I’ve said this before, but in light of Mitt Romney’s economic speech today, it bears repeating: Virtually his entire case against Obama’s economic record rests on the assumption that the American people have developed a case of mass amnesia about the depth and severity of the economic crisis the President inherited.
A few months ago, Romney liked to claim that Obama made the economy “worse.” But the good economic news forced Romney to revise that argument, and he took to claiming that, yes, okay, the economy is getting better, but only in spite of Obama’s policies, which are slowing down the natural recovery.
Today Romney upped the ante yet again, offering still another explanation for why Obama should be denied a second term, even though the economy is recovering: It’s all about freedom! From the prepared remarks:
The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid — why it couldn’t meet their projections, let alone our expectations. If we don’t change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come…
The proof is in this weak recovery. This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small. The truth is we’re struggling because our government is too big.
Relatedly, this morning, Romney said: “The economy always comes back after a recession, of course. There’s never been one that we didn’t recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president.”
The common thread here is obvious, and it’s important. The pace of this recovery, according to Romney, is sluggish compared to that of previous ones — proving that Obama’s policies, or his “assault on freedom,” are the reason why. Missing from this telling, of course, is the most important reason this recovery is different from previous ones: It came after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Romney’s argument that the recovery’s pace would otherwise have been normal if not for Obama’s polices rests on a bet that the American people will forget about this, or won’t factor it into their decision this fall. Perhaps some enterprising reporter will ask Romney the obvious follow-up questions: What would you have done as president in early 2009? Is it really your contention that the economy would have recovered at a typical pace from the worst financial crisis since the 1930s if government had done nothing at all?
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, March 19, 2012
The Republican primary has now reached that dread phase where we are required to feign interest in Mitt Romney’s victory in Puerto Rico — amongst voters who will not vote this November unless they catch a plane to Orlando — and to wonder whether Rick Santorum can repeat his Missouri victory in the delegate-awarding reenactment of that state’s nominating contest. Yawn.
But there is one bonus: with Romney struggling to close out the nomination against candidates who are having trouble getting on the ballot even in their home states, we get to see people of all sorts offering him advice that ranges from the pitiful to the ludicrous. First, there was Maggie Haberman’s advice to Romney last week in Politico, urging him to drop his blatant pandering in the South for a more ironic approach:
Change will take some measure of discipline, but it’s something Romney can pull off. For example, instead of a joke about grits, Romney could relate more easily to voters if he joked about being from southern Michigan.
Ba-da-bum. And then in Saturday’s Washington Post, Philip Rucker extracted this gem from religious-right leader Richard Land:
Among those being courted [by Romney] is Richard Land, a longtime leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a practice, Land said, he does not endorse political candidates, but he is considered a powerful barometer of the evangelical community.
Land said that after a private dinner with Romney last year at Acadiana, a Washington restaurant, Romney’s advisers have been in regular touch. Land said he recently told them that Romney could win over recalcitrant conservatives by picking Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) as his vice presidential running mate and previewing a few Cabinet selections: Santorum as attorney general, Gingrich as ambassador to the United Nations and John Bolton as secretary of state.
Ah yes. Condom confiscation at CVS stores by federal marshals, and Newt and Bolton tag-teaming our Iran diplomacy. That’ll do the trick, Mitt!
By: Alex MacGillis, The New Republic, March 19, 2012
Republicans have sought to frame the Keystone XL pipeline as a job-creating project being thwarted by “radical environmentalists.” Is it? A new Cornell University study claims that the pipeline could actually have a negative impact on the economies of the states it would pass through.
“In the national debate, job creation has been set alongside environmental concerns in a rigid either-or fashion,” says Sean Sweeney, one of the study’s authors, “But oil spills also kill jobs, they consume resources, they have an impact on health, and can also lead to a lower quality of life.”
The range of estimates of jobs vary widely. TransCanada claims the pipeline will create 20,000 jobs. A State Department report estimates that only 20 permanent operating jobs would be created in the six states along the pipeline route. By comparison, those same states are home to robust agricultural, ranching and tourist industries that are dependent on water and vulnerable to environmental contamination. Across the six states agriculture employs 571,000 workers and tourism 780,000; the total revenue from those sectors, respectively, is $76.3 billion and $67 billion.
Sludge not crude
Tar sands oil — known in energy circles as diluted bitumen — may be more damaging to environments and communities than regular crude. Said Sweeney, “Diluted bitumen is an irregular substance — it runs thick and thin, hot and cold. It’s basically a sludge, not like regular crude — it behaves differently.” Tar sands also seem more likely to spill than conventional crude: The spill rate for diluted bitumen in the northern Midwest between 2007-2010 was three times the national average for conventional oil. This may be because the heavy, corrosive material puts greater stress on pipelines.
The already existing Keystone I pipeline, which runs 2,100 miles from Alberta to Illinois, began operating in 2010; in the two years since, 35 spills have occurred. In the pipeline’s first year of operation alone, its spill rate was 100 times TransCanada’s projection. All told the amount of tar sands oil being transported through the United States has more than tripled in the past decade to 600,000 barrels in 2010. Keystone XL, if built, would add another 830,000 barrels per day.
John Stansbury, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska, analyzed spill data from the Keystone I pipeline to estimate that 91 spills would occur over the course of 50 years of Keystone XL’s operation — close to two spills each year. In a worst-case scenario, he says, a spill could contaminate 4.9 billion gallons of groundwater in Nebraska’s Sand Hills with benzene, a known carcinogen.
The threat the pipeline poses to Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which provides 30 percent of the irrigation water in the U.S., has been much-discussed, but the pipeline would also cross another 1,747 bodies of water, including the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, the third largest aquifer in Texas.
If Keystone were to leak — or worse, rupture — the consequences could be serious. In July 2010, a pipeline operated by the company Enbridge ruptured — the company has never explained why — spilling 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The oil drifted 40 miles upstream, causing 145 reported instances of illness and health problems for people living in the riverside community of Marshall, Mich. Marshall residents living within 200 feet of the river were eligible for a buyout program; about 130 people sold their houses to Enbridge, leaving some areas uninhabited.
The Kalamazoo cleanup has cost $725 million so far — twice as much as Enbridge estimated — and the river remains closed to fishing, hunting and other recreational activities over a year and a half after the spill occurred. Officials in the Calhoun County Health Department have said some bitumen will likely remain in the river “indefinitely.” Sweeney points out that the rural areas along pipeline routes are unprepared to cope with spills. “They had to bring someone in from the Gulf to deal with Kalamazoo,” he explained.
While the Kalamazoo spill was the biggest-ever tar sands spill, pipeline spills occur with startling frequency. In 2011 alone, there were 600 reported pipeline incidents. TransCanada’s website argues that “if they do occur, pipeline leaks are small,” yet pipeline spills caused 17 deaths and 68 injuries, and over $335 million in property damage. In 2010, when the Kalamazoo spill occurred, the damages from pipeline spills topped $1 billion. While pipeline spills don’t get the attention of disasters like the Exxon-Valdez and BP, they point to a familiar pattern of underestimating risk and underpreparing for disaster.
TransCanada insists that it will comply with all federal regulations, and construct and operate Keystone XL “to the highest industry standards.” Danielle Droitsch, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, argues that we don’t know enough about diluted bitumen to be able to transport it safely. “We’re building these pipelines as if they were conventional oil pipelines,” she said. “We don’t have any special regulations in place to deal with the fact that these are tar sands pipelines and they are very different. Until we have a new regulatory system in place there are no safety measures proposed that would make this pipeline safer.”
And in the meantime? “There’s no question this pipeline will spill — it’s a question of when.”
By: Allyssa Battistoni, Salon, March 19, 2012
Utah Governor Gary Herbert vetoed an abstinence-only sex ed bill, prompting the measure’s co-sponsor to go on the offensive.
Last week, I mentioned two state legislatures had passed abstinence-only sex education bills. While Wisconsin’s governor was already supportive of the measure, in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert was less certain. The measure would have banned any discussion of contraception, or for that matter, homosexuality. The current law in Utah already requires parents to “opt-in” if the course includes discussion of contraceptives, but this measure would have actually removed even the option for students to learn about more than simply abstinence. It had passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, despite protests and opposition from the state PTA and teachers’ groups.
Late Friday, after protests, phone calls, and significant pressure from both sides, Herbert announced he had vetoed the measure. In his statement, he said he was unwilling to say “the State knows better than Utah’s parents,” noting a majority of parents choose to have their children learn about contraception. Herbert described himself as pushing “the reset button” on the conversation around sex-ed in the state.
But given the national rhetoric around sex right now, I’m not so sure a simply flourish of his pen will put the genie back in the bottle. Senate co-sponsor Margaret Dayton told the Salt Lake Tribune that “teaching children about contraception is comparable to telling kids not to do drugs, then showing them how to ‘mainline’ heroin.”
The national conversation around sex has shifted radically. Dayton is not alone in seeing sex as akin to one of the most dangerous street drugs around. A dangerous and corrupting activity that puts our youth at risk. Meanwhile, non-radical conservatives generally see sex as a healthy and normal activity, at least among adults, and teaching teenagers to use contraception means teaching them to be responsible. There’s such a major rift between the two sides right now, it’s hard to see what kind of conversation can be had.
Of course, a poll in Utah showed 58 percent of residents favored sex-ed that included contraceptives. So maybe they don’t need to have a conversation in the first place.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, March 19, 2012
As Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, and others have amply demonstrated, Mitt Romney has a problem with the truth. Throughout his campaign, he has openly lied about his previous positions, his beliefs, and the records of his opponents, Republican or otherwise. In a speech today on economic freedom at the University of Chicago, Romney continued the trend, building a mostly substanceless case against President Obama on the basis of half-truths and falsehoods. You can read the whole speech if you’d like. For now, I’d like to highlight a few passages that sum up Romney’s case against Obama in fact-free aplomb. First, there’s this:
For three years, President Obama has expanded government instead of empowering the American people. He’s put us deeper in debt. He’s slowed the recovery and harmed our economy.
There are a few things missing from this account. First is the fact that the Great Recession began in 2008 and was already on its way to reach its nadir by the time Obama took office. By the time the stimulus began to take effect, the economy was well on its way to the bottom, and independent analyses agree that the administration’s policies kept the country out of a depression, even if it wasn’t enough to juice the recovery.
What’s more, neither the stimulus nor the administration’s later policies were responsible for the deficit explosion of 2009 and 2010. The recession—and the drastically reduced tax revenues it produced—was responsible for a good portion of the deficit. The rest was the result of Bush-era policies like tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As economist Mark Thomas points out, government spending under Obama has increased at a lower rate than under Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush. The only president to have a lower rate of spending was, you guessed it, Bill Clinton.
On to the next passage, which is brazen in its disregard for the truth:
President Obama has proposed raising the marginal tax rate from 35% to 40%. He has proposed special breaks for his favorite industries, further increases for businesses he dislikes, and endless credits and subsidies intended to shape our behavior in this society. […]
If you invest your savings in a new business and are one of the fortunate few who see success – and make a profit – President Obama wants to take 40% of it.
President Obama wants to restore marginal tax rates on the rich to where they were before George W. Bush took office. While the American public might not understand marginal tax rates, it’s almost certainly true that Mitt Romney has a handle on the concept. Which means that the former Massachusetts governor is lying to his audience when he says that “President Obama wants to take 40 percent” of your income. An increase in marginal tax rates, or even a millionaire’s surtax, would only apply to income over a certain point. If the Bush tax cuts were repealed, and the top marginal rate went up to Clinton-era levels for income over $250,000, then it’s only the $250,001st dollar that would be affected.
Beyond that, the claim that Obama has proposed tax increases for “businesses he dislikes” only makes sense if you include policies designed to lower rates and broaden the tax base. “You could portray the president’s call to remove subsidies for oil and gas companies that way, and also his call to end the carried-interest loophole, which benefits hedge funds and investment companies,” says Michael Linden, director for tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress. You might disagree with those policies, but Obama isn’t playing favoritism.
On that note, here is how Romney concludes his speech:
But, now, after spending three years attacking business, President Obama hopes to erase his record with a speech. In a recent address, he said that, “We are inventors. We are builders. We are makers of things. We are Thomas Edison. We are the Wright Brothers. We are Bill Gates. We are Steve Jobs.”
The only thing that’s true here are the quotes from Obama. The rest? False. Here are some excerpts from speeches the president has given over the last three years (all emphasis mine).
All across America, even today, on a Saturday, millions of Americans are hard at work. … They are the more than half of all Americans who work at a small business or own a small business. And they embody the spirit of possibility, the relentless work ethic, and the hope for something better that is at the heart of the American Dream.
Government can’t guarantee success, but it can knock down barriers that keep entrepreneurs from opening or expanding. […] This is as American as apple pie. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are central to our identity as a nation. They are going to lead this recovery. The folks standing beside me are going to lead this recovery.
As part of the bipartisan tax deal we negotiated, with the support of the Chamber, businesses can immediately expense 100 percent of their capital investments. And as all of you know, it’s investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds. And as you hire, you know that more Americans working will mean more sales for your companies. It will mean more demand for your products and services. It will mean higher profits for your companies. We can create a virtuous circle.
[I]f you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.
The point is simply to say that the only Barack Obama who has spent his presidency criticizing business is the Barack Obama that exists in Mitt Romney’s head. Indeed, the same goes for this speech, and his entire campaign—Romney is running against policies that haven’t happened and an Obama that doesn’t exist. Exaggeration is normal in politics, but this goes beyond garden-variety embellishment—Romney’s speech, along with much of his rhetoric, is a remarkable work of staggering dishonesty. So far, he hasn’t really suffered for it.
By: Jamie Bouie, The American Prospect, March 19. 2012