Florida, many of the Abramoff deals were in Florida, and the Watergate burglars showed up in D.C. by way of Florida. And while the newspaper referenced the problems with Florida elections in passing, I'd note for emphasis that it was the extraordinary screw-ups in 2000 that led to the Bush presidency, which in turn set the United States into a downward spiral we're still struggling to reverse.

I've long harbored a silly notion that all bad things that happen in this country have an almost direct connection to the Sunshine State, but having said that, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune is right that it's heaven for journalists who can't get enough of the truly bizarre.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MAYBE ROMNEY SHOULD JUST STOP TALKING ABOUT HEALTH CARE POLICY.... Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) realizes he has a problem. He's running for president on his record, the highlight of which is a health care reform law that looks an awful lot like President Obama's Affordable Care Act. He can't run on a policy the GOP hates, and he can't abandon his only meaningful achievement in government.

So, Romney continues to scramble. Today, on the ACA's first anniversary, the unannounced presidential hopeful took to the pages of National Review to offer his latest vision of health care policy.

If I were president, on Day One I would issue an executive order paving the way for Obamacare waivers to all 50 states. The executive order would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services and all relevant federal officials to return the maximum possible authority to the states to innovate and design health-care solutions that work best for them.

As I have stated time and again, a one-size-fits-all national plan that raises taxes is simply not the answer. Under our federalist system, the states are "laboratories of democracy." They should be free to experiment. By the way, what works in one state may not be the answer for another.

Oh, Mitt, maybe you should just stop trying.

First, if the goal is to sound less like the president, this probably won't help. A month ago, the White House announced that states that want to reach the same policy goals on their own, outside the ACA framework, were welcome to do so. Obama specifically told the nation's governors, "[I]f you can come up with a better system for your state to provide coverage of the same quality and affordability as the Affordable Care Act, you can take that route instead."

It sounds like Romney's executive order isn't altogether necessary. Obama has already endorsed the kind of state-based flexibility Republicans say they want. All states have to do is shape a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does, without increasing the deficit. The "laboratories of democracy" are already free to do what Romney wants to help them be free to do.

Second, and just as importantly, Romney's new line is wholly at odds with his old line. As Greg Sargent explained today, "The problem for Romney, however, is that he has explicitly suggested that Romneycare should serve as a model for efforts to reform our health system on the federal level.... The plain truth is that Romney was proud of his achievement in Massachusetts, and thought it could -- and should -- help influence policymaking on the federal level."

Oddly enough, it did.

And third, Romney has to hope that the argument goes no further than the position he articulated in National Review, because if it does, it leads to an awkward conclusion. Jon Chait noted that Romney's argument, in effect, is, "Some states will choose health care systems that promote freedom, and other states will choose health care systems that destroy it, like, um, Massachusetts."

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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THE CHILDREN WHO ARE NO LONGER BEING LEFT BEHIND.... The irony of Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-Wis.) ugly screed against the Affordable Care Act is how backwards it is. He and other conservatives are concerned that the health reform law might make it harder for ailing children to get needed care.

The reality is the exact opposite.

A year ago, the parents of a little girl in Ohio were worrying that they would soon exceed the lifetime limit on their health insurance. Taylor Wilhite had been diagnosed with leukemia at age 8, and her treatment -- rounds of chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, long hospital stays -- had been stupendously expensive.

"No one tells you that you have a cap" on coverage, says Amy Wilhite, Taylor's mother. When a social worker warned the Wilhites that they should check, they learned their limit was $1 million. By then, they had spent $770,000. Taylor's father's company managed to negotiate the maximum up to $1.5 million, but Taylor's oncologist said the cost of her care could hit $3 million to $4 million. "I was just frantic," Amy says.

As the cap got closer, the Wilhites began to put off care for conditions that weren't life-threatening, but the bills kept mounting. "The cost of medicine, you just wouldn't believe," says Amy. And hospital room charges -- "you'd think she was in a resort."

The options for people near the limit weren't pretty. Cancel all but essential treatment, scramble for charity care, or contemplate bankruptcy. But then came a reprieve. The health reform legislation, which President Obama signed into law a year ago today, contained a provision that barred insurance companies from setting lifetime limits.

The provision took effect last September, and suddenly, one huge concern was gone. Taylor, now 12, isn't entirely out of the woods; her leukemia is in remission, but she needs continuing care and monitoring, and a hip that deteriorated during her procedures requires that she use a wheelchair to go long distances. But the Wilhites no longer have to worry about hitting the insurance limit -- and, from now on, other people struggling with their own or a loved one's devastating illness won't have to endure the added anxiety that the money will run out.

A similar story is found in California with the Walters family, whose young daughter Violet was diagnosed with a dangerous form of epilepsy, but who was able to get care thanks to the Affordable Care Act. There are countless other stories across the country, just like these.

The Republican message to these families is pretty straightforward: "We're going to fight like hell to take away the benefits that saved your family. But don't worry, you'll love our ideas about medical malpractice reform."

The conservative crusade to gut the American health care system bothers me, in large part because of its cruelty. If the GOP kills the Affordable Care Act, real families -- the kind of folks who are often lost in the competing statistics and poll-tested talking points -- will suffer. Some will suffer a lot.

It's obviously not just about sick kids running into lifetime limits, though that's certainly part of it. This is also about folks with preexisting conditions who'll finally be able to get coverage that can't be taken away, and young adults who'll have insurance they'd otherwise lose, and small businesses who can cover their employees for the first time, and seniors who'll be able to afford medication.

Put aside the ads and the palaver that pretends to be our public discourse, and you'll see a part of American life that's easy to overlook: this health care law is making a difference. It's helping people who need a hand. It's taking a system that wasn't working and making it better. The right is nearly as hysterical today as it was a year ago, but frankly, it's not even clear why conservatives are so furious. Ask the typical critic and he probably can't even explain what it is about the ACA he finds so offensive.

And I'm not sure I care. Policymakers debated reforming the dysfunctional system for about 100 years, and in 2010, Democrats finally got the job done. Craven Republicans remain desperate to strip families of their benefits, no matter who'll suffer, no matter what it does increase the deficit, no matter what it does to Taylor Wilhite and her family.

And who knows, maybe the right will even succeed at some point, and we'll all go backwards, stuck in a system that cost too much, covered too few, and left too many in bankruptcy.

But a year later, I don't mind admitting that I'm awfully glad they passed the damn bill.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THEY JUST DON'T CARE.... Perhaps the most exasperating aspect of health care debate was the incessant lying. An aggressive rhetoric fight over ideological goals makes sense, and plenty of overheated predictions are to be expected, but claims made by opponents of reform turned out to be so soul-crushingly false, it was genuinely depressing.

At one point, during the House debate, Ruth Marcus marveled at the "appalling amount of misinformation being peddled" by Republicans. "I don't mean the usual hyperbole.... I mean the flood of sheer factual misstatements," she said at the time. "You have to wonder: Are the Republican arguments against the bill so weak that they have to resort to these misrepresentations and distortions?"

Actually, they were that weak. The Affordable Care Act had its flaws, but GOP officials simply weren't prepared for a credible discussion of the policy. So they lied uncontrollably. They'd tell a falsehood, be shown proof that it wasn't true, and then repeat the falsehood anyway. It was as depressing a display as anything I've ever seen in the American political discourse, and it's directly responsible for the widespread public confusion about the reform law that still exists.

A year later, Republicans are still trying to kill the policy -- and they're still lying. We're not talking about exaggerations; we're talking about demonstrable errors of fact. Today, for example, Washington's two most powerful Republicans -- House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- have an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, condemning the law they failed to kill. It reads like a greatest-hits collection of obvious falsehoods.

Throughout the debate over the Democrats' $2.6 trillion government takeover of health care, Americans were concerned that the measure would increase costs, force them off of coverage they like, and make it harder to create new jobs.

The "government takeover" line was named the Lie of the Year in 2010. They're still telling it. What's more, after the ACA became law, job creation went up, not down, including in the health care sector.

According to the independent Congressional Budget Office, the health care law will result in the loss of more than 800,000 jobs over the next 10 years alone.

That was absolutely ridiculous when Republicans first started making the attack, and it's even more offensive now, given that GOP leaders can't defend this obviously-wrong argument that they keep making.

Taken together, these broken promises illustrate why so many Americans continue to support a full repeal -- which the new Republican-led House has passed -- followed by common-sense reforms that will actually lower costs, improve care, and protect jobs.

The clear majority of the country opposes "a full repeal," and if Republicans have a reform plan that lowers costs, improves care, and protects jobs, they should stop talking about it and actually put it on the table.

Boehner and McConnell have had more than enough time to (a) learn a little something about health care policy; and (b) come up with a way to discuss it honestly and intelligently. But they've failed on both counts, in part because they know people will believe lies, and in part because they know the media won't make much of an effort to set the record straight.

So they keep lying, knowing they can fool a whole lot of the people a whole lot of the time.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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LEPAGE JUST CAN'T HELP HIMSELF.... I'm still amazed this guy is actually the governor of Maine.

Gov. Paul LePage has ordered the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting Maine's labor history from the lobby of the Department of Labor.

Worker advocates described the move as a "mean-spirited" provocation amid the administration's high-tension standoff with unions.

Acting labor chief Laura Boyett emailed staff Tuesday about the mural's pending removal, as well as another administration directive to rename several department conference rooms that carry the names of pro-labor icons such as Cesar Chavez.

The governor's spokesperson told local reporters that honoring Maine's labor history is "one-sided" and bothers "some" unnamed business owners.

Now, I admittedly haven't seen the mural, but based on media accounts, it's "simply a depiction of Maine's labor history." It's reportedly not political per se, but shows the public, in 11 panels, key moments in the state, including "Rosie the Riveter" at Maine's Bath Iron Works. The local artist responsible for the mural explained, "There was never any intention to be pro-labor or anti-labor. It was a pure depiction of the facts."

But facts that Paul LePage don't like apparently have to be shuttered away. Celebrating working people is now, apparently, the kind of thing that might bother business interests. We're approaching an odd sort of political correctness that restricts messages that might somehow bother the wealthy and powerful.

What an embarrassment.

All of this comes on the heels of the buffoonish, far-right governor vowing to pursue a Wisconsin-like plan to undercut Maine's public-sector unions

Which was preceded by LePage trying to roll back Maine's child-labor laws.

Which was preceded by LePage paying for tax cuts for the rich by cutting services for Maine's middle class.

Which was preceded by LePage picking a fight with the Maine NAACP in which he said, "Tell them to kiss my butt."

The moral of the story is, electing a Tea Partier to be the chief executive of a state really isn't a good idea.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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ABANDONING THE PRETENSE OF SERIOUSNESS.... It's bound to be tricky for conservatives to criticize President Obama for a policy in Libya they agree with. Mitt Romney tried it yesterday, and the effort didn't go well.

But to date, I don't think anyone has been quite as ridiculous as disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Here's what he told NBC's "Today" show this morning about the military offensive in Libya:

"I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces."

This received no pushback whatsoever from host Matt Lauer, who may not have realized that Gingrich has been saying the exact opposite for weeks. As George Zornick noted, the former Speaker was asked just two weeks ago what he'd do about Libya, and he replied, "Exercise a no-fly zone this evening.... All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening."

I don't doubt Gingrich will remain a media darling, invited onto national television on a daily basis to present arguments unchallenged, but that doesn't change the fact that no one should take this pseudo-intellectual clown seriously.

Update: A closer look at both transcripts makes it irrefutably clear: this is a dramatic "flip-flop," not only on intervention, but also on the justifications for intervention. Gingrich isn't even trying to be a little consistent.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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RON JOHNSON'S WRONG -- AND OFFENSIVE -- HEALTH CARE ATTACK.... It stood to reason that the Wall Street Journal op-ed page would run something scathing about the Affordable Care Act on its first anniversary, but I'd hoped the paper could do better than this nonsense.

To criticize the reform law, the WSJ turned to Sen. Ron Johnson (R), the often-confused freshman senator from Wisconsin, who argues that his adult daughter, born with a heart defect, would have died had the Affordable Care Act been in place at the time.

I don't even want to think what might have happened if she had been born at a time and place where government defined the limits for most insurance policies and set precedents on what would be covered. Would the life-saving procedures that saved her have been deemed cost-effective by policy makers deciding where to spend increasingly scarce tax dollars?

Carey's story sounds like a miracle, but America has always been a place where medical miracles happen.

I hesitate to even call this garbage an "argument," since it isn't even that. The dim-witted rookie senator isn't actually criticizing the law so much as he's imagining a fabricated nightmare based on nothing but his own ignorance.

Does he point to any provisions in the law -- literally, anything at all -- that might have prevented treatment for his ailing daughter? No, of course not. Because if he tried to address the law with some shred of intellectual seriousness, Johnson would know (a) death panels that deny care to ailing children don't exist; (b) the law offers strong protections that protect children with pre-existing conditions; and (c) he'd have much more to worry about when it came to penny-pinching private insurers turning down procedures they don't want to pay for.

Indeed, in Johnson's bizarre fantasy world, does he think families in Massachusetts -- where the state has had an ACA-style system for several years -- are routinely denying care to children with heart defects?

As Jon Chait explained, "Indeed, one of the reasons for the law is that private health insurance often contains lifetime caps on coverage, or arbitrarily throws people who develop expensive conditions off their plans, and therefore keeps people from getting procedures like the one Johnson's daughter received. But asking someone like him to actually take into consideration the actual needs of the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance, as against the completely imaginary threat to his only family, is asking far too much of Johnson's intellect or moral reasoning."

Igor Volsky dug a little deeper into the WSJ piece, and concludes, "Johnson gets it wrong. The ACA wouldn't have killed Johnson's daughter, but thousands of other uninsured babies would have died without it."

Honestly, Ron Johnson really ought to be ashamed of himself for peddling such twaddle. If he doesn't know anything about health care policy -- and he clearly does not -- the senator should have just kept his mouth shut and wrote an op-ed about something else. Instead, he penned a piece that's as wrong as it is offensive.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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

* Will the U.S. House majority be in play in 2012? Chris Cillizza takes a closer look at the latest report from Democracy Corps, a Democratic-aligned polling consortium, which says Dems could pick up the 25 seats they need to win back the majority.

* In Connecticut, the latest DailyKos/Public Policy Polling survey shows Rep. Chris Murphy with a slight edge over former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. In the open-seat contest -- Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) is retiring -- either Dem looks very strong in the general election.

* In Ohio, Republicans have struggled to find a top-tier challenger to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) next year. It now appears state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) is "likely" to run.

* Bill Kristol has long been a prominent backer of former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R), but he now believes she "probably shouldn't be the Republican nominee for president."

* In Nevada, failed Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R), now running for Congress, is poised to release a self-published autobiography, called, "Right Angle."

* Rep. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona has long been a champion of comprehensive immigration reform. Now that he's running for the Senate, he's reversed course and now opposes the same policy Flake has supported for years. In other words, he's pulling a McCain.

* Mitt Romney hasn't launched his presidential campaign yet, but yesterday, he picked up a congressional endorsement in a key early nominating contest. Rep. Joe Heck (R) of Nevada, who benefitted from Romney's help last year, threw his support for the former Massachusetts governor.

* Reality television star Donald Trump, still moving forward with presidential campaign plans, will headline a major Republican dinner in Iowa this June.

* And Kansas City, Missouri, elected a new mayor yesterday, handing a surprise win to political newcomer Sly James in the non-partisan municipal election.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE DEMAND FOR MORE AMBITIOUS HEALTH CARE REFORM.... The new CNN poll on the Affordable Care Act, celebrating its first anniversary today, is already proving to be popular on the right. And if one only looks at the first two paragraphs, it's easy to see why.

One year after President Barack Obama signed the health care reform bill into law, a new national poll indicates that attitudes toward the plan have not budged.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday, on the one year anniversary of the signing of the law, 37 percent of Americans support the measure, with 59 percent opposed. That's basically unchanged from last March, when 39 percent supported the law and 59 percent opposed the measure.

But what this neglects to mention is the relevant detail -- there's quite a disagreement within that 59% majority.

In fact, the top line is pretty misleading. While 37% support the law, another 13% want the Affordable Care Act to go further, be more ambitious, and offer more progressive reforms. In other words, 50% of Americans support the law or want it to be more liberal.

The assumption is generally that opponents of the reform law agree with the right and have bought into Republican arguments. That's clearly not the case. It's obviously wrong to characterize the ACA as popular -- after a massive misinformation campaign, it's clearly not -- but the nature of the opposition matters.

This isn't limited to the CNN poll. The latest data from the Kaiser Family Foundation offered a similar take on public attitudes. Americans with unfavorable attitudes about the law still outnumber supporters, but when asked about preferences, a majority of the country either backs the Affordable Care Act or wants it "expanded."

Results like these have been a staple of health care polling for a year, but the point is consistently left out of the larger policy discussion, swamped with establishment assumptions about how much Americans "don't like" health care reform.

Update: Speaker Boehner's (R-Ohio) is pushing the CNN poll pretty aggressively. Either the Speaker and his team haven't really read the poll, or they're prepared to hope you won't pay attention to the details.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS GET TO WORK, LOSE SUPPORT.... Following up on an item from the weekend, Republican gubernatorial candidates scored big wins last year in some of the nation's largest and most competitive states. When the dust settled on the 2010 cycle, the GOP had picked up governors' offices they had lost in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

That was last year. This year, those governors have gotten to work advancing a very conservative agenda. It's obviously still quite early in their respective tenures, but after taking a look at what these GOP governors have in mind, their constituents' are experiencing an acute case of buyers' remorse.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling, for example, shows Michigan voters turning on their new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who turned out to be much more conservative than the state realized.

Snyder actually now has the worst numbers of this new trio of GOP Governors, with only 33% of voters approving of him to 50% who disapprove. And despite his overwhelming victory last fall voters now say that if they could do it over they'd pick Virg Bernero over Snyder by a 47-45 margin. [...]

What's happened to Snyder? What made him such a formidable candidate last fall was incredibly strong support from independents and an unusual amount of crossover appeal to Democrats. Neither of those things has lasted.

That's what happens when a governor folks thought was a moderate starts pushing a radical agenda.

But the larger point here is that all of these governors are running into the same mainstream opposition.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich (R) has seen his support plummet in recent months, a trend bolstered by a new Quinnipiac poll, released this morning, that showed his approval rating down to just 30%.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) -- the one who's desperate to make brutal cuts to education, while increasing spending on prisons -- hasn't exactly impressed his constituents, either. Last week, a statewide poll found only 31% of Pennsylvanians had a positive impression of his job performance.

Polls in Wisconsin have shown widespread opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's (R) agenda, and if voters had it to do over again, they wish they'd voted for former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), who lost to Walker by six points in November.

And while I haven't seen any polling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), there's ample evidence he's managing to offend just about everyone.

Will this prove relevant in 2012? Time will tell, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does. Republicans scored big wins in 2010, not because the GOP was popular, but because much of the public was dissatisfied with the status quo, and Dems happened to be the dominant majority.

But now those same voters have been reminded exactly why they didn't like Republicans in the first place.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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SEARCHING IN VAIN FOR TEA PARTIERS' CONSISTENCY.... President Obama, in his capacity as Commander in Chief, launched military strikes against Libya on Saturday, without caring much whether Congress liked the idea. Most of his White House predecessors have done the same thing, and in each instance, at least a few lawmakers express outrage.

But over the last few days, the loudest cries have come from the left, not the right, and Dennis Kucinich has been far more incensed than any red-state Tea Partier. Dave Weigel wondered why this is.

[O]n Monday, Obama issued a presidential message to Congress explaining why he'd joined an "international effort" and "began a series of strikes against air defense systems and military airfields for the purposes of preparing a no-fly zone."

This was the 119th message of its kind since the passage of the War Powers Resolution. It was the first since the rise of the Tea Party, the conservative movement that defines everything it does as a way to keep faith with the Constitution. So the relative lack of Tea Party angst over the no-fly zone has been surprising. There is no discussion of Libya happening at Ginni Thomas' Liberty Central, no statement from Tea Party Patriots or the Tea Party Express.

Weigel largely chalked this up to Tea Party groups being busy elsewhere -- activists are focused primarily on fights over spending, not foreign policy. There's no doubt some truth to that.

But I also think political observers should realize that Tea Partiers don't always stick to a predictable script, generally because they don't know what they're talking about.

Yes, there's a budget fight underway, but from the perspective of Tea Party groups, a radical leftist president just launched a military operation on a foreign land without congressional consent. Tea Party organizations can't so much as issue a press release?

Well, no, because their alleged obsession with constitutional fealty is quite limited -- which is to say, they don't really care. They have a narrow ideological agenda, and if they can use legal arguments to justify those ends, great. But it's not like we're dealing with constitutional scholars itching for a debate over the nuances of Article II, Sec. 2.

Indeed, this seems to come up all the time. In December, when policymakers reached a deal on taxes that would be entirely financed through the deficit, it was tempting to think, "Shouldn't Tea Partiers, who claim to be obsessed with the deficit, be complaining about this?" But of course they said nothing.

And last summer, during the fight over Wall Street reform, one might have thought, "Shouldn't Tea Partiers side with consumers over a bunch of bailed out banks and their lobbyists?" But that didn't happen either.

The point is, we should stop looking for ideological consistency from a group of well-intentioned but easily-misled conservative activists. As I've mentioned before, if you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.

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

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A BASIC TEST OF FISCAL CREDIBILITY.... We talked early yesterday about right-wing uber-activist Grover Norquist and his claims that Republicans will, under no circumstances, allow tax increases as part of a deficit-reduction compromise. As Norquist tells it, he's received pledges from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and all of the Senate Republicans involved in the Gang of Six's search for a "grand bargain."

The report has caused quite a stir, and for good reason. If Norquist is telling the truth -- he may not be -- and the revenue side of the federal ledger is simply untouchable, the prospects of a major budget compromise are dead.

But as Norquist's remarks bounced around the political world over the last 24 hours, actual information has proven elusive. Republicans didn't deny what he'd said, but they didn't go to any real lengths to confirm the claims, either. Democrats took note, but made no effort to push back against GOP irresponsibility. It was as if the relevant players chose to pretend Norquist hadn't said anything at all.

That's fine, I suppose. Those hoping for some kind of larger deal, and especially those involved directly in talks, don't want to see one prominent conservative bring the entire process to a screeching halt with chest-thumping boasts that may or may not be true.

But while the relevant players try to figure it out, Ezra Klein's comments this morning ring true.

Not to steal Bill Maher's schtick, but new rule: if you're not willing to consider tax increases, you're not serious about deficits. Full stop. Just as rigid pacifists aren't credible on national defense and dogmatic Christian Scientists are rarely consulted on health-care policy, a politician who has made an ideological vow to refuse to even consider tax increases is not interested in reducing deficits -- and that's true no matter how often they say the word "deficits."

So if Grover Norquist has really gotten ironclad assurances from both Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that they will not permit tax increases as part of a deficit deal, then the only sensible conclusion is that Boehner and McConnell are not interested in deficits.

It's hard to overstate how correct this is. This year's deficit will be around $1.5 trillion. The debt is about $14 trillion. The right would have us believe that these two figures are not only horrifying, but could cause the collapse of Western civilization. Reducing the numbers isn't just a priority, they say, but a moral imperative.

And in the next breath, those same conservatives then add, "Oh, and by the way, tackling this problem by increasing revenue from anyone at any time by any amount is unacceptable."

That's just crazy. Anyone who's seriously pushing that line has no credibility on fiscal issues.

This isn't even especially complicated. If deficit reduction is the goal, simply doing away with Bush-era tax cuts -- which failed as an economic policy anyway -- and returning tax rates to the levels when the economy was great would make a huge difference in bringing the budget closer to balance. To say this can't even be part of the conversation is ridiculous.

Now, the angle to keep in mind going forward is the debate over the definition of "tax." As we discussed yesterday, some Republicans may try to slice their promises pretty thin -- they'll keep tax rates the same, but increase revenue by tweaking eligibility, exemptions, and deductions. The amount of money paid in taxes would go up, even if the taxes themselves stayed the same.

That's possibly what Republican leaders are thinking right now, as they talk about a compromise -- they're not raising taxes; they're expanding the field of those paying taxes. It's something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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AMERICANS' APPETITE FOR DEEP CUTS: STILL NONEXISTENT.... I can't remember the last time there was a greater disconnect between public demands and policymakers' priorities. It's almost comical in its ridiculousness.

To hear congressional Republicans tell it, Americans are desperate to see sweeping cuts to public spending and an unwavering commitment to deficit reduction. Indeed, this assumption has served as the basis for two months of heated debate in Washington, with GOP leaders boasting about how they, and only they, are delivering on what the public wants.

And yet, the evidence to the contrary remains overwhelming.

More than nine in 10 Americans call the federal budget deficit a serious problem, the poll shows -- as many as seven in 10 call it very serious. However, just 7 percent named the deficit as the most important problem facing the country today. Most Americans, 51 percent, called the economy and jobs the most important problem, and most Americans agree Washington is not doing enough to create jobs.

Asked specifically which is more important, cutting spending or creating jobs, 63% said job creation should be the top goal, with 26% saying spending cuts should be the priority. As absurd as this seems, congressional Republicans are desperate to side with the 26% minority over the 63% majority, even after promising for two years to focus on jobs.

Indeed, 68% of Americans don't agree on much, but they agree that lawmakers aren't spending enough time focused on bringing down unemployment.

And yet, one-sided results like these still won't change the debate. Policymakers and the very-serious media voices will continue a foolish debate -- whether to cut a little or cut a lot -- while the public clamors for a jobs policy that isn't even on the table.

Let me say this plainly: most folks just don't care about cutting spending or the deficit. They care about growing the economy and creating jobs. It's not just one poll; every poll says the same thing.

Why did the electorate vote in a bunch of Republicans with the opposite priorities? Because folks were frustrated with the status quo, and didn't realize the GOP that kept asking "where are the jobs?" would immediately start working on plans to make the jobs crisis worse.

But because our political system is so often exasperating, White House and congressional leaders will nevertheless sit down fairly soon, and to avoid a government shutdown, begin talks on just how many unpopular cuts it will take to make Republicans happy enough to end their hostage strategy. Dems should have leverage in these talks -- what the GOP wants is the opposite of what the American mainstream wants -- but that will almost certainly make no difference whatsoever.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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GLENN BECK EYEING HIS OWN CABLE CHANNEL.... A couple of weeks ago, Fox News executives leaked word that they were prepared to live without Glenn Beck when his contract expired in December. His ratings are down; his antics make it hard to find advertisers; and his radicalism makes the rest of the network appear ridiculous.

But what would Beck do if he and the Republican cable network parted ways? The New York Times reports today that the deranged media personality has a few ideas.

Two of the options Mr. Beck has contemplated, according to people who have spoken about it with him, are a partial or wholesale takeover of a cable channel, or an expansion of his subscription video service on the Web. [...]

Mr. Beck has been contemplating a cable channel of his own for more than a year, according to the people who have spoken with him about it... Presuming he leaves, Mr. Beck could follow a road paved by Oprah Winfrey when she started OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network in January. He could schedule his own talk show and the shows of others on one of the many cable channels seeking a ratings jolt. Or, following Martha Stewart's road to the Hallmark Channel, he could start smaller, taking over a few hours of a channel's schedule.

I realize Beck has a fan base, but if he seriously believes his reach could serve as the foundation for a cable channel, he's even crazier than he seems. The guy can't get advertisers now, and he's on the most-watched cable news network in the country. How does Beck intend to find sponsors for an entire network?

It still seems possible, if not likely, that talk like this is about negotiating leverage. If Fox News and Beck are prepared to talk about a new contract, both want the other to think they're prepared to walk away. So, Fox News sends out word it's more than willing to let Beck go, and Beck leaks news that he may want a network of his own. This may be a bargaining strategy playing out on a large stage.

Or maybe it's all legit. There's ample evidence that Fox News is tiring of Beck, and the relationship between the ridiculous host and the network has been strained for a while. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, the notion of Beck having the power to anchor a cable channel is laughable. His audience is shrinking, his radio show is losing stations, his books aren't selling well, and his live shows have fewer attendees. As career trajectories go, Beck appears to be well past his peak, and the clock seems to be inching ever closer to his 16th minute of fame.

He'd be lucky to have Fox News keep paying him millions to say ridiculous things for an hour a day.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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March 22, 2011

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

* Libya: Allied fighters struck targets in Tripoli in a fourth day of airstrikes but forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi showed no signs of ending their sieges of rebel held cities, as the Security Council has demanded, while President Obama spoke on Tuesday with the French and British leaders in an effort to defuse a disagreement among the allies over how to manage the military action against Libya.

* The U.S. fighter jet crash: "An American fighter jet crashed overnight in the first known setback for the international coalition. According to the United States military, an F-15E Strike Eagle warplane went down late Monday 'when the aircraft experienced equipment malfunction.' The aircraft, normally based in England, was flying out of Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy when it crashed. 'Both crew members ejected and are safe,' an American statement said."

* After seeing his top military commander defect to the opposition, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh offered to give up power by the end of this year. The concession "failed to pacify anti-Saleh protesters, who pressed demands that he step down immediately."

* Japan: "Workers at a leaking nuclear plant hooked up power lines to all six of the crippled complex's reactor units Tuesday, but other repercussions from the massive earthquake and tsunami were still rippling across the nation as economic losses mounted at three of Japan's flagship companies."

* A big court defeat for New Jersey's Republican governor: "Gov. Chris Christie's deep cuts to state school aid last year left New Jersey's schools unable to provide a 'thorough and efficient' education to the state's nearly 1.4 million school children, a Superior Court judge found today."

* The New York Times's Charlie Savage offers a good overview of the argument over whether it's incumbent on the White House to get congressional consent for military strikes.

* After trying to gut Title X, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) insists, "I've never advocated reducing funding for Title X." Is he lying or is he not quite sharp enough to know his own agenda?

* Interesting read on the economy: "Global markets are signaling that sustained economic growth will more than make up for Japan's worst disaster since World War II, rising commodity prices and uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Interest-rate derivatives, bond sales by the riskiest borrowers and rebounding benchmark stock indexes all show increasing confidence in the economy."

* The next Wisconsin? "Collective bargaining rights would be restricted for many Alaska public employees under a bill introduced Monday by a state lawmaker. Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, said the bill is similar to one passed recently in Wisconsin and aimed at keeping the state on sound financial footing."

* Fox News' Juan Williams isn't just afraid of Muslim Americans. He's also afraid of African Americans.

* There was a big Tea Party convention in Tampa over the weekend. Turnout was abysmal.

* The problem with college pricing in one dramatic graph.

* A touching video on the White House blog about the health care law. It's really worth watching.

* Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) wants to run the state "like a business," but wants constituents with suggestions to send letters through the postal service -- because he doesn't use email. So, where do the emails to the governor go?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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SEPARATING THE GOOD ARGUMENTS FROM THE BAD.... Much of the criticism this week of U.S. military intervention in Libya has been compelling and persuasive. Many of the questions raised -- about the end game, duration, and costs of the conflict -- deserve sincere answers, sooner rather than later.

But regardless of one's willingness to support or oppose the offensive, it seems worthwhile to separate the good arguments against the conflict from the bad. For example, raising questions about the mission by talking up presidential impeachment probably isn't the best use of one's time.

A key Senate Democrat on Tuesday tamped down the suggestion by some in his own party that President Obama could be impeached for launching military strikes on Libya.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a supporter of the U.S. mission in Libya and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that if Obama's actions on Libya are impeachable, then so are the acts of every other president since World War II who launched military operations without authorization.

"I think we ought to focus on what the issues are here," Levin said during an interview on the liberal "Bill Press Show." "And that one-day kind of a story, which is all it will be, is not where we ought to be focusing."

Similarly, Kevin Drum went through some of the more common arguments from the last few days, and finds them all wanting. Complaints about presidential "dithering," Obama changing his mind, having the U.S. "follow" instead of lead, and prioritizing this conflict but not others are all pretty underwhelming. Kevin concluded:

Look: I'm not really happy about the intervention in Libya. Like a lot of people, I'd like to know what our actual goals are. What's more, I'm not sure it'll be the cakewalk that Hillary Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy seem to think, and I believe that for a variety of reasons the United States is best served by not giving anyone an excuse for thinking that the current round of rebellions in the Middle East are backed by American power and interests. It's better for us to keep a pretty low profile right now.

But an awful lot of the criticism is just so unremittingly juvenile that I can hardly stand listening to it anymore. Time to grow up, people.

This should be common sense, but if the goal is to persuade others to see the conflict the way opponents do, critics should narrow their arguments to the points that make sense.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... There's quite a bit about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that I find annoying, but at the top of the list is the fact he doesn't seem to have any idea what he's talking about.

Take this morning, for example, when the senator talked to CBS's "The Early Show" about his vision of U.S. policy in Libya. McCain endorsed the notion of regime change -- a position the Obama administration has not taken -- and then drew a fascinating parallel about arming rebels.

Asked about Moammar Gadhafi:

"This is a man with American blood on his hands who has committed acts of terror in the past. And our policy, the United States policy, as articulated by the President of the United States, is that he should go -- he should not stay in power."

And asked siding with Libyan rebels with unknown agendas:

"[I]t does take time -- it did during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan -- but we were able to provide them with some weapons and wherewithal to cause the Russians to leave Afghanistan. So we can do it."

On the first point, McCain has an odd memory of recent events. As Justin Elliott explained, Republicans weren't at all concerned about the American blood on Gadhafi's hands -- the Bush administration removed Libya from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism and engaged in direct talks with Gadhafi. More to the point, John McCain personally visited with Gadhafi in August 2009 to discuss delivery of American military equipment to the Libyan dictator.

Maybe this has slipped the senator's mind?

As for the second point, it's true that we provided aid to Afghan rebels that fought the Soviets, and it's also true that Russia gave up and left Afghanistan, but is this really the example McCain wants to use? Those rebels, after all, were the mujahedeen, which included a guy named Osama bin Laden.

Does McCain realize this, or does he simply not care?

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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WHEN THE STIMULUS MEETS THE ANTI-STIMULUS.... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently suggested the very idea of government stimulus has, to his mind, been discredited. "If government spending would stimulate the economy, we'd be in the middle of a boom," he said.

The misguided comments came in the context of multiple, independent reports that showed proposed Republican cuts costing the nation hundreds of thousands of jobs. But the more important point was the value of the observation -- when the economy stood on the brink of collapse, Democrats injected stimulus into the economy. It prevented a depression, but there was no "boom."

And why not? Some of it had to do with the nature of the crisis -- the collapse of the financial industry isn't the kind of disaster an economy quickly recovers from, no matter how big the stimulus. But just as importantly, nearly every dollar in federal stimulus spending was counteracted by comparable cuts in state and local government spending. As Paul Krugman recently explained, "The only way we could have avoided a prolonged slump would have been for government spending to take up the slack. But that didn't happen: growth in total government spending actually slowed after the recession hit, as an underpowered federal stimulus was swamped by cuts at the state and local level."

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The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities drove this point home nicely yesterday, noting exactly what states were doing while the federal government was trying to rescue the economy. Specifically, we had, in effect, 50 or so little Hoovers, scrambling to scale back and pull money out of the economy, just as the Recovery Act was trying to do the opposite.

The state cuts were so severe, they effectively canceled out federal stimulus investments. It's also why we see such a discrepancy on jobs -- the private sector keeps hiring new workers, but the larger job market is held back as state and local governments keep laying off Americans by the thousands.

This is, by the way, how Republicans think the economy will get better -- take money out of the economy, force public-sector workers into unemployment, and watch the recovery soar.

And it's not over. The CBPP chart is reflecting budget cuts for fiscal year 2012, which means states will continue to deliberately undermine the national economy going forward.

All of this is preventable, by the way. Congress could, in theory, decide that to help the economy, it will redirect resources to states so that they won't have to scale back so severely.

But thanks to Republican gains in the midterms, such an idea is little more than a fantasy. GOP officials want a "boom," but don't want the policies that would create one.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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SOUTH DAKOTA'S ODIOUS NEW ANTI-ABORTION LAW.... The party that made widespread gains in 2010 thanks to a weak economy knows it exactly how it wants to spend 2011 -- by investing an inordinate amount of energy in restricting women's reproductive rights.

One of the more outrageous displays at the state level was signed into law yesterday.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a law Tuesday requiring women to wait three days after meeting with a doctor to have an abortion, the longest waiting period in the nation.

Abortion rights groups immediately said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the measure, which also requires women to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions.

Daugaard, who gave no interviews after signing the bill, said in a written statement that he has conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged private money to finance the state's legal costs.

Small-government conservatives -- the ones who want less interference from government in Americans' health care decisions -- were delighted.

The three-day waiting period is absurd on its own. The idea is that public officials will force women to think for 72 hours before exercising their reproductive rights, as if women hadn't already thought about what's best beforehand.

But that's really only part of the new South Dakota policy. During the government-imposed waiting period, the state will also require women to seek counseling at "crisis pregnancy centers," or CPCs.

In case you're unfamiliar with these outlets, CPCs "often lack licensed medical personnel, and are designed solely to 'encourage' a woman to carry to term and keep her child. The federal government has documented that CPCs often provide women false and misleading information in order to achieve their goals."

And now South Dakota women will be forced by the state to go for CPC "counseling," whether they want to or not.

Twice in recent years -- in 2006 and again in 2008 -- South Dakota voters were given the chance to vote on severe new restrictions on abortion rights. In both instances, voters in this conservative "red" state rejected the efforts.

But the crusade continues apace. I'll let you know what happens with the court challenge.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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DADT DEAD-ENDERS JUST WON'T QUIT.... I expected Republicans to complain after the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law was repealed. I didn't expect them to keep talking about a pointless drive to bring DADT back. The right put up a fight, and lost. It's over.

Except much of the GOP just doesn't see it that way. At the national level, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a former moderate, announced in January he would "support reinstating" the unpopular and discriminatory policy. This week, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) was also asked whether he'd bring back the old law, which was opposed by the vast majority of Americans, and rejected by bipartisan majorities in Congress.

"I would -- because that's really what the military wants," [said] Huckabee. "There's been some talk that the military is fine with having same-sex orientation people. But if you really surveyed the combat troops, that is not at all the case."

I see. So, the DADT repeal effort was backed by the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, multiple former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and most American servicemen and women, but Mike Huckabee, who never served, knows what the military "really" wants.

Keep in mind, it's not just Pawlenty and Huckabee. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel, has also vowed to fight to bring DADT back, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is looking for ways to prevent implementation.

There's just no reason for this nonsense. It's one thing to pop off in December, during the debate over the bill itself, but to keep talking about it now is kind of pathetic.

That said, with Pawlenty and Huckabee weighing in like this, I wonder if this might become another 2012 litmus test for the GOP field. Will Romney, Barbour, et al, be expected to also call for reinstatement of the ridiculous policy? Will the party's base expect them to?

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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MITT ROMNEY, PANDERING ROBOT.... Under the circumstances, it's not realistic to think Mitt Romney is going to offer blanket praise for President Obama's policy in Libya. But the former governor should at least try to be coherent about it.

Last night, Romney chatted with far-right radio host Hugh Hewitt about U.S. intervention, and said plainly, "I support military action in Libya. I support our troops there in the mission they've been given."

But in the next breath, the likely Republican presidential candidate explained his opposition to the administration's foreign policy:

"I believe that it flows from his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the President's world, all nations have 'common interests,' the lines between good and evil are blurred, America's history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced."

Even by Romney's standards, this is just sad. Greg Sargent noted the criticism "is so canned and riddled with buzzwords designed to pander to the right wing base that it feels like he subjected his language to a dozen Tea Party focus groups before daring to open his mouth."

Indeed, reading the transcript, one can almost hear Romney running through a checklist in his mind. The subject relates to foreign policy, which means the former governor has to ask himself, "Did I mention 'exceptionalism'? How about apologizing?"

It's hackneyed and robotic. Romney talks about foreign policy as if he's just reading a stream of note cards -- after they've been shuffled.

Even the buzz words themselves are ridiculous. The president was "indecisive"? Please. As Kevin Drum put it, "When did it suddenly become a personality defect to decline to intervene in a foreign rebellion the instant it broke out?"

Obama is "nuanced"? Yes, but can someone explain why that's a bad thing? It's a complex, "turbulent," and ever-changing world. Having a chief executive who appreciates and is aware of "nuance" strikes me as positive.

Again, Romney is obviously going to say something negative about the president, no matter what the question is, even if he agrees with Obama's larger decision. But if he wants to be taken seriously, Romney really ought to do better than this cheap pandering.

Update: Greg adds some additional thoughts, including this gem: "Call it the Dingbat Doctrine: If you think the world is a complicated place; if you think that navigating the most powerful military in human history through treacherous and ever-shifting geopolitical cross-currents involves difficult moral choices; if you think America can gain anything at all by recognizing that we have common interests with other nations; well, then you're too weak to be president."

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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SCOTT BROWN WAS FOR THE CUTS BEFORE HE WAS AGAINST THEM.... A couple of weeks ago, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) broke with their party's crusade against family planning funds. Murkowski announced her support for Planned Parenthood, while Collins said she's against the House GOP effort to defund Title X, which is dedicated to reproductive health issues.

This week, they were joined by another relative moderate.

US Senator Scott Brown opposes a House Republican plan to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the women's health service provider, and today urged budget negotiators to reach a compromise.

"I support family planning and health services for women," Brown, a Bay State Republican, said in a statement. "Given our severe budget problems, I don't believe any area of the budget is completely immune from cuts. However, the proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning goes too far. As we continue with our budget negotiations, I hope we can find a compromise that is reasonable and appropriate."

It's welcome news, to be sure. Ben Smith noted that moderate GOP support for Planned Parenthood funding makes it look "increasingly less likely" that House Republicans will get their wish, which sounds right to me.

Indeed, the whole right-wing crusade is ridiculous. Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using federal funds to pay for abortion services; all the House GOP is doing is cutting funding for family planning and women's health services, including cancer screenings. It's cruel and unnecessary.

In light of all of this, I'm inclined to give Brown, Murkowski, and Collins credit for being right about the issue. That said, it's worth emphasizing that the House GOP spending bill -- the one including brutal domestic spending cuts -- eliminated every penny of federal funding for Title X and Planned Parenthood.

And who voted in support of the House Republican proposal when it reached the Senate floor? Brown, Murkowski, and Collins did.

Given the extremist tilt of the Republican Party, I'm genuinely pleased that these relative moderates are on the correct side of this debate. But the political world shouldn't have short memories -- it was less than two weeks ago that the Senate considered a House package that would deny family planning and contraception to Americans who need the aid. Scott Brown knew the legislation would fail, and knew the GOP cuts went "too far," but he voted for it anyway, basically because his party told him to.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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

* A huge mess for the senior senator from Missouri: "Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) said Monday she will sell her private plane and pay back $287,273 in four years of back taxes, the latest chapter in a politically embarrassing saga for the moderate Democrat facing a tough reelection battle in 2012."

* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) keeps up a busy travel schedule in advance of his upcoming presidential campaign, but he's asking taxpayers to pick up the tab for his excursions. Of particular interest was more than $300,000 in out-of-state travel expenses for the governor's bodyguards, also paid for with public funds.

* The DCCC is launching an ad campaign today, targeting 10 House Republicans for supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The target list includes Reps. Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Bill Young (Fla.), Allen West (Fla.), Dan Benishek (Mich.), Joe Heck (Nev.), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Blake Farenthold (Texas), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Sean Duffy (Wis.), and David McKinley (W.Va.).

* Nevada's Sharron Angle (R) is running for Congress, and this time she's prepared to actually talk to reporters. During her failed Senate bid last year, Angle routinely ran away from journalists' questions.

* In Indiana, Jackie Walorski (R) narrowly lost to Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) last year, and she's now gearing up for a rematch. However, with the legislature poised to make the district far more GOP friendly, Donnelly is considering running for governor or the U.S. Senate.

* Don't be surprised if Rep. Jay Inslee (D) gives up his House seat next year to run for governor in the state of Washington. Inslee's hints about his intentions are becoming increasingly direct.

* West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel (D) announced this week she'll take on Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) in 2012. Fort Lauderdale businessman Patrick Murphy (D) is also running, setting up a potentially-costly primary.

* And as silly as this sounds, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky was in South Carolina yesterday, apparently to talk about a "possible presidential bid." He doesn't seem especially serious about this, saying he's only making trips to early primary states because he wants "the tea party to have an influence over who the nominee is in 2012." What an odd man.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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A MATCH MADE IN SOMEWHERE UNPLEASANT.... Ginni Thomas, perhaps best known as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife, has become quite the right-wing personality over the last couple of years.

In 2009, she started running around telling other right-wing activists that she believes "there's a war going on against tyranny," and she seemed to be referring to America's elected leadership. (She's also been known to peddle various right-wing swag and tchotchkes -- including an odd foam hat.) The creepiness factor went up considerably, of course, when Thomas left an odd, accusatory voice-mail message for Brandeis professor Anita Hill in October, calling early on a Saturday morning, asking her to apologize for having been sexually harassed by her husband.

More recently, Thomas parted ways with her far-right activist group, and designated herself a "Tea Party Ambassador," through an ethically-sketchy lobbying outfit, Liberty Consulting. For a price, clients can even take advantage of Ginni Thomas' "connections."

Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller saw this record and thought, "Wouldn't this strange, unhinged activist make a great reporter?"

Long-time Washington policy leader Ginni Thomas, the founder of the group Liberty Central, has agreed to join The Daily Caller. [...]

As The Daily Caller's special correspondent, Thomas will interview key political and community leaders -- from high-profile politicians to grassroots activists -- with a focus on listening to those outside the Beltway. [...]

"We are thrilled to have Ginni Thomas join The Daily Caller as a special correspondent to interview both established and emerging leaders about the serious questions facing our country," said Neil Patel, publisher and CEO of The Daily Caller. "Ginni is always upbeat, she has an unbelievable amount of energy and enthusiasm and she knows our political system as well as anyone in Washington. We could not imagine a better person to take on this role."

All things being equal, I'm not sure who should be more embarrassed, The Daily Caller for associating itself with Thomas, or Thomas for associating herself with The Daily Caller.

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

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THE WONK THRESHOLD.... There may not be an accepted definition of "wonk," and the term itself is arguably subjective. But we have a general sense of what it means -- wonks are deeply knowledgeable about a specialized field, and have the chops to bring some intellectual heft to their observations.

With this in mind, Jon Chait asked yesterday whether "the standard for Republican policy wonkery" has fallen too low. I believe it has.

This came up because Jennifer Rubin gushed yesterday over Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) depth of knowledge on trade and Latin America with this op-ed.

Approving free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea would be a boon to our economy, create jobs for Floridians, and help solidify our alliances with these steadfast allies. The agreements with Colombia and Panama in particular would boost Florida's economy, where over 1 million Floridians remain out of work. Unfortunately, the president has inexplicably allowed these golden economic opportunities to languish by not submitting the deals to Congress for up-or-down votes.

An unacceptable consequence of America taking our Latin American neighbors for granted is that China, among other nations, has capitalized on our complacency, signed their own deals, and made great strides to surpass America as the region's leading trade partner.... Our Latin American allies are not going to wait around forever for America to get its act together....

Chait sees this as "pure boilerplate, something you get by waking up any press secretary in the middle of the night and urging them to attack the free trade stance of a Democratic president."

And it is. Indeed, there's nothing especially interesting or unique about Rubio's piece, and given how the Hill usually works, the senator probably didn't even write it himself.

Which brings us back to Chait's larger question: "Is there some analytical twist I'm missing in Rubio's argument, or is the standard for Republican policy wonkery just that low?"

It's the latter. We seem to have reached the point at which Republican officials who can speak in complete sentences, and seem as if they might have read a book at some point, are held up as specialized experts, worthy of admiration.

But that's absurd. A year ago, National Review praised Rubio as "a true policy wonk" for no apparent reason. A few months later, Politico told readers that Eric Cantor, the dim-witted House GOP leader, is "a serious wonk," an assertion bolstered by nothing. We're routinely told that Paul Ryan is a budget "wonk," despite the fact that his numbers don't come close to adding up.

To be sure, there are conservative wonks, whose work deserves to be taken seriously. But when talking about Congress, if every GOP lawmaker who can read and write is awarded the wonk label, the threshold has been set too low.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THE LOBBYIST IN CHIEF.... In 2010, the GOP base made it clear it prefers a certain kind of candidate. Conservatives like "insurgents" and "outsiders," who have no use for the entrenched Washington establishment and its corrupt power structure.

It's against this backdrop that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) thinks he can win the Republican presidential nomination, despite being the exact opposite of what the base says it's looking for.

He became wealthy as a lobbyist, representing tobacco companies and foreign governments. A former Republican Party chairman, he would seem the ultimate Washington insider. A white Southerner, he has faced questions about his remarks on race.

As he steps closer to becoming a presidential candidate, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has some explaining to do. And rather than running away from his background, he is embracing it.

A lobbyist? Well, he knows how to promote an agenda. An insider? He knows how government works and how to get things done for the American people. A Southerner? So were Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

I tend to think his controversial past on race -- he's kept a confederate flag autographed by Jefferson Davis in his office -- will be his undoing, but even if we put that aside, it's awfully tough to imagine Republicans craving an aggressive outsider and then nominating a D.C. corporate lobbyist for president.

To be sure, it's not impossible. Last year, Indiana Republicans, dominated by Tea Partiers, said they were looking for someone ready to break with the past, question long-held assumptions, and bring a fresh perspective to the entrenched insiders in Congress. They then nominated and elected Dan Coats -- a retired senator and corporate lobbyist who didn't even want to live in Indiana anymore.

But Barbour's job is tougher. Coats faced weak primary opponents, and after the primary, he ran in a "red" state in a GOP year. Barbour will have to overcome stronger primary opponents, who'll be better positioned to go after the governor's past.

It's going to be a tough record to shake. When oil prices come up, voters will be reminded that Barbour was a well-paid lobbyist for energy companies. When immigration comes up, voters will hear about Barbour's lobbying work for the Mexican government.

Consider what happened last week when Barbour suggested he's been to the Pentagon and is confident there are cost savings to be found. Bill Kristol not only blasted the policy position, he said it "raises the question of how much time Barbour has spent at the Pentagon -- apart from time spent lobbying for defense contractors or foreign governments."

Barbour seems to think his record as a lobbyist is a point of pride. That's fine. But he also seems to think it'll help his presidential campaign, and that optimism appears to be misplaced.

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

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TAKING TAXES OFF THE TABLE?.... If policymakers are going to emphasize debt reduction above all else -- they shouldn't, but if they do -- it's obvious some tax increases are going to have to be part of the mix. The deficit and debt are simply too large to tackle by spending cuts alone -- to bring the budget closer to balance, the government is going to have to bring in some additional revenue.

This isn't complicated. It isn't even controversial. Any intellectually serious look at the nation's fiscal challenges makes this obvious, a fact even some Republicans are occasionally willing to acknowledge.

But therein lies the problem. Some in the GOP are still eyeing a "grand bargain" that would require Republicans to accept some additional tax revenue in exchange for entitlement cuts. For much of the right, such a compromise simply cannot happen -- any deal that that raises any tax on anyone by any amount is necessarily unacceptable.

According to Grover Norquist, conservatives have nothing to worry about.

...Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have pledged to Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist they will not support any deficit reduction package that increases taxes.

This promise will make it considerably tougher to get Democrats to agree to a broad deficit reduction package. [...]

Norquist says Senate and House Republican leaders have promised not to allow history to repeat itself. "I've talked to the Senate leadership and House leadership. They're not voting on tax increases and they know that," Norquist told The Hill Friday.

What about the Senate Republicans involved in the Gang of Six talks -- Tom Coburn (Okla.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) -- who've said taxes have to be on the table? Norquist added, "I've talked to the three guys in the room and they've promised not to vote any tax increases."

Now, it's worth noting that Norquist isn't exactly a credible figure in this debate, and it's possible he's making this up as part of a larger strategy. It's also possible that the players are fudging the definition of "tax increase" -- they could keep rates the same, but bring in additional revenue by tweaking eligibility, exemptions, and deductions.

But if Norquist is telling the truth, and the entirety of the Republican Party has ruled out any and all efforts to increase revenue, the "grand bargain" is dead, the most popular deficit reduction ideas have been wholly rejected by the GOP, and the prospects of a larger bipartisan deal on fiscal issues is now impossible.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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AT LEAST HE DIDN'T FAKE ANOTHER SOUTHERN ACCENT.... When a largely unknown presidential candidate kicks off a national campaign, it's probably good news when his announcement video gets lots of attention. Ideally, though, it's not the kind attention in which people are pointing and laughing.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) unveiled the latest in a series of overwrought, overdramatic videos yesterday afternoon, with hand-held shots and ham-fisted music befitting a Michael Bay action flick circa 1997. We see flags, fighter jets, churches, Marines, and Reagan.

I was almost disappointed when I realized, after two minutes, we did not see Nicolas Cage killing anyone with his bare hands. It's an oversight I'm sure Pawlenty's team will correct next time -- this was, after all, only the exploratory launch. The actual launch will come later, and the sequels tend to have bigger explosions.

As for the substance -- I use the word loosely -- Pawlenty claims in the clip to have visited "nearly every state in the country" over the last year, listening carefully to the concerns of the American people. (Whaddya know, they all agree with him.) Of course, his travels have apparently been more limited than Pawlenty would like to let on. The Atlantic's Chris Good noted that the video shows the former governor meeting lots of folks -- all of them white.

There are a handful of images of minorities, but "most of them were taken from Getty stock footage."

Michael Scherer, noting that the video is the work of Lucas Baiano, a talented young director, added, "The question is whether Pawlenty is overcompensating by using Baiano's emotive, hyper-Hollywood style."

If that's the question, the answer is yes. Pawlenty is all about overcompensating, from his fake Southern accent, to his cringe-worthy videos. He's succeeded in getting people talking, which means Pawlenty is getting noticed, but if he succeeds in becoming a punch-line, the governor may realize there is such a thing as bad publicity.

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

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CNN SETS FOX NEWS STRAIGHT.... I imagine real journalists at legitimate news outlets get pretty annoyed with Fox News. After all, actual journalists have to go to the trouble of abiding by professional standards, make an effort to tell news consumers the truth, and do real work. Fox News doesn't do any of these things, and yet, it has a large audience. It's bound to breed resentment.

But real journalists rarely say anything negative about the Republican network, perhaps out of a spirit of collegiality and professional deference. There are, however, exceptions.

Fox News reported that journalists from major outlets were brought to a Gadhafi compound in Libya on Sunday to document damage done from a coalition air strike. Fox News told viewers that, by going to the compound, the journalists allowed themselves to be used as "human shields" by Gadhafi -- coalition forces couldn't target that area again because Western reporters were there.

At least, that's what Fox News claimed. Yesterday afternoon, CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, reporting from Libya, went off on the Republican network, tearing the Fox News report to shreds.

"[T]his allegation is outrageous and it's absolutely hypocritical. When you come to somewhere like Libya, you expect lies and deceit from a dictatorship here," Robertson told Wolf Blitzer. "You don't expect it from the other journalists."

Fox News' Steve Harrigan claims he deliberately skipped the opportunity to film the targeted compound, but as Robertson explained, Fox News sent a correspondent on the same excursion the actual journalists attended. Harrigan, meanwhile, doesn't like to "leave the hotel."

As for why CNN and other organizations went to the compound, escorted by Libyan officials, Robertson explained, "[W]e go on these government trips ... for a very simple reason. Because we don't want government officials to film it themselves, edit it themselves and hand it off to us."

In other words, they're news professionals.

Here's hoping Steve Harrigan was able to watch the exchange from his comfortable hotel room.

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

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March 21, 2011

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

* Libya: "After a second night of American and European strikes by air and sea against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's forces, European nations on Monday rejected Libyan claims that civilians had been killed while struggling to present a united diplomatic front. On the ground in Libya, pro-Qaddafi forces were reported to be holding out against the allied campaign to break their grip. Pentagon officials said there were fewer American and coalition airstrikes in Libya Sunday night and Monday, and that the number was likely to decline further in coming days."

* Japan: "Efforts to stabilize the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima stalled on Monday when engineers found that crucial machinery at one reactor required repair, a process that will take two to three days, government officials said. A team of workers trying to repair another reactor, No. 3, was evacuated in the afternoon after gray smoke rose from it, said Tetsuro Fukuyama, the deputy chief cabinet secretary of the Japanese government. But no explosion was heard and the emission ended by 6 p.m., NHK, the national broadcaster, said."

* They're going to have quite a story to tell: "The Libyan government released four New York Times journalists on Monday, six days after they were captured while covering the conflict between government and rebel forces in the eastern city of Ajdabiya. They were released into the custody of Turkish diplomats and crossed safely into Tunisia in the late afternoon."

* In the nation's first-ever referendum, Egyptians approved constitutional changes that will bring national elections soon.

* House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefly hospitalized in Rome today, but has been released and is reportedly doing fine.

* A big court win for the ACLU: "Civil liberties advocates opposed to the government's expanded wiretapping powers can continue their fight after an appellate court on Monday reinstated a lawsuit challenging an eavesdropping law passed by Congress three years ago. The decision could put the Obama administration in the uncomfortable position of having to argue in support of broad executive authority to conduct surveillance operations -- a position that President Obama, as a presidential candidate, had once opposed."

* The cost of Operation Odyssey Dawn? The first day carried a price tag of well over $100 million in missiles alone.

* Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a legendary diplomat, died over the weekend. He was 85.

* This guy really isn't all there: "Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) called for a showdown with "Senate liberals" Monday, saying the GOP must not retreat from its plan to slash $61 billion even if it means funding the government just one day at a time."

* Bill Kristol believes the U.S. has never "invaded" a Muslim country, because he has a new spin on the definition of "invade."

* While Georgia has gutted its successful HOPE scholarship program, state Republicans have suddenly discovered "a great deal of state money available for private colleges in Georgia."

* At one moment, Glenn Beck was outraged that President Obama hasn't done more in Libya. Literally 20 seconds later, Beck was outraged that President Obama has done too much in Libya

* And finally, Jonathan Rowe, a former editor and contributing editor here at the Washington Monthly, died unexpectedly yesterday. Our best wishes go out to his family and friends.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... As developments unfold in Libya, there's no shortage of opinions, analyses, warnings, and predictions. That's a good thing -- military interventions should be subjected to intense scrutiny and debate.

But when it comes criticism of the administration, I think Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) deserves some kind of award for offering the single dumbest commentary available to date.

"The world is going to hell. And I don't know any other way to say it. When you look at what's happening in Libya, I don't care what anyone says; you can't win away from 30,000 feet. I've been on the battle field before. I don't know why we're shooting $567,000 a piece Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya. You know, back two or three weeks ago, we could have taken care of this situation if we had done the exact same thing that Ronald Reagan did back in the early 80's to Muammar Gaddafi, when he dropped the bomb in his back yard. Muammar Gaddafi didn't say a word for the next 30 years."

Wow.

First, when West boasts about having been "on the battle field," it's worth noting that during his service in Iraq, he was forced to retire from the Army for engaging in abusive interrogation techniques. His military tenure scandalous, not the kind of record that lends a politician credibility.

Second, West says he doesn't know why U.S. forces are firing into Libya. He doesn't? It's really not complicated -- we're part of a coalition enforcing a United Nations Security Council resolution. There's ample reason to think it's a bad idea, but the reason for the offensive isn't exactly a mystery.

And as for the misplaced Reagan worship, in 1986 -- not "the early 80s" -- U.S. forces launched airstrikes against multiple targets in Libya after the Gadhafi regime was linked to a terrorist attack in Germany. Reagan did not drop "the bomb," but rather, used conventional weapons.

But the notion that Gadhafi, following the 1986 strikes, "didn't say a word for the next 30 years" is ridiculous. Walid Zafar explained, Gadhafi soon after declared his intention to become emperor of Africa; his government orchestrated the Lockerbie bombing two years later; and Gadhafi's interest in a nuclear program only grew in the wake of the Reagan administration's efforts.

In other words, Allen West has no idea what he's talking about, and he's addressing what he considers his area of expertise. Indeed, House Republicans recently put him on the House Armed Services Committee because of his knowledgeable background on military matters.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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CRITICISM THAT SOUNDS LIKE PRAISE.... The New York Times' Ross Douthat takes a closer look at the process the Obama administration followed in deciding to intervene in Libya, and offers what, at first glance, appears to be fairly reasonable praise.

Just a week ago, as the tide began to turn against the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, President Obama seemed determined to keep the United States out of Libya's civil strife. But it turns out the president was willing to commit America to intervention all along. He just wanted to make sure we were doing it in the most multilateral, least cowboyish fashion imaginable.

That much his administration has achieved. In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton's State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates's Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.

This is an intervention straight from Bill Clinton's 1990s playbook, in other words, and a stark departure from the Bush administration's more unilateralist methods. There are no "coalitions of the willing" here, no dismissive references to "Old Europe," no "you are with us or you are with the terrorists." Instead, the Obama White House has shown exquisite deference to the very international institutions and foreign governments that the Bush administration either steamrolled or ignored.

That sounds more or less right. As skeptical as I am about "Operation Odyssey Dawn," I take some solace in the way in which the decision was reached. The fact that there's been no White House grandstanding, no bullying, and no visions of an imposition of democracy is encouraging.

But Douthat apparently doesn't see it this way. His description of "the most multilateral, least cowboyish" national security/foreign policy strategy is intended as criticism. Indeed, Douthat believes the liberal interventionism of the 1990s -- in Bosnia, in Kosovo -- should serve as evidence of the general approach's shortcomings.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, Douthat's recollection of the efficacy of U.S. policy in Bosnia and Kosovo may need a refresher.

Second, it's a little jarring to see an op-ed touting the merits of a "cowboyish" unilaterialsm, that disregards international institutions and coalitions, without so much as a hint of an explanation as to why this policy failed so spectacularly in the Bush/Cheney era.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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CLEAR MAJORITY SUPPORTS ADMINISTRATION LINE ON LIBYA.... International military efforts in Libya are still quite new -- intervention began in earnest just Saturday -- but so far, the policy appears to enjoy the support of most Americans.

Seven in ten Americans support military action by the U.S. and other countries to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, a 14-point increase since last week, according to a new national poll.

But a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey also indicates there is less among the public for air strikes that directly target Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's troops who are fighting opposition forces, and only one in four want to send ground forces into the conflict.

A 70% majority support the establishment of a no-fly zone, up from 56% a week ago. A much smaller majority wants air strikes target Libyan troops,

Just as important, 70% also oppose the deployment of U.S. ground forces, a step President Obama has repeatedly ruled out.

Also of interest, the partisan divide -- about half the country supports the president's handling the situation in Libya, which seems low given the 70% who express support for the larger mission. So what's keeping Obama's numbers low? Republicans are the most likely to support the White House policy, but only 27% approve of the president for having a policy in line with their own preferences.

For the record, had the pollster called me as a participant, I'm not sure how I'd respond to the questions, and I find myself skeptical but generally unsure of the mission's value. Indeed, I found myself nodding quite bit while reading Matt Yglesias' item this afternoon: "I ... feel like this is just one of those weeks when it's really bad to be a general purpose political pundit who's supposed to write a high-volume blog. I can hardly just ignore Libya, but I don't have strong convictions one way or the other about it or a strong knowledge base. Had this not gotten UNSCR authorization, I'd be clearly opposed and I'd have lengthy and well-considered reasons for that opposition, but that's not the case."

I've already noted in previous posts the unanswered questions surrounding this policy, and those doubts remain. James Fallows offers a helpful summary of the relevant question marks: "But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don't? What happens when a bomb lands in the 'wrong' place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging 'flaws' and 'abuses' in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be 'days, not weeks' cannot 'decently' be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources -- or their domestic support -- and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?"

But despite all of this, I'm hardly an expert on U.S. policy towards Libya, or even Libya itself. What would I have done had the decision fallen to me? It's unsatisfying in blogging/punditry, but I don't know.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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TOO 'BROKE' FOR IMMUNIZATION PROGRAMS?.... Part of the problem with the budget plan approved by House Republicans is that it has too many problems. For critics, it's hard to even know where to start with all the spectacular flaws, and Democrats have struggled -- if they've even tried -- to narrow the focus to a handful of glaring, scandalous GOP decisions.

Should the focus be on cuts to Head Start? How about undercutting job training? And infrastructure? And homeland security? For those opposed to the GOP plan, the number of rhetorical targets makes criticism haphazard.

And that's a shame because each of the remarkable cuts Republicans voted for deserves considerable attention. Suzy Khimm highlights a doozy today, that's gone largely unnoticed. We knew the House GOP targeted the Centers for Disease Control, but it's worth emphasizing what that means for the agency's immunization funding.

In the past year, California has experienced the worst whopping cough outbreak in more than 50 years, an epidemic that has killed 10 infants and resulted in 6,400 reported cases. But even as the state's public health officials have struggled to curb the disease, Republicans in Congress have proposed slashing millions in federal funding for immunization programs. Public health advocates warn that these cuts threaten efforts across the country to prevent and contain infectious and sometimes fatal diseases. And they add that lower vaccination rates could eventually result in more outbreaks that endanger public health at a major cost to taxpayers.

The House GOP's 2011 budget would chop $156 million from the Centers for Disease Control's funding for immunization and respiratory diseases. The GOP reductions are likely to hit the CDC's support for state and local immunization programs, the agency's ability to evaluate which vaccines are working, and its work to educate the public about recommended vaccines for children, teenagers, and other susceptible populations. The CDC especially focuses on serving lower-income families who receive vaccines at state and local health offices and community health clinics, rather than a private doctor's office.

I sometimes get the sense the entire congressional Republican caucus is trying to do an imitation of C. Montgomery Burns.

Also note, we discussed the other day how some GOP spending cuts actually end up costing us more money, and this would very likely fall into the same category.

Health advocates tout vaccines as one of the most cost-effective preventive health strategies, warning that pinching pennies to achieve short-term cost savings could end up costing taxpayers plenty more down the road. [...]

Advocates warn that cutting back on vaccine education and availability could help increase the likelihood of future outbreaks of such diseases -- and reduce the government's ability to respond effectively to contain such outbreaks when they occur. "It's false savings," concludes APHA's Benjamin. While other public health experts argue the impact of such cutbacks might not be immediately apparent, there could be risks down the road if funding for vaccines is undermined. "In the short term, you're not going to see a difference, but [the question is] whether in three to five years, we're going to maintain our high immunization levels," says Dr. William Schaffner, chair of Vanderbilt University's preventive medicine department and an advisor to the CDC.

To date, Democrats have resisted Republican demands for these cuts. For all our sakes, here's hoping it's one of the many parts of the budget fight Dems win.

Postscript: I would assume that GOP leaders would defend these cuts with the same line they always use: "We're broke." But we're not, and if Republicans believe we can afford tax cuts and wars, but not immunizations for low-income children, that's pretty twisted.

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

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PONDERING THE 'HOW DUMB ARE WE?' QUESTION.... Newsweek is the latest major outlet to poll Americans on some basics of American history and civics. As the headline suggests -- "How dumb are we?" -- the public didn't do especially well when tested. (thanks to R.K. for the tip)

They're the sort of scores that drive high-school history teachers to drink. When NEWSWEEK recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America's official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn't name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn't correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn't even circle Independence Day on a calendar.

Going through the results, some of Newsweek's findings were more discouraging than others. An overwhelming majority, for example, can't name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers, but that's hardly surprising. Similar numbers don't know how many U.S. House members there are, who was president during World War I, or the precise number of amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

All things considered, though, these results don't strike me as especially outrageous, and even the questions don't seem especially relevant. I'm generally far more concerned about what Americans know about current events than historical events, though regrettably, we didn't do too well on these questions, either.

But the point here is not to just laugh at an uninformed electorate. Rather, the point is that this ignorance matters. Newsweek's report added that the world is "becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings -- like us."

For more than two centuries, Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about the world around them. But times have changed -- and they've changed in ways that make civic ignorance a big problem going forward. While isolationism is fine in an isolated society, we can no longer afford to mind our own business. What happens in China and India (or at a Japanese nuclear plant) affects the autoworker in Detroit; what happens in the statehouse and the White House affects the competition in China and India. Before the Internet, brawn was enough; now the information economy demands brains instead. And where we once relied on political institutions (like organized labor) to school the middle classes and give them leverage, we now have nothing. "The issue isn't that people in the past knew a lot more and know less now," says [Jacob] Hacker. "It's that their ignorance was counterbalanced by denser political organizations."

And with that ignorance comes consequences, as uninformed and easily-fooled voters have a severely limited working understanding of current events, but at the same time, have enormous power over the nation's future.

The standard response is that people are busy, and I get that. But as Isaac Chotiner persuasively argued a while back, "[W]hen you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world. How much newspaper reading would it have taken to realize that between 1992 and 1996 the deficit decreased? Or to realize that Saddam did not have a hand in 9/11? Now ask yourself how much time the average American spends watching mediocre television. Voters can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own."

The problem goes beyond voters rewarding the wrong candidates or parties; ignorance undermines the entire process. When voters are ignorant, candidates are more likely to lie, confident in their ability to get away with it. When the electorate is disengaged, policymakers feel less pressure to exercise good judgment, knowing they can just pull the wool over the public's eyes later.

I'm obviously engaged in politics, and if you're reading this, you are too. Not everyone shares our interests, and that's fine. But many Americans make time for the things they find important. They spent time watching sports, or keeping up on celebrities, or whatever. And while it would be the height of arrogance to suggest the public change its leisure habits, our political system -- and the country overall -- relies on a certain level of sophistication among the public, and there's ample evidence that we're just not at that level.

In human history, it's never been easier to get -- and stay -- well informed. Folks just have to take some responsibility.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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WITH FOOD PRICES RISING, CONGRESS OFFERS THE WRONG ANSWER.... The price of food has gone up considerably, and a growing number of Americans -- nearly one in five -- have said they're struggling to feed their families.

Following up on an item from last week, Tim Fernholz reports that several House members, nearly all Republicans, are responding with the wrong answer.

The House Agriculture Committee endorsed a letter this week to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan arguing that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans purchase food, would make a better target for cuts than automatic subsidies to farms.

The move comes as food prices are rising -- the Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year -- making it harder for the beneficiaries of SNAP to stretch their existing benefits, even as farmers profit from the tightening market. Critics across the political spectrum have called agricultural subsidies wasteful and unnecessary, and they question the logic of maintaining them as lawmakers hunt for budget cuts.

Those critics from across the political spectrum are right.

The problem here is that the Agriculture Committee is dominated not only by a Republican majority, but farm-state lawmakers where constituents rely heavily on agriculture subsidies from the government. We're talking about folks who are desperate to cut spending, but are equally desperate to protect wasteful and unnecessary agricultural subsidies.

As a result, since slashing something is apparently mandatory, they're cutting SNAP, the program that helps struggling families eat, and which has become an even more important refuge for low-income Americans during a struggling economy with rising food prices.

What's more, as Pat Garofalo explained, making agriculture subsidies off limits is absurd: "At the moment, 61 percent of the subsidies that the U.S. provides for agriculture go to just ten percent of recipients. Though some restrictions on rich farmers receiving subsidies were placed into the 2008 farm bill, they were mostly ineffective. And entrenched lawmakers on the agriculture committee help to keep it that way."

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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

* The special election in New York's 26th congressional district is finally set, with Democrats nominating Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul (D) over the weekend. She'll face Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R) in the traditionally "red" district.

* A new poll from the Billings Gazette offers a reminder that Montana's U.S. Senate race is likely to be the closest in the country in 2012. The survey found incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D) leading Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) by just one point, 46% to 45%.

* Likely GOP presidential candidates are now still scrambling to hire top-tier staffers before their rivals do. Haley Barbour scored something of a coup over the weekend, picking up Sally Bradshaw, a veteran Republican strategist, who had worked for Mitt Romney.

* The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee narrowly outraised its Republican counterpart in February, $3.4 million to $3.3 million. The DSCC's total is the best off-year February either party's Senate committee has ever had.

* The Republican National Committee's debt problems continue in the wake of former Chairman Michael Steele's mismanagement. The RNC ended February more than $21 million in debt, following previously unreported expenses.

* In West Virginia's gubernatorial race, one of a handful of statewide contests in 2011, House Speaker Rick Thompson (D) is picking up major support from in-state unions, including the AFL-CIO and the West Virginia Education Association.

* States are facing such severe budget crunches that at least six are considering plans to scrap their 2012 presidential primaries.

* As foolish as this sounds, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) is once again making noises about another presidential campaign, but no one in New Hampshire seems to care.

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

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THE LIMITS OF 'LEADERSHIP'.... For Republicans who've been clamoring for a military confrontation with Libya, the new challenge is coming up with a rationale for why they're still not happy.

With that in mind, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went on quite a little tirade on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, complaining that President is acting as if "leading the free world is an inconvenience."

For the White House, one of the key points of emphasis is that the United States is only the "leading edge" of the coalition's effort, and the U.S. will gladly scale back its role quickly. For Graham, that's not good news at all -- the U.S., the senator argued, must take "a leadership role," not a "back seat." Indeed, as far as Graham is concerned, Obama's limited mission is itself a problem, since the senator wants to the U.S. to "replace a tyrannical leader."

Adam Serwer's take on this struck me as just right.

Most of the arguments for why the U.S. should be seen as "taking the lead" seem to hinge on little more than the fact that so doing would be emotionally satisfying to those who have been agitating for intervention in Libya since hostilities began. Ross Douthat, for instance, argues that the U.S. multilateral approach facilitates a "caution that shades into tactical incompetence." Since the U.S. is still extricating itself President George W. Bush's unilateral invasion of Iraq which didn't exactly amount to "tactical competence," this is less than persuasive.

There are several reasons why the U.S. shouldn't be seen as taking the lead. For one thing, the U.S. is already occupied with the aftermath of one war in Iraq and attempting to bring a more than decade-long operation in Afghanistan to its conclusion. The U.S. does not have unlimited military resources, and other countries that demanded intervention should take responsibility and offer contributions rather than free-riding off of the United States. The statements from the Arab League -- which asked for intervention but then wavered when operations started -- suggest that there really is a short shelf-life for the legitimacy for this operation in the Arab world, even though intervention initially had global support. If the operation goes badly, or takes far longer than advertised, it's frankly in the U.S. interest not to be seen as having led the attack on a third Muslim country.

For Graham and those who share his ideology, having the U.S. military "take the lead" is necessarily good, regardless of the costs or burdens, because "taking the lead" is good. Leaving heavy lifting to allies, who aren't overstretched with two other wars, is bad, because, well, it just is.

That's not a foreign policy, it's a chest-thumping bumper sticker.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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AND THEN THERE WAS ONE.... We're about 10 months from Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses, and about two months from the first scheduled GOP debate for the 2012 presidential field. Now all we need is some candidates.

Yes, I realize former pizza company executive Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer have already begun campaigning, but the field of credible, likely-to-be-competitive Republican hopefuls is surprisingly sparse. Which is to say, there is no field. Given all the GOP clamoring, it was hard to predict last year that we'd have exactly zero top-tier Republican candidates as late as March 21.

By all indications, that will change today.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will file paperwork today to organize his bid for the White House, he told supporters on a conference call today.

The bid, to be announced on Facebook later today, will be headquartered in the Twin Cities.

An aide, Phil Musser, asked donors to wait until April 1 to contribute to Pawlenty's campaign, in order to avoid the impression that he'd tried and failed to raise much money in his first quarter.

The formal announcement will reportedly come on Facebook later this afternoon. Pawlenty won't formally launch a campaign, but will instead create an exploratory committee -- the move that comes before the actual campaign.

I suspect much of the punditry surrounding the news will focus on the fact that Pawlenty is a dull and uninspiring character, who'll enter the race with very little support in the polls. That analysis will be true. Others will likely note that Pawlenty has a very thin record for a two-term governor; he isn't well liked in his own state; he was a moderate who's now dressing up in right-wing clothing; he has no meaningful areas of expertise in any subject; and he's even begun pretending to have a Southern accent as part of a bizarre effort to appear folksy.

All of this will be true, too.

And yet, as hard as it may seem to take Tim Pawlenty seriously as a presidential candidate, the notion of him actually winning the GOP nomination is not, on its face, ridiculous. The rest of the likely field is so deeply flawed, it's plausible to think Pawlenty may simply find himself as the last one standing.

There are several Republicans contingents and constituencies, and Pawlenty may very well prove to be just inoffensive enough to satisfy all of them.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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THE CONGRESSMAN FROM KOCH INDUSTRIES.... When we last checked in with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) of Kansas, he was trying to kill a consumer-product-safety database, allowing Americans to go online and access free information about the safety records of household products. The measure was easily approved with bipartisan support, but the freshman Republican perceived it as anti-business.

After all, if consumers are made aware of potentially dangerous products, Americans might not buy them. How can the manufacturers of those products make a profit under conditions like that?

As it turned out, the Koch brothers were the ones who wanted the online consumer-product-safety database scuttled, and Pompeo was happy to do their bidding -- he represents the district where Koch Industries is located, and the Koch brothers and their political action committee were his most generous campaign contributors.

The Washington Post had an interesting piece over the weekend, noting that Pompeo is now also trying to gut an EPA registry of greenhouse-gas polluters -- another Koch Bros' goal -- and has hired a former Koch Industries lawyer as his chief of staff.

"It's the same old story -- a member of Congress carrying water for his biggest campaign contributor," said Mary Boyle of Common Cause, a liberal-leaning group that has spearheaded protests against the Kochs. "I don't know how you make the argument to your constituents that it's in their interests to defund the EPA or a consumer database."

Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor, added, "I'm sure he would vigorously dispute this, but it's hard not to characterize him as the congressman from Koch."

That pretty much sums it up. We're talking about a dynamic in which a congressman appears to be an employee of the Koch brothers.

This just isn't healthy.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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MANCHIN'S CONFUSION.... I can appreciate the fact that Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia represents a conservative state. He won a special election late last year, but he'll be on the ballot again in 2012, and support for the Democratic president in this state will likely be pretty low.

But that's really not much of an excuse for silly grandstanding like this.

Saying that "we must get our fiscal house in order," Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he'll vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling unless it's married to a plan that addresses the nation's broader fiscal problems. [...]

"In the coming weeks, we will face many difficult budget decisions. I know it will not be easy. I know that it will take compromise. I know it will be partisan and difficult. I know that everyone will have to give up something and no one will want to relinquish anything. But we cannot ignore the fiscal Titanic of our national debt and deficit," Manchin will say.

According to the released text of the speech he'll deliver later today, Manchin will vow to "vote against raising the debt ceiling unless the vote is linked to a real budget plan that begins to fix our fiscal mess."

It's seems likely Manchin has no idea what he's talking about. There's no exact date just yet, but by some estimates, the federal government will reach its debt limit in less than a month. During that time, policymakers hope to strike some kind of compromise on a budget that will fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. Almost immediately once that gets done -- if it gets done -- those same policymakers will have to agree to extend the debt limit, or face potentially catastrophic economic consequences.

Manchin believes he should deliberately create a global economic catastrophe, unless, over the course of a few weeks, some remarkable plan somehow comes together.

In other words, the center-right Democrat wants to hold the full faith and credit of the United States government hostage until his vague concerns about a "fiscal mess" are addressed to his satisfaction.

Keep in mind, Manchin isn't making any specific recommendations about what he'd like to see in this budget plan, only that he'd like others to do the work that makes him happy. If not, he apparently has his infamous rifle pointed not only at cap-and-trade, but also at our entire economy.

Update: Of course, it's also worth noting that massive spending cuts, along the lines that would apparently make Manchin happy, wouldn't do any favors for his constituents. West Virginia is a fairly low-income state, and would be harder hit than most by the kind of reductions Manchin seems to want.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE 'GANG OF 64' NEEDS SOME HELP.... Late Friday, shortly before the Senate recessed and its members left town, a group of 64 senators sent a letter to President Obama, seeking some help on fiscal issues.

The group was organized by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and was deliberately perfect in its bipartisan qualities -- it was co-signed by 32 Democrats and 32 Republicans, all of whom want the White House to back a "comprehensive" package to tackle the "critical" issue of deficit reduction. (One can apparently only dream of such an interest in job creation.)

Keep in mind, the Gang of 64 didn't make any kind of policy recommendations. The letter seemed provocative by virtue of its endorsees, but the request of the president was itself bland and generic. The bipartisan senators want "a broad approach," which helps reach "consensus," and believes a White House endorsement of such an effort would send a "strong signal."

This reflects a group of powerful lawmakers who agree with some vague goal, but nothing more.

Ezra Klein had a good item on the "theory of legislative action" that underscores the letter, which necessarily makes it "odd."

In this letter, 64 senators manage to sound like an interest group begging the White House for support rather than a supermajority of the United States Senate -- which is to say, a coalition of men and women who could, on their own, draft and pass the very legislation they're talking about. Which raises the question: Why are they writing this letter rather than the legislation this letter claims to want?

If vague statements about "a broad approach to solving the problem" could solve the problem, the problem would be solved.... There are a lot of letters and statements about deficit reduction flying around, but precious little legislation. If the 64 senators who signed this letter wanted to write and vote for a bill, that'd be a pretty "strong signal."

We see this fairly often, and it's puzzling every time. I can appreciate the unique role the President of the United States plays as a sole chief executive, but Congress is its own branch of government. Senators, especially a massive, bipartisan group of 64, have the power to sit down, negotiate, and craft a policy that would achieve the goal these members ostensibly want to reach. If a consensus could be reached, it'd be filibuster-proof.

But instead of choosing to work on their desired outcome, they chose to write a letter, asking President Obama to endorse work on their desired outcome.

Presumably, the next step will be calls for additional "leadership," from those who aren't interested in demonstrating any leadership.

The president has already said he'd welcome progress on this issue, and is "prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to start dealing with" with fiscal issues "in a serious way." So, what is it, exactly, these 64 are waiting for? The White House to do their homework for them? Obama to flash a thumbs-up at them, saying, "Sounds good; get to work"?

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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ARE WE STILL SUPPOSED TO CARE WHAT GREENSPAN THINKS?.... The last we heard from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, he was acknowledging how spectacularly wrong he was about regulation of the financial industry, a mistake that nearly collapsed the global economy.

Apparently still working under the assumption that we should care what he thinks, Greenspan has weighed in on economic policy once more, with a fairly long document (pdf) condemning the Obama administration. "The current government activism is hampering what should be a broad- based robust economic recovery, driven in significant part by the positive wealth effect of a buoyant U.S. and global stock market," Greenspan writes.

After noting in passing Greenspan's "weak reasoning" and "shoddy econometrics," Paul Krugman offers a timely reminder why the former Fed chairman just isn't to be taken seriously.

Greenspan writes in characteristic form: other people may have their models, but he's the wise oracle who knows the deep mysteries of human behavior, who can discern patterns based on his ineffable knowledge of economic psychology and history.

Sorry, but he doesn't get to do that anymore. 2011 is not 2006. Greenspan is an ex-Maestro; his reputation is pushing up the daisies, it's gone to meet its maker, it's joined the choir invisible.

He's no longer the Man Who Knows; he's the man who presided over an economy careening to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression -- and who saw no evil, heard no evil, refused to do anything about subprime, insisted that derivatives made the financial system more stable, denied not only that there was a national housing bubble but that such a bubble was even possible.

(If that middle paragraph didn't connect with you, it's time to familiarize yourself with the Dead Parrot sketch.)

For a more detailed takedown of Greenspan's piece, Brad DeLong very patiently noted Greenspan's errors of fact and logic, but in the larger context, it's really the chutzpah that gets to me.

Greenspan played a rather direct role in creating the calamity that the Obama administration was tasked with fixing, and to a real extent, the president and his team have succeeded, at least to the extent the economy is back on its feet, showing signs of slow growth where there was none.

Greenspan should hope that the world simply ignores him, and chooses to forgive his role in a spectacular and historic failure. For him to pipe up now, whining about "activism" causing "uncertainty" and holding back the economy is truly ridiculous, and borders on delusional.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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FROM THE WEEKEND.... We covered a fair amount of ground over the weekend. Here's a quick overview of what you may have missed.

On Sunday, we talked about:

* Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) reminds the political world that military operations actually do cost money. He's right.

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants Americans to support President Obama as military efforts in Libya get underway, but first McCain wants to whine about Obama just a little more.

* Congressional Republicans, at the behest of bank lobbyists, consider Elizabeth Warren part of the problem. That's backwards.

* Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) slammed U.S. leaders from foreign soil. That used to be a real no-no.

* Fox News is pretty worked up about the president visiting Latin America to promote trade and open markets. Despite the Republican rhetoric, this isn't a vacation.

* "Operation Odyssey Dawn" gets underway.

And on Saturday, we talked about:

* To look at Republican politics and assume there's a "transformation" underway, from a "fanatically anti-Obama" party to a "fanatically anti-spending" one, is to miss all of the relevant details.

* What do the governors of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan have in common? They're all rookie Republicans, with far-right agendas, who are struggling badly to impress voters.

* In "This Week in God," we covered the renewed GOP efforts to attack evolutionary biology at the state level.

* Defunding NPR won't save jobs. It won't even save money.

* Turning IRS agents into abortion cops through the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" is a horrifically bad idea.

* Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is supposed to be the guy who offers intellectual firepower for Republicans on the national level. Given his latest remarks on Libya, that's pretty laughable.

Steve Benen 7:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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March 20, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and arguably the only GOP senator with any credibility left on international affairs, appears to be deeply skeptical of the U.S. efforts in Libya. That probably won't do him any favors in the Republican cloakroom.

But there was one line in particular he offered on "Face the Nation" this morning that stood out for me.

Lugar warned that the U.S. is investing huge sums of money in a foreign endeavor at a time when the domestic economy is still struggling."It's a strange time," he said. "Almost all of our congressional days are spent on budget deficits, outrageous problems. Yet, at the same time, all of this passes, which is a very expensive operation."

Wait, you mean military operations aren't free?

We've grown accustomed to simply leaving costs out of the equation when evaluating the merit of national security decisions. For much of the political establishment, it seems somehow gauche -- we're dealing with a combat situation, which necessarily means money is no object.

But to borrow a cliche, missiles don't grow on trees. We've spent the last two months hearing Republican officials tells us, ad nauseam, that "we're broke." In fact, we're so broke, we have no choice, they tell us, but to decimate funding for education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and homeland security, among other things, even if it makes the jobs crisis much worse. "So be it," Speaker Boehner tells us.

Apparently, however, we're not that broke. At least not broke enough to think twice about whether to engage another foreign enemy.

Truth be told, I'm not especially concerned about the costs of this operation, either. Whether "Operation Odyssey Dawn" is a good idea is a question worth considering in great detail, but when evaluating the merits, costs aren't exactly the first question I'm inclined to ask.

Then again, I'm not a deficit hawk who's been telling the nation that spending more money -- on anything -- will likely cause the end of civilization as we know it. Those who have been making just such a case may want to take a moment to explain why we can't afford to fund Head Start centers, but the price of Tomahawk cruise missiles aren't much of a concern.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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HOW QUICKLY HE FORGETS.... I really have retired my ongoing count of John McCain's Sunday show appearances. I'm sure folks have gotten the point -- Sunday show bookers continue to be obsessed with McCain, and they shouldn't be.

With that in mind, I won't mention that the senator has made five Sunday show appearances over the last six weeks, on top of the near-constant appearances over the last two years. And I also won't mention how ridiculous this is. Wouldn't dream of it.

I will, however, mention that it was interesting to hear McCain, who's demanded a military confrontation with Libya's Moammar Qadhafi, complain this morning that President Obama didn't give the senator what he wanted quickly enough.

Earlier action, the senator said on CNN's "State of the Union," would have been more effective in weakening the grip of the controversial leader, who's deployed his forces against rebelling civilians.

"He waited too long, there is no doubt in my mind about it," McCain said of the president. "But now, it is what it is. And we need, now, to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that it didn't -- we didn't act much more quickly, and we could have."

This may be one of the more amusing McCain quotes in a while. To paraphrase, "We should all support the president at this important time, but first I'd like to whine just a little more about the timing on his efforts."

The often-confused senator went on to tell CNN "a no-fly zone is not enough," and that McCain wants an even more expansive U.S. military assault against Libya. Try not to be surprised.

As a substantive matter, McCain, whose track record of consistent and striking failures leaves him with no meaningful credibility, is complaining about the only part of this military effort that's actually reassuring -- the methodical steps the administration took to participate in a legitimate international coalition. The senator may not care about such niceties, but "waiting" made it possible for the Arab League and the United Nations to endorse the very actions McCain wanted to see.

But it's also worth noting the larger political context. It's easy to forget, but during the Bush era, Republicans, including McCain, repeated certain talking points over and over again: there's one Commander in Chief and one Secretary of Defense, not 535. When the president orders U.S. troops to engage a foreign foe, it's not the job of politicians on Capitol Hill to run to the cameras to second guess every White House decision. Indeed, questioning the national security judgment of the president during a war necessarily emboldens our enemies and needlessly divides the country during a delicate time.

At least, that's what we were told during the previous administration, when the very notion of dissent during military engagement was enough to have one's patriotism called into question.

In this case, U.S. forces started using force not quite 24 hours ago, and McCain is already telling a national (and international) television audience that he's unhappy with the particulars.

For the record, I have no problem whatsoever with McCain and others raising questions about the administration's policy, which obviously deserves intense scrutiny and debate. We're no longer hearing the talking points from the Bush era, and that's a healthy development, not only for the quality of the discourse, but for the idea of dissent itself.

Given the source this morning, however, it's worth noting that if we were playing by 2003 rules, and the senator were a Democrat, we'd spend the next several months asking "which side" McCain is on.

And as long as we're on the subject, I'm reminded of a Frank Rich column from a while back, noting McCain's record of being consistently wrong about what's alleged to be his signature issue.

To appreciate this crowd's spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It's not just that he echoed the Bush administration's constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda's attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war "easily." Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would "probably get along" in post-Saddam Iraq because there was "not a history of clashes" between them.

What's more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could "in the long term" somehow "muddle through" in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to "muddle through" there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the "remarkable success" of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony "truce" ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb's up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn't even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this. Asked by Katie Couric last week about our failures in Afghanistan, McCain spoke as if he were an innocent bystander: "I think the reason why we didn't do a better job on Afghanistan is our attention -- either rightly or wrongly -- was on Iraq." As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger, "What do you mean 'we,' white man?"

Along with his tribunes in Congress and the punditocracy, Wrong-Way McCain still presumes to give America its marching orders. With his Senate brethren in the Three Amigos, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, he took to The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page to assert that "we have no choice" but to go all-in on Afghanistan -- rightly or wrongly, presumably -- just as we had in Iraq. Why? "The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse," they wrote. "The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again."

This shameless argument assumes -- perhaps correctly -- that no one in this country remembers anything.

That was in September 2009, and yet here we are, with Wrong-Way McCain still confident enough in his comically flawed judgment to keep giving America its marching orders.

The fact that anyone takes him seriously at all reflects widespread amnesia.

Steve Benen 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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WARREN ISN'T PART OF THE PROBLEM; SHE'S PART OF THE SOLUTION.... Imagine a political world in which Elizabeth Warren and her efforts to champion the needs of American consumers were celebrated, the financial institutions she tries to hold accountable were held suspect, and Republican efforts to tear her down were deemed scandalous.

Regrettably, this just isn't the case. Instead, as the New York Times' Joe Nocera reports, the GOP appears almost desperate to tear Warren down before she's able to help more of the public.

The pinata sat alone at the witness table, facing the members of the House subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer credit.

The Wednesday morning hearing was titled "Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau." The only witness was the pinata, otherwise known as Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor hired last year by President Obama to get the new bureau -- the only new agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law -- up and running. She may or may not be nominated by the president to serve as its first director when it goes live in July, but in the here and now she's clearly running the joint.

And thus the real purpose of the hearing: to allow the Republicans who now run the House to box Ms. Warren about the ears. The big banks loathe Ms. Warren, who has made a career out of pointing out all the ways they gouge financial consumers -- and whose primary goal is to make such gouging more difficult. So, naturally, the Republicans loathe her too. That she might someday run this bureau terrifies the banks. So, naturally, it terrifies the Republicans.

The banks and their Congressional allies have another, more recent gripe. Rather than waiting until July to start helping financial consumers, Ms. Warren has been trying to help them now. Can you believe the nerve of that woman?

I can scarcely imagine an environment in which the congressional GOP was less furious with Warren for looking out for us, and just a little furious with financial institutions whose fraud and mismanagement nearly destroyed the global economy.

Indeed, as Nocera explained very well, Republicans look back at the financial crisis of 2008 and "act as if nothing needs to be done to prevent another crisis. Indeed, they act as if the crisis never happened."

For her part, Warren tried to explain to the committee, in defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "We need a cop on the beat that American families can count on. It is critical that we get this right -- a real cop on the beat."

This didn't go over well with the far-right GOP, which simply doesn't see the need for a cop or even a beat. Instead, Republicans see themselves as well-paid criminal defense attorneys, with Wall Street as their only client.

The party should be awfully pleased that the vast majority of the public has no interest in committee hearings or the financial reform process. Because if voters, who tend to hold Wall Street in low regard in the wake of the crash, realized who Republicans were shamelessly carrying water for, and who they were attacking for looking out for consumers, the GOP would struggle to win another election for the foreseeable future.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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SO MUCH FOR WATER'S EDGE.... There's no formal rule or law, but there's been a long-accepted political norm: when prominent Americans travel to foreign soil, they should show restraint about criticizing America's elected leaders. This standard about "politics stopping at the water's edge" was especially pronounced during the Bush/Cheney era -- it was considered outrageous if someone undermined confidence in the administration while abroad.

Those norms obviously don't exist anymore.

Moments after saying she wouldn't criticize Barack Obama abroad, Sarah Palin in India on Saturday said that if she were president there would have been "less dithering, more decisiveness" on Libya.

Pressed in a much tougher question-and-answer session than Palin has recently allowed herself to be subjected to during appearances in the U.S, the former Alaska governor told conference attendees at the India Today Conclave in New Delhi that Obama had not shown enough conviction in executing a strategy in Libya.

It was an odd display, even for the former half-term governor. She kept saying she "won't criticize," right before launching into more criticism.

I'm reminded of an item Glenn Greenwald published a while back.

Here's what happened in 2006 when Al Gore gave a speech at a conference in Saudi Arabia in which he criticized Bush policies towards the Muslim world -- as summarized by The New York Times' Chris Sullentrop:

"As House Democrats David Bonior and Jim McDermott may recall from their trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq war, nothing sets conservative opinionmongers on edge like a speech made by a Democrat on foreign soil. Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, and in a speech there on Sunday he criticized 'abuses' committed by the U.S. government against Arabs after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A burst of flabbergasted conservative blogging followed the Associated Press dispatch about the speech... The editorial page of Investor's Business Daily accused Gore of 'supreme disloyalty to his country'. . . ."

The Wall St. Journal's James Taranto accused Gore of "denouncing his own government on foreign soil" and quoted the above accusation of "disloyalty." Commentary was abundant all but accusing Gore of treason for criticizing the U.S. in a foreign land.

I imagine the reaction to Palin's remarks won't be quite as intense. Call it a hunch.

As for the rest of her appearance, Palin reportedly "struggled to provide pointed answers" to detailed questions related to foreign affairs, and when asked why the 2008 GOP presidential ticket, of which she was obviously a part, came up short on Election Day, she replied, "I wasn't at the top of the ticket, remember?"

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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IT'S NOT A VACATION.... The good news is, the right has stopped obsessing over President Obama picking his favorites in the NCAA tournament. The bad news is, conservatives have moved onto something nearly as silly.

President Obama landed in Brazil Saturday to learn about its booming economy, but conservatives called the trip a distraction from worldwide turmoil. [...]

"What is happening with the President while all of this is going on in the United States and around the world? He's going on vacation. He's going to Rio," charged Steve Doocy, cohost of "Fox & Friends," during Friday's broadcast.

And The Washington Times fired off an editorial last week that declared "the President parties while the world burns."

By some measures, those were some of the milder criticisms. Fox News' Eric Bolling threw an on-air tantrum Friday night, insisting the president and his wife have been "spreading suntan lotion on each other" and "sipping caipirinhas on Air Force One -- our Air Force One -- while Rome burns."

This may be hard for conservatives to understand -- when they think "Brazil," they think "Carnival" -- but Latin America has many quickly growing economies, and Obama is visiting the region to promote trade and open markets. The point is to take steps that will strengthen the U.S. economy, which the right should at least pretend to care about.

What's more, the visit was scheduled months ago. It's not as if the president woke up Friday morning and thought, "Fire up Air Force One; I'm in the mood to see Rio."

I can appreciate why the timing of the trip may seem inconvenient, but the logistics of presidential travel abroad are laborious, and canceling would have proven problematic. Besides, there are always weighty issues on a president's to-do list, and if the White House had pushed off the Latin American visits until later in the year, there'd very likely be important developments going on then, too.

What we're seeing from the right, then, is criticism for the sake of criticism. The discourse has reached the point at which Republicans and their media figures have to be whining about something at all times. Obama is stopping in Chile, Brazil, and El Salvador as part of a broader economic agenda, so the right feels the need to pretend to be outraged.

It's quite sad.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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OPERATION ODYSSEY DAWN.... With Friday's reported cease-fire ending quickly, if it ever really started, international military efforts in Libya began yesterday. The Pentagon labeled the mission "Operation Odyssey Dawn."

U.S. firepower in the area include 11 warships, five of which fired cruise missiles into Libya yesterday. Three American B-2 stealth bombers, reportedly having flown nonstop from U.S. soil, also bombed a major Libyan airfield. The plan, Pentagon officials told reporters yesterday, is for American forces to be the "leading edge" as the offensive begins, but then "step back within days and hand over command of the coalition to one of its European allies."

President Obama reemphasized yesterday, "[W]e will not -- I repeat -- we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground."

Marc Ambinder had a very good piece yesterday afternoon, noting that the administration is "trying to strike an incredibly delicate balance between a strong disinclination to invade a Muslim country and their determined desire to avoid looking like they're walking away from the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents."

An hour before bombing began Saturday, [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] spoke to the press in Paris. Asked why military action was in America's interest, she gave three reasons and implied a fourth. A destabilizing force would jeopardize progress in Tunisia and Egypt; a humanitarian disaster was imminent unless prevented; Qaddafi could not flout international law without consequences. The fourth: there's a line now, and one that others countries had better not cross.

The development of a new doctrine in the Middle East is taking form, and it could become a paradigm for how the international community deals with unrest across the region from now on. The new elements include the direct participation of the Arab world, the visible participation of U.S. allies, as well as a very specific set of military targets designed to forestall needless human suffering. Though the Libyan situation is quite unique -- its military is nowhere near as strong as Iran's is, for one thing -- Obama hopes that a short, surgical, non-US-led campaign with no ground troops will satisfy Americans skeptical about military intervention and will not arouse the suspicions of Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is attempting to influence indigenously growing democracies.

The process the White House followed is the right one. The Arab League requested intervention, the West went through the U.N. Security Council, and a legitimate coalition was formed. There's been no American grandstanding, no bullying, and no visions of an imposition of democracy.

But there's still no end-game to any of this. It's unclear whether the coalition intends to allow Qaddafi to stay in power, what might be necessary to force his ouster, what kind of agreement would (or could) be reached between the existing Libyan regime and the rest of the country that no longer intends to live under its rule, and what kind of responsibilities the coalition will have if/when Libya is left with no clear governing authority.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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March 19, 2011

THE 'TRANSFORMATION' NEEDS SOME WORK.... One of the more talked about political pieces of the week was this Politico article from Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. As the writers see it, the Republican Party, lost and directionless two years ago, finally has a focus that will serve the GOP well.

The pitch is pretty straightforward: the Republican Party is in the midst of an "unmistakable 20-month transformation." While it was "fanatically anti-Obama," it's now "fanatically anti-spending ... at the federal, state and local levels." VandeHei and Allen see the shift as constructive, and as an electoral matter, beneficial.

To understand the current evolution, flash back to late spring of 2009. The GOP was disoriented and adrift, its leadership void filled by the bombastic voices of Palin, Beck and Rush Limbaugh. There was no common conservative cause, beyond fear and loathing of Obama. No wonder swing voters were so down on them.

But the tea party, treated at first by the media as exotics, forced Republicans to focus almost exclusively on the size of government. By the time the 2010 elections rolled around, tea party activists and most independent voters were completely aligned on the need to cut, cut, cut. Midterm election results showed that this approach offers the GOP its best -- and maybe only -- hope of keeping the interests of independents and tea party activists aligned enough to beat Obama.

The new litmus tests for GOP presidential hopefuls are support for repealing "Obamacare" and taking a cleaver to government spending. If a presidential candidate could harness the smaller-government conservatism, temper it enough to avoid a blatant overreach and articulate a vision for a prosperous future for the country, it's not hard to imagine swing voters finding such a person appealing.

I think this is wrong in a variety of important ways. In fact, on a fundamental level, I suspect VandeHei and Allen have all of this backwards.

First, right off the bat, to say there was "no common conservative cause" in 2009 is mistaken. In fact, there was only one principal goal for the party early on: cut spending. It's apparently easy to forget two years later, but the entirety of the Republican response to the global economic crisis and threat of a depression was a massive, across-the-board spending freeze, which they demanded should be maintained for five years. (Even David Brooks called this "insane" at the time.)

Second, the VandeHei/Allen thesis is predicated on the notion that the Republicans' Tea Party wing genuinely wants to slash spending. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. As Jon Chait explained the other day, "[T]he evidence that Tea Party activists want to cut spending -- at least actual spending programs -- is sparse. Polls show that Tea Party supporters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The main thrust of Tea Party opinion is not the belief that Obama has spent too much money, but the belief that Obama has spent too much money on people unlike them."

It's precisely why one need look no further than a typical Tea Party rally to find all kinds of folks who love government spending, just so long as they're the beneficiaries of taxpayer generosity.

And third, the VandeHei/Allen argument is that all of this can pay electoral dividends, as Republicans appeal to swing voters with promises of more cuts and smaller-government conservatism. I don't know what polls VandeHei and Allen have been reading, but literally all of the data I've seen shows voters, including "swing" voters, prioritizing job creation and economic growth over spending cuts and deficit reduction. Indeed, it's not even close.

Remember, despite the preoccupation with cuts from the political establishment, the American mainstream doesn't like cuts at all. Congressional Republicans, catering to the Tea Party demands, are pushing to slash education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and national security, and by all accounts, most of the country thinks this is a terrible idea. Republican governors in big, competitive states are already trying this, and voters hate it.

I admittedly haven't done campaign work in a long while, but if memory serves, promising swing voters you'll cut popular programs they don't want to cut isn't a recipe for success, unless the goal is to lose.

In other words, I have no idea what VandeHei and Allen are talking about.

Steve Benen 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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WHAT THE NEW REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS HAVE IN COMMON.... Riding a wave of popular sentiment, Republican gubernatorial candidates scored big wins in some of the nation's largest and most competitive states. When the dust settled on the 2010 cycle, the GOP had picked up governors' offices they had lost in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Sure enough, all of these far-right governors immediately got to work advancing a very conservative agenda. And after a few months, what do these guys have in common? Voters are finding they may not like Republican rule after all.

Take Pennsylvania, for example.

A new poll suggests a rift has opened between Gov. Corbett and many Pennsylvanians when it comes to taxing and spending.

The survey, by Franklin and Marshall College, found six in 10 residents support a tax on natural-gas drillers. An even larger majority -- nearly eight in 10 -- opposes deep cuts to public education.

Both positions run counter to the Republican governor's stances.... Asked to rate his overall job performance, 31 percent said good or excellent, 39 percent said fair, and 13 said poor; 18 percent were undecided.

That's not a straight-up approval rating in the traditional sense, but it appears that Pennsylvania's new Republican governor -- the one who's desperate to make brutal cuts to education, while increasing spending on prisons -- hasn't exactly impressed his constituents.

This seems to be coming up quite a bit lately. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich (R) has seen his support plummet in recent months, and polls in Wisconsin have shown widespread opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's (R) agenda. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was increasingly unpopular before his latest radical moves, and while I haven't seen any polling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), there's ample evidence he's managing to offend just about everyone.

Will this prove relevant in 2012? Time will tell, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does. Republicans scored big wins in 2010, not because the GOP was popular, but because much of the public was dissatisfied with the status quo, and Dems happened to be the dominant majority.

But now those same voters have been reminded exactly why they didn't like Republicans in the first place. The likelihood of this helping Democrats next year seems high.

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

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... The God Machine this week focuses on one specific faith-related trend, specifically the often-overlooked element of the renewed culture war following Republican gains in 2010.

GOP efforts, on the federal and state level, related to restricting abortion and gay rights are well documented, but less well known is the Republican drive to undermine modern biology. The National Center for Science Education reported this week that, so far this year, nine states have begun work on anti-evolution measures -- a record high so early in the calendar year. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

In Texas, for example, GOP policymakers are moving forward with a measure to protect creationists from "discrimination," especially creationists who hope to spread their beliefs in classrooms. From the bill:

"An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member's or student's conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms."

Just to provide a little context here, in Texas, it would be legal to fire workers for being gay or a single parent, but if science teachers refused to stick to science, they'd be protected.

An effort in Florida is nearly as ridiculous.

Florida GOP State Senator Stephen Wise is drawing fire with a legislative proposal that would require schools in the Sunshine State to dramatically change the way evolution is addressed in the classroom, primarily by requiring the teaching of an alternative he calls "non-evolution."

According to his legislation, public school teachers would have to "teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" to students.

"Why would you not teach both theories at the same time?" Wise, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Yes, the chairman of the education committee doesn't understand why teachers can't just provide students with facts and pseudo-facts simultaneously. No word yet on whether he expects science teachers to teach heliocentricism and geocentrism "at the same time," or whether it'd be a good idea to teach gravity and "non-gravity."

And in the larger context, it's also worth noting that the GOP intention to focus primarily on the economy appears to have been quickly and completely forgotten.

Update: I neglected to mention that in the nine states in which anti-evolution measures are advancing, all nine have Republican majorities. It's not a coincidence.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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KILLING NPR WILL NOT SAVE JOBS.... This has to be one of my favorite quotes of the week. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), explaining why he felt so strongly about defunding NPR, said it was a "way to reduce job-destroying spending."

This is the problem when congressional Republicans are told to incorporate the word "jobs" into everything they say and do, whether it makes sense or not. It leads some of the less-skilled members of the GOP caucus to use ham-fisted rhetoric that makes them appear foolish.

Indeed, as Matt Finkelstein noted, "Hensarling's logic is presumably that all government spending necessarily impedes job creation, a silly notion that nevertheless has become GOP doctrine."

Quite right. We've reached the point at which congressional Republicans believe all federal investments, even those that directly create jobs, necessarily costs jobs. It's hopelessly backwards, but it's a notion that's come to dominate GOP thought.

For what it's worth, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) had the good sense to explain that his own party's NPR bill wouldn't actually save taxpayers any money.

"The federal government does not subsidize NPR directly. Instead, the government funds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a government entity, which has discretion to provide funding to whichever private radio producers it chooses.

"H R 1076 does not actually save taxpayer dollars; it merely blocks CPB from exercising its discretion to send funding to NPR. The funds CPB does not send to NPR under the bill are returned to CPB to be spent subsidizing other private radio producers. I offered an amendment in the Rules Committee to require that any funds not sent to NPR be redirected to pay down the deficit, but the amendment was ruled out of order. Therefore, public broadcasting will not see any reduction in federal funding even if this bill becomes law."

This is obviously an important detail. The House Republican plan to "reduce job-destroying spending," doesn't reduce spending, and doesn't save jobs. The whole scheme just don't make any sense at all.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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POLICING ABORTIONS THROUGH THE IRS.... In January, Nick Baumann took a closer look at the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," and highlighted an outrageous provision that would redefine rape. The language was ultimately removed after the ensuing controversy.

This week, Baumann put the spotlight on another problem with the same law, and this one may be tougher for proponents to change.

Under a GOP-backed bill expected to sail through the House of Representatives, the Internal Revenue Service would be forced to police how Americans have paid for their abortions. To ensure that taxpayers complied with the law, IRS agents would have to investigate whether certain terminated pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. And one tax expert says that the measure could even lead to questions on tax forms: Have you had an abortion? Did you keep your receipt?

In testimony to a House taxation subcommittee on Wednesday, Thomas Barthold, the chief of staff of the nonpartisan Joint Tax Committee, confirmed that one consequence of the Republicans' "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" would be to turn IRS agents into abortion cops -- that is, during an audit, they'd have to determine, from evidence provided by the taxpayer, whether any tax benefit had been inappropriately used to pay for an abortion.

The proposed law, also known as H.R. 3, extends the reach of the Hyde Amendment -- which bans federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake -- into many parts of the federal tax code. In some cases, the law would forbid using tax benefits -- like credits or deductions -- to pay for abortions or health insurance that covers abortion. If an American who used such a benefit were to be audited, Barthold said, the burden of proof would lie with the taxpayer to provide documentation, for example, that her abortion fell under the rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exception, or that the health insurance she had purchased did not cover abortions.

So, on the one hand, the House GOP wants to undermine the IRS's ability to actually collect revenue -- ostensibly, the agenda's purpose -- but expand the IRS's power to determine whether specific abortions meet the standards of tax law's exclusions for rape or incest.

Americans can take some solace in knowing this legislation, while certain to pass the House, has no chance whatsoever of becoming law, at least not in this Congress. But that doesn't change the fact that House Republicans are not only pushing this odious bill, they've also made it one of their top priorities of 2011.

Those who voted for GOP candidates last year because they were hoping for a renewed focus on the economy may not have fully appreciated what they were getting us into.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THE FOREIGN POLICY GENIUS OF A GOP VISIONARY.... Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, moving closer to a possible presidential campaign, has been running around lately saying the opposite of whatever President Obama says. It's kind of childish, but then again, so is Newt.

But he was in rare form yesterday when asked, at the National Press Club in D.C., about U.S. policy towards Libya.

QUESTION: What would have been the steps you would have taken early on?

GINGRICH: I would have studied Eisenhower and Reagan and studied the things they did. I mean there are lots of -- there are lots of ways to not necessarily use American troops and have an enormous impact on a country the size of Libya.

STAFFER: We have to go.

QUESTION: Can you list one or two?

GINGRICH: Take -- take a look at Eisenhower and Reagan.

Remember, we've been led to believe this guy offers intellectual firepower for Republicans on the national level.

I mean, really. This is some of the laziest thinking on foreign policy imaginable. I suspect even Romney and Pawlenty could do better than this. Faced with an enormous national security challenge, we should expect President Gingrich to sit in the Oval Office and bark to his aides, "Quick, someone get me a history textbook! I need to figure out what other Republicans presidents might have thought!"

Please.

Besides, if memory serves, "What Would Reagan Do?" may not be the ideal question when it comes to the Middle East. I seem to recall Reagan quickly running away, for example, after the Marine barracks' bombing in Beirut in 1983, which isn't exactly in line with contemporary GOP standards.

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

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March 18, 2011

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

* Japan: "Japanese engineers battled on Friday to cool spent fuel rods and restore electric power to pumps at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as new challenges seemed to accumulate by the hour, with steam billowing from one reactor and damage at another apparently making it difficult to lower temperatures."

* Libya: "Trying to outmaneuver Western military intervention, Moammar Gadhafi's government declared a cease-fire on Friday against the rebel uprising faltering against his artillery, tanks and warplanes. The opposition said shells rained down well after the announcement and accused the Libyan leader of lying."

* Good news about the missing journalists: "Four New York Times journalists missing in Libya since Tuesday were captured by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and will be released Friday, his son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, told Christiane Amanpour in an ABC News interview."

* Yemen: "Yemen's pro-democracy protests exploded into violence on Friday, as government supporters opened fire on demonstrators in the capital, killing at least 45 people and wounding more than 200. The bloodshed failed to disperse the angry throng of protesters, the largest seen so far in a month of steadily rising demonstrations calling for Mr. Saleh's ouster."

* Pakistan: "Just one day after a CIA contractor was absolved by a Pakistani court of a double murder charge, Pakistan and U.S. relations were plunged into a new crisis Thursday over a CIA-directed drone missile strike that Pakistan said killed at least 36 civilians." (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

* Fiscal conservatives in the GOP think we're broke and can't afford domestic priorities. These same folks aren't worried about funding military operations in Libya.

* President Obama signed the temporary budget extension this morning, giving policymakers three weeks to strike a deal or the government will shut down.

* I'm glad to see Reid take a hard line on this: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday drew a firm line with Republicans, declaring that a controversial Planned Parenthood measure will not be included in any deal on the budget."

* I'm very glad I wasn't asked about reality TV shows on my SAT.

* I've heard some good defenses of the teaching profession. I've never heard one quite as strong as this one.

* Ann Coulter -- remember her? -- is apparently still around saying ridiculous things. Last night, for example, she reflected on the crisis in Japan and told Fox News that "radiation is actually good for you." (thanks to Joanne for the tip)

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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ROMNEY'S ALLIES-TURNED-CRITICS HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO.... It's easy to forget, three years later, but in the 2008 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney actually enjoyed considerable conservative support. Giuliani was too liberal on too many issues, Huckabee didn't care about national security or foreign policy, and McCain never enjoyed strong ties to the hard-right base.

It's exactly why we saw folks like Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, and the editorial board of the Weekly Standard rally behind Romney's ultimately unsuccessful campaign.

But like Greg Sargent, I find it deeply amusing to see these same folks scramble to distance themselves from Romney, in large part because of the only meaningful policy accomplishment of his career: health care reform in Massachusetts.

DeMint, as we discussed yesterday, wants Romney to "admit" that his achievement, which has proven to be quite successful, was a "colossal mistake." Today, Santorum offered a similar sentiment.

As Greg notes, just as DeMint approved of Romney's health care policy three years ago, Santorum had no questions about Romney's commitment to conservative principles when he endorsed the governor in '08.

According to Santorum, Romney believes in "government control of the health care system." It doesn't get dirtier than that. Yet it turns out that Santorum endorsed Romney back in 2008, in the full knowledge that Romney had passed Romneycare. Why? Here's why:

"Governor Romney is the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear...Governor Romney has a deep understanding of the important issues confronting our country today, and he is the clear conservative candidate that can go into the general election with a united Republican Party."

For Romney, this is obviously a mess. He's going to get slammed, and perhaps even defeated, for supporting a policy that conservatives used to be entirely comfortable with. Hell, in DeMint's case, the "colossal mistake" of a heath care policy helped Romney earn an endorsement in the first place.

But putting aside the former governor's obvious predicament, I still think there's an important challenge facing everyone on the right who backed Romney three years ago, and who wants him to apologize for health care now. Either these folks (a) endorsed Romney for president without even looking at his sole accomplishment; or (b) they need to admit a policy they liked in 2008 is an example of radical liberalism in 2011.

Indeed, I'm not inclined to give GOP presidential candidates advice, but this strikes me as a sensible way for Romney to get off the ropes on this issue. When pressed for a reversal, Romney can say, for example, "I support the same policy Rick Santorum and Jim DeMint approved of a few years ago. I haven't changed; why have they?"

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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POTUS SPELLS OUT U.S. INTERVENTION IN LIBYA.... President Obama announced this afternoon that the U.S. role in Libya would expand, following calls from the Arab League and a resolution endorsed yesterday by United Nations Security Council, force against Colonel Qadaffi.

Obama argued today, "Here's why this matters to us: Left unchecked we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people, many thousands could die, a humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."

So, what's the policy? In keeping with the U.N. resolution, the United States and its allies intend to prevent the Libyan government from slaughtering its civilian population, enforce a no-fly zone, and maintain sanctions and an arms embargo against the Gadhafi regime.

President Obama offered fairly explicit instructions to the Libyan government, explaining that a cease-fire must begin immediately, Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, troops must be pulled back from several key areas, water, gas, and electricity must be made available to the Libyan people, and humanitarian assistance much be allowed to reach civilians.

"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable," Obama said. "These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences. The resolution will be enforced through military action."

The president emphasized the cooperative nature of the effort, with the U.S. playing a role in a larger international campaign, though he soon after added that he "is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal [of protecting civilians]."

Perhaps hoping to preempt concerns about the Bush/Cheney model, Obama explained, "It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies and members of the Arab League have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it.... And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law.... But I want to be clear: The change will not and cannot be imposed by the United States or any foreign power. Ultimately, it will be driven by the people of the Arab world. It is their right, and their responsibility, to determine their own destiny."

Earlier today, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, his hands literally trembling, read a statement saying that the Qaddafi government had agreed to a cease-fire, though there have already been reports of ongoing violence since that announcement.

As for the near future, there are obviously far more questions than answers. Even if a cease-fire holds, for example, it's unclear what kind of agreement would (or could) be reached between Qaddafi and the rest of the country that no longer intends to live under his rule. Does the West intend to allow Qaddafi to stay in power after the massacres end? And what happens if/when he resists? And if he's forced out, what kind of responsibility will we have to keep Libya together?

I can see the administration's rationale here. Qaddafi is a monster and preventing the slaughter of thousands of civilians is a noble endeavor.

But in his conclusion this afternoon, Obama said, "Our goal is focused." I'm not at all sure that's actually the case.

Update: One more thing. I do give Obama a lot of credit for at least pursuing this the right way, and taking each step methodically. This is the opposite of the process leading up to Iraq -- the Arab League asked for assistance; the U.N. endorsed intervention, and allies want to shoulder a larger international burden. Reckless unilateralism this isn't.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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ON JUDGES, 'PROGRESS' IS RELATIVE.... Before heading out yesterday, the Senate voted to confirm Amy Berman Jackson as a federal district court judge in D.C. The final vote was 97 to 0. It followed a vote on Monday to confirm James Emanuel Boasberg for the same district bench (confirmed 96 to 0), and a vote last week to confirm Max Oliver Cogburn, Jr. to a federal district court in North Carolina.

Given this flurry of activity, it's tempting to think the Senate is making real progress on institutional duties that were neglected in the last Congress. And in a way, that's true -- there have been meaningful steps in the right direction, and I'm delighted.

But as is often the case in this political environment, "progress" is relative.

Yesterday's vote, for example, was a unanimous confirmation vote, but Judge Jackson had to wait nine months for an up-or-down vote on the floor. The district court seat she'll fill has been vacant for more than four years.

Jackson's confirmation is evidence of "progress" only to the extent that the status quo is hopelessly ridiculous.

There are, despite the recent Senate actions, currently 94 vacancies on the federal bench. It's a relief when the chamber manages to do anything constructive, but as Jonathan Bernstein recently noted, we're looking at a good news/bad news dynamic.

The good news is that the deal struck by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell seems to be holding, and the Senate seems to be processing three judges a week.

The bad news is how limited that deal is. Republicans are still filibustering every single nomination; the only difference now is that on those nominees for which Democrats have the votes to defeat the filibuster, Republicans are not dragging their feet and eating up extra Senate floor time. Two confirmations yesterday were unanimous, and one was a voice vote. In fact, so far this year, every confirmation has either been unanimous or by voice vote. [...]

In other words: nice to have a few of the easiest confirmations processed, but this is still bad news overall.

Agreed. The vacancy crisis on the courts remains very real. It's untenable and arguably dangerous.

Republican-appointed judges want the Senate to do more; the Federal Bar Association wants the Senate to do more; even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wants the Senate to do more.

For much of the political establishment, this may seem like a routine partisan game. Democrats don't like to confirm judicial nominees from Republican presidents; Republicans don't like to confirm judicial nominees from Democratic presidents. It's just how the process goes.

Except, this is wrong. The vacancy rate simply doesn't get this high, and Senate minorities simply don't stand in the way of so many qualified nominees. This isn't normal, and if we expect the judicial branch to function as it should, it can't continue.

* Update: A special thanks to Glenn Sugameli at Judging the Environment, my go-to expert on judicial nominees and confirmations, for helping me with some of the background info I needed for this post.

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

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THOSE WHO ARE 'SYMPATHETIC' TO THE TERRORISTS' 'CAUSE'.... Perhaps hoping shocking comments will help reverse his ratings slide, Glenn Beck said something especially interesting yesterday. The logic was a little hard to follow, but the host was trying to make the case to his radio audience that President Obama ignores challenges on purpose due to some kind of anti-American sentiment he harbors.

Beck eventually argued:

"[H]ere is the point on that. I believe that's because [the [president] just sees us as the oppressor nation. He just sees us as a nation who is and has oppressed the Native Americans and, and the Muslim communities around the world. And so he's - he's - he's not with the terrorists, I'm not saying that, but he is sympathetic to their cause."

Beck soon after walked that back a little when even his co-host wouldn't endorse the sentiment. Beck went on to say, "I'm not saying that he's sympathetic with people blowing people up," only that Obama "sympathizes that America has done some bad things."

As Beck nonsense goes, this is fairly routine. But the argument itself stood out for me because there are some Americans who've expressed sympathies for terrorists' worldview.

For example, there's Glenn Beck. A few years back, when Beck was still with CNN, here was his take on what terrorists think of the United States.

"More and more Muslims now hate us all across the world, and it really has not a lot to do with anything other than our morals.

"The things that they were saying about us were true. Our morals are just out the window. We're a society on the verge of moral collapse. And our promiscuity is off the charts.

"Now I don't think that we should fly airplanes into buildings or behead people because of it, but that's the prevailing feeling of Muslims in the Middle East. And you know what? They're right."

Those were Glenn Beck's exact words. He considered what radical terrorists think about Americans, and Beck concluded that their criticism of us have merit. He actually agreed with it.

Indeed, this is not an altogether uncommon sentiment among conservatives. Dinesh D'Souza, for example, wrote an entire book devoted to arguing that terrorists are right about the problems with American culture. Osama bin Laden and other dangerous Islamic radicals believe the U.S. is too secular, too permissive, too diverse, too free, and too tolerant -- and D'Souza concluded that they're absolutely correct. Indeed, D'Souza went so far as to argue that liberal Americans are at least partially to blame for 9/11 -- the left invited the attacks by reinforcing the beliefs al Qaeda had about the United States.

In one particularly memorable episode of "The Colbert Report," D'Souza conceded that he finds some of the critiques from radical, anti-American extremists persuasive.

Around the same time, Peggy Noonan also seemed to agree with our enemies about America: "We make it too easy for those who want to hate us to hate us. We make ourselves look bad in our media, which helps future jihadists think that they must, by hating us, be good."

I happen to strongly disagree with the right about this, and believe terrorists' hatred of Americans is misguided. But putting that aside, it's fascinating to me for Beck to say of the president, "he's not with the terrorists ... but he is sympathetic to their cause," after Beck himself expressed sympathies for terrorists' motivations.

Put it this way, there is a potential problem about political observers relating to a terrorist worldview, but it's not coming from the left.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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WISCONSIN COURT BLOCKS ANTI-UNION BILL (FOR NOW).... About two weeks ago, under procedurally awkward circumstances, Wisconsin Republicans rammed through Gov. Scott Walker's (R) union-busting proposal. Almost immediately, critics argued, among other things, that the process violated the state's open-meeting laws.

Today, a Wisconsin judge, at least for now, agreed.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order Friday, barring the publication of Gov. Scott Walker's law that would sharply curtail collective bargaining for public employees.

Sumi's order will prevent Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law -- and allowing it to take effect -- until she can rule on the merits of the case. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is seeking to block the law because he says a legislative committee violated the state's open meetings law in passing the measure, which Walker signed on Friday.

Sumi said Ozanne was likely to succeed on the merits.

"It seems to me the public policy behind effective enforcement of the open meeting law is so strong that it does outweigh the interest, at least at this time, which may exist in favor of sustaining the validity of the (law)," she said.

The measure did not literally become law when Walker put his signature on it. The anti-union bill still needed to be published by the Wisconsin Secretary of State's office, which today was blocked from doing so. In other words, for right now, the measure is not state law, and the judge appears likely to conclude that the process was, in fact, illegitimate.

For critics of the effort, that's the good news. The bad news is, the ruling is based on procedural concerns -- Republicans were supposed to jump through certain hoops in order to pass the legislation properly. Apparently, they didn't.

But they still can. If the legal process plays out, and the courts all agree that GOP officials violated Wisconsin's open meetings law, Republicans will very likely start over, jump through the right procedural hoops, and simply do all of this again.

Of course, if/when that happens, will we also see a replay of the protests and quorum avoidance from Democrats, workers, and their allies? That seems fairly likely.

For now, however, the legal process will continue. Judge Sumi will hear arguments in earnest, and her ruling will likely be appealed.

In the meantime, CNN's Erick Erickson has argued, "If the judge in Wisconsin wants to play, the GOP should impeach her and up the ante."

And the effort to take the right seriously is dealt another setback.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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

* As Republican policies become less popular in Ohio, President Obama is becoming more popular in the key electoral state. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows the president leading likely GOP rivals in hypothetical match-ups, in margins ranging from 6 to 16 points.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $5.2 million in February, which was better than January, better than the National Republican Congressional Committee's haul over the same period, and the best February for House Dems ever. The DCCC still, however, carries a substantial $17.3 million debt from the 2010 cycle.

* Speaking of fundraising, Jim Messina, who is managing Obama's re-election campaign, has ambitious goals: "The nation's top Democratic contributors were given an ambitious set of marching orders on Thursday, with a select group of 450 donors each asked to raise $350,000 before the end of the year."

* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) obviously wants to run for president in 2012. His son, Sterling, obviously doesn't want Barbour to run.

* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) this week lent his name to an RNC fundraising letter that blasted Democrats as "socialists," a word he never used as a candidate. Soon after, the RNC retracted this, blaming an internal "mistake." RNC Chief of Staff Jeff Larson specifically said, "Senator Rubio had expressly edited out the use of the words 'leftist' and 'socialist.' The RNC takes full responsibility for this unfortunate incident."

* Speaking Jeff Larson, the RNC chief of staff appears to be facing some credible ethics allegations.

* And is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) running for president or not? CBS News lists the evidence and concludes that a run is unlikely.

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

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THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN PRIORITIES AND POLICIES.... House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) talked a bit yesterday about his vision of government, and the kind of "core mission" investments he'd like to see federal officials make.

"Personally, I think you've got to get government back to focus on its core mission, its core ideas. You know, basic scientific research. In education, we have less of a role money-wise, one K-12, but more of a role post-secondary. You know, get job training going so we can have that can kind of system that we should focus on for life-long learning. You know, focus on the basics, defense. Basic research, those things."

At a certain level, that sounds fairly reasonable, especially for someone as far to the right as Ryan is. As a lib, I obviously think the proper role of government's role is broader than the vision he sketched out, but it's heartening, at least a little, that Ryan wants government to invest in scientific research, colleges, and job training.

Of course, the problem comes when one realizes that Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republicans in Congress just voted for a budget plan that slashed funding for scientific research, colleges, and job training.

Is he not aware of that?

The issue of job-training in the midst of high unemployment is of particular interest. Remember the adage, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime?" It's popular with conservatives as a way to explain opposition to "welfare."

But the entire approach looks a little silly when Republicans want to slash funding for job training programs in half. Voters in areas hard hit by the recession can't help but notice the contradiction.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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'A NIGHT WITH THE JOE'S'.... Consider the intellectual firepower on hand for this event.

A lawyer, a sheriff, and a plumber walk into a room...

No, it's not the beginning of a joke. 2010 Alaska Senate nominee Joe Miller (R) has entered an agreement to have Twenty-First Century Speakers represent him in securing speaking engagements, according to a statement he sent out Wednesday.

Miller will be speaking at "A Night with the Joe's," a March 24 event in Montaro, California with two other "Joes": Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Samuel "Joe The Plumber" Wurzelbacher. "The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama" is sponsoring the event, according to Miller's statement. 2010 Nevada Senate nominee Sharon Angle (R), who this week announced she is running for Congress, will also reportedly appear at the event.

Miller, Arpaio, Wurzelbacher, and Angle -- all together for one night only. Whatever they're charging for tickets, it's too much.

How cringe-worthy is this? The name of the event is "A Night with the Joe's." Someone should probably let the organizers know the plural of "Joe" is not "Joe's."

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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LOBBYISTS GO BACK TO WRITING LAWS.... When House Republicans were in the minority, they had a steadfast rule in advance of policy debates: do what the lobbyists say.

When Congress worked on a jobs bill, the GOP huddled with corporate lobbyists. When work on Wall Street reform got underway, Republicans huddled with industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, they huddled with insurance lobbyists. When an energy/climate bill started advancing, Republicans huddled with energy lobbyists. When choosing candidates for key statewide offices, Republicans even recruited former corporate lobbyists.

But that was the last Congress. Now, Republicans are running the show in the House again, and the GOP has streamlined the process -- lobbyists are no longer lobbying, they're working directly for Republicans and writing legislation.

A surge of lobbyists has left K Street this year to fill jobs as high-ranking staffers on Capitol Hill, focusing new attention on the dearth of rules governing what paid advocates can do after moving into the legislative world.

Ethics rules sharply limit the activities of former lobbyists who join the executive branch and former lawmakers who move to lobbying firms. But experts say there are no limits on lawmakers hiring K street employees and letting them write legislation in sync with the policies they advocated for hire.

New tallies indicate that nearly half of the roughly 150 former lobbyists working in top policy jobs for members of Congress or House committees have been hired in the past few months. And many are working on legislative issues of interest to their former employers.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, which led other House panels by hiring six lobbyists this year, is drafting legislation sought by oil and energy firms. At least four staffers on the committee payroll worked for those industries last year.

It's quite a revolving door. Some of these aides started in GOP offices in the Hill, moved to K Street to start representing corporate interests, and are now back on the Hill writing the legislation that will benefit those same corporate interests.

In the bigger picture, none of this is especially surprising. On the contrary, it was entirely predictable.

What I find interesting, though, is the realization that plenty of far-right voters were sold a bill of goods. In 2010, conservatives flocked to GOP candidates who ran as "insurgents" and "outsiders," with no use for the entrenched establishment and their corrupt power structure.

Now those same candidates are hiring corporate lobbyists and turning over bill-writing responsibilities to them. Is this what the anti-establishment Tea Party crowd had in mind?

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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BARBOUR FACES BLOWBACK OVER DEFENSE BUDGET.... It may not be possible to have a dust-up among Republican presidential candidates when there aren't any actual Republican presidential candidates. But if it is possible, we're apparently seeing the first one of the 2012 cycle.

Campaigning in Iowa this week, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) argued that defense cuts make sense. "Anybody who says you can't save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon," Barbour said. "We can save money on defense and if we Republicans don't propose saving money on defense, we'll have no credibility on anything else."

Wednesday, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) blasted the remarks. Yesterday, Bill Kristol registered his disapproval, too.

Barbour's only substantive argument seemed to be this: "Anybody who says you can't save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon." This is a) childish, b) slightly offensive, and c) raises the question of how much time Barbour has spent at the Pentagon -- apart from time spent lobbying for defense contractors or foreign governments.

Ouch.

Kristol added that Barbour's remarks constituted "irresponsible pandering." What's more, the fact that the Mississippi governor is skeptical of the war in Afghanistan makes him "an advocate of U.S. retreat."

This, by the way, is the language Kristol, a leading GOP voice, is using in March 2011 -- before any of the candidates have even announced. I wonder what the criticism will look like if Barbour is still advocating defense cuts in, say, December.

Of course, that's part of the point of the pushback. Barbour broached the subject this week, not in a formal speech, but in a more casual setting. By going after him aggressively, the Republican establishment is presumably letting Barbour know: "Don't do that again."

As for the rest of the unannounced field, the Wall Street Journal notes that Pawlenty, Romney, Palin, and Gingrich oppose cuts to the massive Pentagon budget, while Barbour, Daniels, and Ron Paul support cuts.

There are worse things to debate in a presidential primary.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TALKING POINTS AND A JOBS AGENDA.... This is getting embarrassing.

Six weeks ago, Politico reported that the new House Republican majority realized "they're struggling with their economic message." Last week, Roll Call found those same Republicans are still struggling, but have a plan that includes "inserting the word 'jobs' into talking points."

Today we learn that Senate Republicans believe they might be able to put things right.

While Republicans keep up the drumbeat on budget cuts, Senate GOP leaders and freshmen agree: The party needs to better make their case to voters that reining in the national debt will create jobs.

Jobs strategy has been the subject of closed-door GOP meetings and strategy sessions.... As a reminder to talk up the connection between spending cuts and jobs creation back home during next week's recess, the Senate Republican Conference distributed a series of talking points on pocket-sized cards to the 47 GOP senators. [...]

When asked if the GOP needs to be talking more about jobs rather than purely cutting spending, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) replied Thursday: "Absolutely."

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that going forward, the party's priority list would be "No. 1 jobs, No. 2 debt."

That's nice, I suppose, but that pesky reality keeps getting in the way. Every Republican in both the House and Senate is on record supporting brutal budget cuts, all in the name of deficit reduction. There's a lengthy list of experts, including Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and researchers at Goldman Sachs, that concluded the GOP plan would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The answer isn't new talking points. The answer is a new policy -- preferably one that doesn't make unemployment worse on purpose.

In fairness, the article also notes that freshman Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), perhaps best known for his fiscal recklessness as Bush's budget director, has been tasked with coming up with an actual policy related to job creation for his caucus. There's no formal plan to critique just yet, but the blueprint apparently includes tax cuts, medical malpractice reform, and more offshore drilling.

Some people just never learn.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MOST AMERICANS SUPPORT MARRIAGE EQUALITY.... It has to frustrate conservatives to know the fight over marriage rights has slipped away from them, and from their perspective, it's only going to get worse.

Late last year, polls from CNN and the AP found that a majority of Americans support the right of same-sex couples to get legally married. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll, for the first time, found the same thing.

This milestone result caps a dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes. From a low of 32 percent in a 2004 survey of registered voters, support for gay marriage has grown to 53 percent today. Forty-four percent are opposed, down 18 points from that 2004 survey.

The issue remains divisive; as many adults "strongly" oppose gay marriage as strongly support it, and opposition rises to more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, a core conservative group. But opposition to gay marriage has weakened in these groups from its levels a few years ago, and support has grown sharply among others -- notably, among Catholics, political moderates, people in their 30s and 40s and men.

Of particular interest is the breakdown by age groups. A whopping 68% of Americans under 30 now support marriage equality, but the percentage is nearly as high, 65%, for Americans in their 30s. A majority of folks in their 40s are on board, too.

Older Americans continue to oppose marriage equality, but the trend is still striking -- support in this age group has nearly doubled in just five years.

I don't imagine we'll ever see 100% unanimity on this question. There's probably still a tiny percentage of the population that still opposes people of different races or different religions from marrying, too.

But even the most radically anti-gay conservative has to realize that equality is inevitable. As the arc of history continues to bend toward justice, most of the country now believes two consenting adults should be legally permitted to get married if they want to. It's exceptionally unlikely that trend will ever reverse -- civil-rights trajectories simply never move that way. Society becomes less prejudiced, less hateful, and less bigoted over time.

And there's not much the right can do about it.

To be sure, I don't really expect conservatives to just throw in the towel -- they have too much invested in this -- but (a) winning elections by attacking gays is going to be a lot more difficult going forward; and (b) we can safely say marriage equality is only a matter of "when," not "if."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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March 17, 2011

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

* Japan: "Amid widening alarm in the United States and elsewhere about Japan's nuclear crisis, military fire trucks began spraying cooling water on spent fuel rods at the country's stricken nuclear power station late Thursday after earlier efforts to cool the rods failed, Japanese officials said. The United States' top nuclear official followed up his bleak appraisal of the grave situation at the plant the day before with a caution that it would 'take some time, possibly weeks,' to resolve."

* President Obama offered an update this afternoon: "The White House sought Thursday to show it is on top of the Japanese nuclear crisis with a Rose Garden statement and a presidential-ordered review to ensure nothing like the Fukushima Daiichi disaster happens here at home." He also urged an evacuation for Americans living within 50 miles of the facility.

* Libya: "Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi warned Benghazi residents on Thursday that an attack was imminent, as the United Nations Security Council seemed headed for a vote Thursday on a resolution authorizing not just a no-flight zone but additional steps to halt the movement of Colonel Qaddafi's forces."

* The Senate approved the House-passed budget extension this afternoon, with an 87-to-13 vote. It will soon receive the president's signature, and impose a new, April 8 deadline.

* Getting better: "The number of people who filed applications for jobless benefits fell by 16,000 last week to 385,000, the Labor Department said Thursday."

* Of the funds lent to banks through TARP, 99% of the money has been paid back. At the time, it was widely assumed we'd never see that money again.

* James O'Keefe thought he had another big scoop today. As it turns out, his "story" was not only dull, it was common knowledge months ago. (The media really needs to stop taking this guy seriously.)

* Grouping newspaper columnists together by ideology strikes me as a misguided and counter-productive idea.

* I admit I was wrong. I'd hoped that when the Washington Post hired Jennifer Rubin, she'd bring some worthwhile insights from a conservative perspective. That's clearly not happening.

* Those who thought applying to law school would be a great idea are starting to think otherwise.

* In an interesting video, which you'll probably be seeing again, Ronald Reagan proclaimed, "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost!" It's a reminder of how little Reagan-lovers have in common with Reagan, and if Democrats today said the same thing Reagan said 30 years ago, Tea Partiers would condemn the sentiments as radical liberalism.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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HOUSE GOP CUTS OFF NPR.... Following an emergency session -- an emergency session -- of the House Rules Committee, the House met today to tackle a pressing matter of great national importance to the new Republican majority. Was it about creating jobs? No, in fact the proposal on the floor would lead to layoffs of roughly 9,000 American workers.

The topic today was NPR.

The House voted on Thursday to cut off funding for National Public Radio, with Democrats and Republicans fiercely divided over both the content of the bill and the manner in which it was brought to the floor.

Under the measure, sponsored by Representative Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, stations could not buy programming from NPR or any other source using the $22 million the stations receive from the Treasury for that purpose. Local NPR stations would be able to use federal funds for operating expenses, but not content.

Here's the final roll call. Note that zero Democrats went along with this little gambit, and seven House Republicans broke party ranks and voted with Dems. Given the large Republican advantage, the bill passed 228 to 192, but it's unlikely to get much consideration in the Senate.

That's kind of how the House works -- scramble to pass a bill that makes the base happy, knowing full well it won't go anywhere, wasting the entire institution's time for the purposes of a vanity project.

Also note, the House Republican leadership promised the nation that all legislation would be publicly available for 72 hours before it could come up for a vote. The bill to defund NPR was posted just 48 hours ago, meaning that today's vote would break the House GOP's own self-imposed rule.

When pressed for an explanation, Republican officials said their own 72-hour rule wasn't meant to be taken literally.

Seriously, that's what they said.

And if that weren't quite amusing enough, take two minutes to watch Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-N.Y.) floor remarks. You'll be glad you did.

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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DEMINT'S OFFICE RUINS ROMNEY'S DAY.... Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), arguably the Senate's most right-wing member, endorsed Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in 2008. I guess that's not going to happen again.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) "would never consider" endorsing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president again in 2012 unless Romney repudiates the health reforms he sought as governor, a source close to DeMint said Thursday.

A source close to the conservative icon emphasized that, despite comments to The Hill indicating that Romney shouldn't shoulder all the political blame for the Massachusetts healthcare plan, DeMint wouldn't endorse Romney again unless Romney were to admit the plan was mistaken.

"It's obvious Jim was just trying to be nice to the guy he backed over McCain, as many conservatives did in 2008," said the source. "But he would never consider backing Romney again unless he admits that his Massachusetts health care plan was a colossal mistake."

There's a lot of this going around. Mike Huckabee wants Romney to apologize for his only major policy accomplishment; Rudy Giuliani is urging him to reverse course; Karl Rove wants Romney to admit he was wrong; and prominent conservative activists throughout the GOP base are demanding that he "acknowledge he made a mistake."

DeMint, however, is of particular interest. In 2008, the South Carolinian was largely unknown. In 2011, he's a far-right kingmaker with a political operation so large, it may rival the NRSC's next year. DeMint's presidential endorsement will be one of the most widely-sought in the entire party next year.

In fairness to Romney, if DeMint really is waiting for the former governor to "admit" his health care policy was a "colossal mistake," it makes DeMint look worse than Romney. After all, Romney's health care policy was already complete and in place when DeMint endorsed his presidential campaign. In the years since, the policy has worked extremely well. If it was a "colossal mistake," why didn't DeMint notice three years ago? Did DeMint not look into this before making his endorsement?

We know the truth -- DeMint doesn't like "RomneyCare" because of its striking similarities to the Affordable Care Act -- but that doesn't make it any less foolish.

For the record, there's simply no way for Romney to do as the far-right asks. It's simply too late.

It was Romney's signature accomplishment during his one term as governor -- his only experience in public office. It demonstrated his ability to tackle major policy challenges and work with members of both parties to pass a sensible, mainstream legislative milestone. It was the sort of thing a governor could build a presidential campaign around.

Just a few weeks ago, Romney's spokesperson said, "Mitt Romney is proud of what he accomplished for Massachusetts in getting everyone covered."

Of course he is, and he should be, but reality has surprisingly little value in GOP politics in the 21st century.

Romney has flip-flopped on practically every issue imaginable, but the one position he has to stick to is the one Republicans find wholly unacceptable.

Update: Greg Sargent turns up a gem, noting that DeMint praised Romney's record on health care when he endorsed the governor in '08. Indeed, as far as DeMint was concerned at the time, the Massachusetts law was based on "good conservative ideas."

In 2008, this made perfect sense -- remember, the indidivual mandate, which now causes hysterical breakdowns in GOP circles was a Republican idea -- and wasn't the least bit controversial. In 2011, it's apparently a different story.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE VOICE OF REASON.... Once in a while, President Obama receives support from unlikely sources.

In a Fox Business Network interview, Former Vice President Dan Quayle defended President Obama from Republican criticism that he plays too much golf when there are so many troubles around the world.

Said Quayle: "I'm glad he's out playing golf. I happen to be a golfer. I think presidents deserve down time. And believe me, he is in constant communication with what's going on... I mean, what do you want him to do, stay in his house and be on the phone with the ambassador to Japan all the time?"

Ponder this little development for a moment: Dan Quayle has become the voice of reason in the Republican Party.

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PENCE'S LITTLE POWER PLAY.... We're accustomed to congressional Republicans being pretty united on almost everything, but some fissures are starting to become apparent.

This week, for example, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) complained about "the extreme wing" of the Republican Party, which would prefer a government shutdown to a bipartisan compromise. He wasn't the only one questioning his own party's extremists and their budget tactics.

In an interesting move, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) argued this morning that the Republican leadership will "denounce" those who criticize the right-wing's efforts.

"Look, I have no doubt that Speaker John Boehner and Republican Leader Eric Cantor and the rest of our leadership will privately, and if needs be, publicly denounce any effort to essentially bad mouth the intentions of Republicans that are simply fighting for fiscal responsibility," Pence said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

Pence's comment is essentially a power play to force GOP leadership into giving political cover to House conservatives, especially the Tea Party freshmen, who have clashed with establishment Republican lawmakers.

This offers the potential for entertainment. Remember, Boehner and House GOP leaders have a decision to make when it comes to how best to approach the budget negotiations -- side with the radicals in their caucus, who wouldn't even go along with a temporary extension shaped by the leaders of their own party, or reach a compromise that includes House Dems.

Pence, one of the highest-profile members of the right-wing contingent, seems to be trying to flex a little muscle here, saying that Boehner and Cantor "will ... denounce" those who dare to criticize the hard-liners pushing for a shutdown.

And if they don't, presumably Pence will feel inclined to denounce them.

Mike Pence recently ruled out a presidential campaign, but is there any chance he wants to be Speaker?

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HERE'S HOPING POTUS IS 'A NANCY PELOSI DEMOCRAT'.... Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the far-right chairman of the House Budget Committee, apparently has a new rhetorical line: "President Obama is going to have to decide. Is he an Erskine Bowles Democrat or a Nancy Pelosi Democrat?"

It's an interesting formulation. Bowles, of course, is the "centrist" Democrat who helped lead the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission, while Pelosi is the progressive former Speaker. Ryan would obviously prefer the White House emulate the moderate from North Carolina, not the liberal from San Francisco.

But as is often the case, Ryan's perspective is shaped by flawed assumptions. While the GOP budget chief assumes centrists are more committed to fiscal responsibility than liberals, Jonathan Cohn reminds us how mistaken this is.

It was Pelosi and liberal Democrats who crusaded for the Affordable Care Act, a law that included enough new revenue and entitlement cuts to offset the program's expense and actually reduce the deficit. It was Pelosi and the liberal Democrats who have protested extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, without which the short- and medium-term budget forecasts would be far less scary.

And the centrists? I'm not familiar enough with Bowles' record specifically to comment on him. But, as a group, centrist Democrats are the ones pushing to extend all of the Bush tax cuts. They're also the ones who scream the loudest about reforms within the Affordable Care Act that would reduce spending over the long term by taking money away from provider groups.

That's true, and the progressive record on pursuing a fiscally responsible agenda is too often overlooked. For all the ambitious lawmaking Pelosi oversaw in 2009 and 2010, let's not forget that the big-ticket items -- health care, Wall Street, student loans, etc. -- were all paid for and didn't add a dime to the debt. On the contrary, they made the debt smaller, not bigger.

Indeed, let's also not forget that Nancy Pelosi Democrats have also presented a wide variety of other policy ideas -- including cap-and-trade and the DREAM Act -- that would reduce, not increase, the deficit. If the assumption is that centrist Dems, not liberals, are the ones who care about the deficit, that ignores all of the available evidence.

And while Cohn's entirely right, I'd point to two related angles here. The first is that Ryan wants President Obama to be "an Erskine Bowles Democrat," but when it came time to vote on Erskine Bowles' deficit reduction plan, Paul Ryan said no. This is pretty important -- Ryan is suggesting he'd be more inclined to negotiate with a White House more aligned with Bowles, but when given a chance, Ryan said Bowles wasn't good enough.

The second is that it continues to amuse me to hear Republicans talk about fiscal responsibility at all. It was Ryan's GOP colleagues -- not Democrats -- who voted for the Bush tax cuts, and added the costs to the national debt; voted to finance the war in Afghanistan by adding the costs to the national debt; voted to put the costs of the war in Iraq onto the national debt; supported a massive expansion of the government's role in health care, Medicare Part D, and voted to pile all of its costs right onto the national debt; and then backed the financial industry bailout, and added the bill to the national debt.

Ryan wants to know if Obama will be a centrist Dem or a liberal Dem on the budget. My response is, both wings of the Democratic Party have more credibility than the GOP.

As Paul Krugman recently explained, "Democrats aren't fiscal saints. But we have one party that has been generally responsible, and tries to pay for what it wants, and another party that consistently, deliberately, takes actions to increase deficits in the long term. Saying this may be shrill; but not saying it is being deceptive."

Postscript: On a related note, Bowles doesn't really know what he's talking about anyway.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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MANUFACTURED NONSENSE, PART MCCXVII.... In the absence of real White House controversies and scandals, we apparently have to put up with routine "outrages" over manufactured nonsense. It's getting pretty annoying.

How many times have conservatives pretended to be incensed over some meaningless flap? Remember the not-so-scandalous Department of Homeland Security report about potentially violent extremists, which prompted some conservatives to call for Janet Napolitano's resignation? Or how about the apoplexy over President Obama encouraging kids to do well in school? Remember the comparisons to Watergate when the White House offered a congressman a job?

This week, we're apparently stuck watching Republicans hyperventilate because the president appeared on ESPN for nine minutes to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket.

Limbaugh was agitated about this on Tuesday, followed by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus whining soon after. Fox News spent much of Wednesday obsessing over this, and it even came up during the White House press briefing yesterday, with a reporter asking -- in between questions about a nuclear crisis in Japan -- whether the president's ESPN appearance was "entirely appropriate" or not.

This morning, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, not wanting to get left out, complained that he thinks it's "sad" for the president to "hide from his job behind NCAA picks." I haven't the foggiest idea what that's even supposed to mean.

What's especially discouraging, though, is when those who ought to know better fall for the nonsense. Take this item, for example, from NBC's First Read.

Republicans had a field day yesterday with the president's appearance on ESPN, laying out his NCAA bracket and then attending a DNC event for big-money fundraisers at a Washington hotel last night at a time when Japan is in a nuclear crisis and the situation in Libya remains dire....

The president is obviously engaged on the crises, taking an 11:00 pm ET phone call with prime minister of Japan and doing work behind the scenes. The White House is taking solace in the fact that "Real America" isn't paying much attention to these snipes. But they should be aware that perception could become reality for swing voters, especially if some of this starts landing in late-night monologues; the last few days haven't been stellar ones for those in charge of Obama's presidential image.

I'd hoped those who help shape the conventional wisdom would say, "Why are Republicans investing so much in a pointless attack?" rather than, "Obama's presidential image suffers when he appears on ESPN for nine minutes."

Our discourse has to be smarter than this. Republicans may have had "a field day" pretending to care about trivia, but there's no reason for the rest of us to pretend their manufactured outrage is legit. It's not.

I'm all for watching the president like a hawk, and having opposition parties do what opposition parties are supposed to do -- cutting the White House no slack at all. But can the political world at least make distinctions between transparently silly attacks and real news?

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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

* In Nevada, failed Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) announced yesterday that she's running for the U.S. House, in a seat being left vacant by Dean Heller (R) who's running for the Senate. Angle, one of 2010's more ridiculous and borderline-dangerous personalities, will face a crowded GOP primary field, which will include Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki among others.

* President Obama hasn't literally said he's running for a second term, but he's obviously begun fundraising like someone who'll obviously be a candidate.

* A couple of county-level officials with the Democratic Party in Michigan are facing felony counts after trying to put bogus Tea Party candidates on the ballot to draw votes away from Republicans. Among other things, the duo have been charged with perjury and forgery.

* Rick Santorum isn't the only Republican presidential candidate with a "Google problem." Using the search engine to look up information about Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour turns up all kinds of materials related to his alleged racism.

* With Democrats increasingly confident that DNC Chairman Tim Kaine will run for the Senate in Virginia next year, attention now turns to his possible replacement at Democratic National Committee HQ. The leading contender appears to be former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

* In Missouri, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sarah Steelman as the early frontrunner in the GOP Senate primary, though Rep. Todd Akin would be a strong contender if he runs. The winner will face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).

* In New Mexico, home to an open U.S. Senate race next year, there will be several Democrats vying for the party's nod, but the early favorite appears to be Rep. Martin Heinrich. Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is a close second.

* And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton effectively ruled out holding government office after 2012, telling CNN she doesn't want to serve in a different cabinet role or run for national office again.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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GINGRICH'S ANTI-GAY GENEROSITY.... The American Family Association, a leading anti-gay hate group, was one of the driving forces behind a campaign to remove Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in support of marriage equality last year. At the time, the AFA boasted quite a bit about all the money they were receiving to "defend traditional marriage."

What we didn't know at the time was that a big chunk of that money was coming from one man who doesn't seem to appreciate "traditional marriage" much at all.

Last year, former Speaker Newt Gingrich offered his vocal support for the ultimately successful campaign to oust three of the nine Iowa Supreme Court justices who had unanimously ruled in favor of marriage equality. As Gingrich courts social conservatives while exploring a possible presidential bid, new disclosures from his camp indicate that he and his associates bankrolled more than one-third of the $850,000 campaign to remove the Iowa justices.

ThinkProgress previously reported on $200,000 that Gingrich funneled from an anonymous donor to the anti-marriage equality group Iowa for Freedom, which was also being funded by AFA Action, the political arm of the virulently anti-gay American Family Association. The Associated Press revealed yesterday that one of the cogs in Gingrich's vast network of business enterprises and front groups, ReAL Action, provided $125,000 to AFA Action. The Des Moines Register reported this morning that ReAL Action also contributed $25,000 to yet another Iowa anti-LGBT group, the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Gingrich did all of this "quietly." If I had multiple wives and mistresses, including two divorces under cruel and ugly circumstances, I might want to be "quiet" about this, too.

Regardless, the fact that the disgraced former House Speaker went to all of this trouble suggests (a) Gingrich really is running for president, and this won't be another false start, and (b) he intends to run as a favorite candidate for the religious right, the irony of that notwithstanding.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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PAWLENTY, BARBOUR SPLIT OVER DEFENSE SPENDING.... Ask the American mainstream which parts of the budget should get cut, and more often than not, one of the more common responses is the Pentagon budget. But in Republicans politics, it's not nearly this simple.

There's a contingent within the GOP that's so desperate to cut federal spending, they're willing to put defense on the table. But in the larger context, it's a fairly small contingent -- most of the Republican Party, alleged deficit-reduction goals notwithstanding, consider funding for the military off-limits. You'll notice, for example, that the House GOP is unwavering in its drive to slash spending, but only from non-defense, domestic discretionary funds.

As it turns out, this might be one of the few areas of division when it comes to the 2012 Republican presidential field, which necessarily makes it an issue worth watching.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) surprised some folks this week while campaigning in Iowa, arguing that defense cuts make sense. "Anybody who says you can't save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon," Barbour said. "We can save money on defense and if we Republicans don't propose saving money on defense, we'll have no credibility on anything else."

And sure enough, one of his top rivals, campaigning in South Carolina, pounced.

A day after Haley Barbour called for cuts in defense spending, Tim Pawlenty went the other way.

"I don't think we should be talking about cutting the Pentagon's budget," the former Minnesota governor told POLITICO after a speech at the Aiken Republican Club here. "I think we should be talking about looking for those areas where we might some efficiencies or redeploying money spent on defense to higher-priority areas within defense. In other words keep the defense budget intact, but if we find some savings, some efficiencies, some ways to redeploy money we should do that."

We're spending $700 billion a year on defense, nearly as much as every other country on the planet combined. Pawlenty wants to make sure that total "continues to grow," though he's willing to consider moving money around within the Pentagon budget. How responsible of him.

It's too soon to say whether Barbour will stick to this line, and how much pushback he'll receive. As a rule, vowing to cut defense spending isn't a winning strategy for a Republican presidential hopeful, and it's easy to already imagine the ads about those who would dare "cut funding for our military during a time of war and international terrorist threats."

But the Mississippi governor deserves credit for taking the risk, and I'll look forward to the reactions from the GOP base that claims to put spending cuts at the top of their to-do list.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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REALITY-SHOW STAR PLAYS AN ELABORATE PRACTICAL JOKE ON POLITICAL WORLD.... About a month ago, Jon Chait pondered whether Donald Trump's alleged interest in a presidential campaign is some kind of joke. Suggesting the burgeoning campaign from the reality-show star might be a "parody," Jon asked, "Is Donald Trump putting us on?"

On "Good Morning America" earlier, we appear to have received an answer to that question.

Speaking about the president, Trump --- in line with "birthers" who question the president's citizenship -- said he, too, had his doubts that Obama was born in the U.S.

"Everybody that even gives a hint of being a birther ... even a little bit of a hint, like, gee, you know, maybe, just maybe this much of a chance, they label them as an idiot. Let me tell you, I'm a really smart guy," he said.

He explained the source of his doubt: "He grew up and nobody knew him. You know? When you interview people, if ever I got the nomination, if I ever decide to run, you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten. They'll remember me. Nobody ever comes forward. Nobody knows who he is until later in his life. It's very strange. The whole thing is very strange," he added.

He went on to criticize House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for crying too much; boasted, "I'm very rich"; described the United States as "weak"; and said of U.S. policy towards Russia, "Give me an admiral and a couple of ships and [I'll] wipe them out of the sea so fast. Think of it."*

No one is quite this stupid unless they're trying to be stupid.

In other words, "Is Donald Trump putting us on?" Yeah, I'm pretty sure he is.

* Correction: He was apparently referring to Somali pirates, not Russia, when talking about "wiping them out of the sea." I misread the transcript from ABC and regret the error. Nevertheless, the larger point about Trump's ridiculousness stands.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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WHEN COMPETING CONSERVATIVE PRIORITIES COLLIDE.... The House GOP effort to redefine rape generated the bulk of the attention about the bill, but the rest of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act" is still a mess.

Of particular interest today, is the fact that the Republican legislation appears to (cue scary music) raise taxes.

Today, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on H.R.3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, which would "prevent women from using itemized medical deductions, certain tax-advantaged health care accounts or tax credits included in last year's health care law to pay for abortions or for health insurance plans that cover abortion." Doing so would force both women and small businesses that provide health insurance that covers abortion to pay more in taxes than they would otherwise.

As Bloomberg News's Richard Rubin points out, under "common Republican definitions," this can be "viewed as a tax increase -- which is anathema to the House majority." Even economic conservative Grover Norquist was "concerned" that the policy, "however well-intentioned or virtuous," would "mask a net tax increase."

And voting for a tax increase simply isn't allowed.

Or at least, isn't supposed to be. At the same time, though, Republicans are supposed to make it as difficult as possible for American women to exercise their reproductive rights, regardless of the fiscal implications.

What's a far-right party to do?

"H.R. 3 takes the unprecedented step of manipulating the federal tax code to push an extreme anti-choice agenda, which is why the House's tax-writing committee is granting it a hearing," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "This bill imposes tax penalties on small businesses and many individuals who purchase private insurance plans that cover abortion care. This begs the question - what incentive does a private-insurance company have to provide coverage for this safe and legal procedure if their customers are going to suffer a tax hike? Since 87 percent of private-insurance plans currently cover abortion care, the effects of H.R.3 would be devastating."

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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MAYBE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO PRAY FOR A GOP JOBS PLAN.... House Republicans sure find the strangest things to spend time on.

The House Judiciary Committee will consider a resolution Thursday to reaffirm "In God We Trust" as the national motto.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) sponsored the resolution, which also encourages displaying the phrase in public buildings, schools, and other government institutions. [...]

Forbes sponsored the same resolution last Congress, but it never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

Yes, but it's a whole new Congress now, isn't it?

Keep in mind, the GOP-led House Judiciary Committee will be spending time on this today, but there's no real point to any of this. "In God We Trust" is already the motto. In effect, the resolution is largely intended to say, "Just in case anyone forgot, the national motto is still the national motto."

What's more, the resolution's conservative backers don't even have their history right. The measure states as fact that "In God We Trust" has been an integral part of United States society since its founding." That's clearly wrong. The phrase makes no appearances in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or any of the Founding Fathers' writings. Early American leaders chose "E pluribus unum" as the motto on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782, and this was the country's unofficial motto for nearly two centuries. That changed in 1956 when, as some kind of symbolic Cold War gesture, Congress chose "In God We Trust" as the official national motto. But given that the nation's "founding" pre-dates 1956, the claim isn't at all true.

But putting all of that aside, why in the world would GOP officials -- the ones who vowed to focus like a laser on the economy -- bother with this? For months, the new House Republican majority has wasted time on health care bills they know they can't pass, abortion bills they know they can't pass, climate bills they know they can't pass, and budget bills they know they can't pass. They've invested considerable time and energy on defending the Defense of Marriage Act, recklessly accusing Muslim Americans of disloyalty, going after NPR, and pushing culture-war bills related to vouchers, English as the "official" language, and now "In God We Trust."

In the meantime, we're still waiting for that elusive Republican jobs plan to come out of hiding. They've been at this now for 10 weeks; they're bound to take unemployment seriously one of these days, right?

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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FIRST THE EFFORT, THEN THE PAYOFF.... Republican officials in Wisconsin last week completed an odious task, approving a union-busting proposal from Gov. Scott Walker (R) that strips most state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Last night, they received a reward of sorts.

Wisconsin Republican state Senators, fresh from passing draconian anti-labor and privatization legislation, jetted into Washington, D.C., Wednesday night to collect tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the one constituency group that approves of what Governor Scott Walker and his GOP allies are doing: corporate lobbyists. But if Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Joint Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling thought they could get away from the mounting campaign to remove Republican state senators and shift control of the chamber to the Democrats -- creating a check and balance on Walker -- they were mistaken.

Lobbyists paid as much as $5,000 each to host the fundraiser for the Wisconsin Republicans, held at offices of one of DC's most powerful lobbying firms.

But the crowd outside the event was significantly larger than the crowd inside. Estimates vary, but by some counts as many as 1,000 protestors took to the streets of Washington to protest the fundraiser, and even worked their way to the lobby of the building where the event was held.

The progressive activism inspired by Wisconsin Republicans is a sight to behold.

The president of the corporate lobbying firm, BGR Group, said the fundraiser wasn't necessarily a payoff to the GOP state officials for a job well done, because the event had been in the works for months.

I have no evidence to the contrary, but at face value, that seems hard to believe. A powerful DC lobbying firm has been working on a fundraiser for members of the Wisconsin state legislature for months? It's possible, of course, but that'd be quite a coincidence. Will GOP lawmakers from every other state also benefit from the lobbyists' largess?

In either case, it appears Wisconsin Republicans are going to need the money. Both state parties are trying to mount recall efforts, but as the Huffington Post reported yesterday, "Both national and Wisconsin-based Republican operatives tell the Huffington Post the party is being dramatically outworked and out-organized by Democrats in the recall campaigns being launched against state Senators."

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

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March 16, 2011

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

* Bad to worse in Japan: "The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of the threat posed by Japan's nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than the perimeter established by Japan."

* Libya: "The New York Times said Wednesday that four of its journalists reporting on the conflict in Libya were missing." The fear is they were swept up by Libyan government forces.

* Gadhafi's son boasts: "The Libyan army told people in Benghazi to lay down their arms on Wednesday as its troops advanced closer to the rebel stronghold for what could be the decisive battle in the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam, speaking to French-based TV channel Euronews, said his troops were near Benghazi and 'everything will be over in 48 hours.'"

* CIA contractor freed in Pakistan: "A CIA security contractor who fatally shot two Pakistani men in January was released Wednesday after relatives of the victims received 'blood money' as compensation and agreed to pardon him, U.S. officials said."

* After successfully attacking collective-bargaining rights, Wisconsin Republicans will be in D.C. tonight for a lucrative fundraiser hosted by corporate lobbyists.

* House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) claims to love transparency and disclosure. Why, then, did he call a witness for testimony without disclosing the witness' generous campaign contributions to Issa?

* Oh good, the right is still trying to pretend the "terror baby" menace is a real problem.

* What kind of person mocks Japanese quake refugees? Look no further than Rush Limbaugh.

* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) wants to open up state parks for oil and gas exploration, while slashing funding for programs that help low birth-weight babies.

* It's a long shot under the circumstances, but plenty of congressional Dems are serious about repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.

* If you've heard Wisconsin Republicans talking about a bus driver who makes $160,000 a year, it's worth learning the truth.

* Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) thinks NPR does bad journalism, but James O'Keefe does good journalism.

* Student debt is a bigger problem than we realized.

* And finally, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain wants us to know, "It's not Planned Parenthood. No, it's planned genocide. You can quote me on that." He's quite a charmer.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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AN ODD SENSE OF SACRIFICE.... Two paragraphs that do a great job summarizing the Republican approach to policymaking:

There has long been rare left-right agreement in Washington that multi-billion dollar federal farm subsidies are generally wasteful, mostly benefit agribusinesses, and should be slashed or eliminated. You'd think this would represent low-hanging fruit for Republican budget hawks looking to make quick cuts in federal spending. But the farm lobby and members of Congress representing rural states wield mighty power in Washington. So it's little surprise to see Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee urging Budget Chairman Paul Ryan not to make substantial cuts to federal farm programs.

But this time there's a twist: Lest those Republicans appear profligate, they have proposed one area for cuts -- food stamps.

Wasteful farm subsidies can't get cut, Republicans say, because "red"-state lawmakers won't tolerate it.

But food stamps that help struggling families put food on the table -- and happen to be the single most effective government stimulus available -- can be cut because they don't fit into the GOP agenda and don't have any champions in the Republican caucus.

For all the GOP talk about deficit reduction, the party's bottom line is always the same: "If it doesn't hurt working families, we're not interested."

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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CREDIBILITY COUNTS.... Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went on quite a tirade earlier, condemning President Obama for failing to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, and insisting that the existing U.S. policy would prove to be a long-term disaster.

"Their refusal to act will go down as one of the great mistakes in American foreign-policy history and will have dire consequences for our own national security in the years to come," Graham said of Obama administration officials.

Reading the condemnation, I kept thinking, "And Lindsey Graham is credible, why?" Indeed, when the Republican senator whines about this being "one of the great mistakes in American foreign-policy history," is Graham simply not remembering the great mistakes of American foreign-policy history that he was a cheerleader for?

Tom Ricks wants the U.S. to intervene on behalf of Libyan rebels, but considers the U.S. invasion of Iraq a "disastrous move ... that will cost us for decades to come." He then reported today:

So it was with very mixed feelings that I read a letter urging President Obama to act, and saw it signed by so many of those people who urged us into Iraq.

It's quite a list, featuring names that will no doubt be familiar: John Podhoretz, Randy Scheunemann, Paul Bremer, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor, Elizabeth Cheney, Bill Kristol, Marc Thiessen, and many others who share their worldview.

Ricks added, "My guess is that this line-up actually will make people reconsider whether intervening is a good idea. So the letter is likely to have the opposite of the effect its signers intended."

I certainly hope so. I realize it's intellectually lazy to simply outsource one's judgment on major questions, and assume that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya is a bad idea just because Kristol, Cheney, Thiessen, et al, think it's a good idea.

Still, if it doesn't give you pause, you're not paying close enough attention to recent history. Credibility counts, and these folks don't have any.

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

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ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES.... In the Kansas legislature this week, the chairman of the House Republican caucus suggested he'd found a "solution to our illegal immigration problem." The answer? Shooting immigrants from helicopters.

Noting the remarks, Dana Milbank explained today that this is just one of many head-shaking examples coming out of state legislatures "now that many Tea Party types have come to power."

When Louis Brandeis called state legislatures "laboratories of democracy," he couldn't have imagined the curious formulas the Tea Party chemists would be mixing in 2011, including: a bill just passed by the Utah legislature requiring the state to recognize gold and silver as legal tender; a Montana bill declaring global warming "beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana"; a plan in Georgia to abolish driver's licenses because licensing violates the "inalienable right" to drive; legislation in South Dakota that would require every adult to buy a gun; and the Kentucky legislature's effort to create a "sanctuary state" for coal, safe from environmental laws.

In Washington, the whims of the Tea Party lawmakers have been tempered, by President Obama and Senate Democrats, but also by House Republican leaders who don't want the party to look crazy. Yet these checks often do not exist in state capitols. Though many of the proposals will never become law, the proliferation of exotic policies gives Americans a sense of what Tea Party rule might look like.

Milbank highlights a variety of unnerving examples -- from the silly to the dangerous -- some of which stand no chance of passing, some of which may actually become state law.

But this isn't just about pointing and laughing at crazy lawmakers with crazy ideas. There's a substantive angle to this -- namely, the fact that elections have consequences, and in 2011, those consequences include radical policymakers pushing truly ridiculous proposals.

Voters have only themselves to blame, since the radicals couldn't have achieved power without an electoral endorsement, but here's hoping those same voters are getting a good look at their post-election handiwork, and will keep these revelations in mind come 2012.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THE GOP'S MIXED MESSAGES ON EUROPE.... For quite a while, one of the standard Republican lines to condemn any progressive initiative has been to equate it with Europe. The argument doesn't need policy depth; it's intended to be self-evident. When the GOP says a Democratic idea reminds them of something European, the debate is supposed to necessarily end.

Because, you know, it's Europe.

There are, however, exceptions.

Reacting to the nuclear meltdown crisis playing out in Japan, House Speaker John Boehner told an audience at a job creation forum Wednesday that the United States should and will learn lessons from the tragedy. But in the meantime, the country should aim to increase its reliance on nuclear energy -- much like France.

Yes, the Speaker reminded folks today that "82% of the electricity produced in France comes from nuclear sources," and France has managed its nuclear program "successfully for decades."

Perhaps. But here's the follow-up: since when does John Boehner give a damn what works in France? Isn't the Republican line that the United States should avoid emulating France and the rest of Western Europe?

Indeed, does Boehner realize that the French nuclear system he's touting is owned by the French government, making it socialized energy?

I suppose what I'd really like at this point is some sort of guidelines of when we're allowed to care what goes on in Europe. At this point, it's getting a little confusing.

If I'm hearing the GOP correctly, when Europeans embrace austerity measures, the U.S. should follow their lead, but when Europeans embrace high-speed rail, we should reject this attack on American individualism.

When Europeans embrace nuclear energy, the U.S. should follow their lead, but when Europeans embrace national health care, Americans should perceive it as radical communism.

When Europeans criticize quantitative easing, the U.S. should take their concerns seriously, but when Europeans adopt a V.A.T. system, Americans should run screaming in the other direction.

Does that sound about right?

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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WHEN CUTTING MORE ENDS UP COSTING MORE.... We talked a couple of weeks ago about how misguided it is for congressional Republicans to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service. The goals are fundamentally backwards -- the GOP intends to "save" money and lower the deficit by slashing the IRS budget, which would in turn end up costing more money and raising the deficit.

Why? Because for every dollar the IRS spends on audits, liens, and property seizures, the government brings in more than $10. If the goal is reducing the deficit, undermining the agency that collects revenue is counter-productive. Indeed, the Obama administration -- which may be more interested in fiscal responsibility than it should be -- wants to increase the IRS's budget precisely because it will reduce the budget shortfall Republicans pretend to care about.

In other words, in this case, the GOP plan to reduce the deficit is almost certain to increase the deficit.

Ezra Klein uses this as a launching pad to highlight the fact that cutting spending not only fails in some occasions to reduce the deficit, it even fails to actually reduce spending.

There are three categories of spending in which cuts lead to more, rather than less, spending down the line, says Alice Rivlin, former director of both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget. Inspection, enforcement and maintenance. The GOP is trying to cut all three.

I can appreciate why some of this seems counter-intuitive. I can even imagine some Fox News personality telling viewers, "Those wacky liberals think it costs money to cut spending! What fools!"

But it just requires a little bit of thought. If we cut spending on volcano monitoring and tsunami warnings, we save a little money on maintenance, but pay a lot of money on damage repairs after disaster strikes. If we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but pay a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick. If we cut spending for the Securities and Exchange Commission, as Republicans are desperate to do, we save a little money on enforcement, but pay a lot of money to clean up financial catastrophes.

This comes up all the time. A couple of years ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) thought it was outrageous to spend $650,000 on "beaver management" in North Carolina and Mississippi, blissfully unaware of the fact that this funding ended up saving nearly $5 million in potential flood damage to farms, timber lands, and roadways. Spending a little money saved a lot of money.

Ezra summarized all of this nicely:

There are all sorts of reasons Republicans are being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Cutting $100 billion in spending in one year sounded good on the campaign trail but turned out to be tough in practice. Curtailing the IRS and cutting the Department of Health and Human Services -- and, particularly, its ability to implement health-care reform -- is a long-term ideological objective for Republicans.

Whatever the reason, the effect will be the same: a higher likelihood of pricey disasters, an easier time for fraudsters, and bigger price tags when we have to rebuild what we could've just repaired.

Just don't try to explain any of this to congressional Republicans. It seems to make their heads hurt.