NEW YEAR’S resolutions are the original New Rules. Except that resolutions are usually self-oriented: I am going to lose weight this year. My New Year’s resolution, by the way, is to do the ones from ’75; I made a lot of good ones that year. I was 19, and thought I could polish them off by age 20. Alas, I’m a little behind.
Also, New Rules are bigger, broader and grander. I don’t tell you what I’m going to eat; I tell you how the world should work. Here’s what 2011 prompts me to decree for 2012:
New Rule Now that we have no money, and all our soldiers have come home from Iraq and they’ve all got experience building infrastructure, and no jobs … we must immediately solve all of our problems by declaring war on the United States.
New Rule If you were a Republican in 2011, and you liked Donald Trump, and then you liked Michele Bachmann, and then you liked Rick Perry, and then you liked Herman Cain, and then you liked Newt Gingrich … you can still hate Mitt Romney, but you can’t say it’s because he’s always changing his mind.
New Rule Starting next year, any politician caught in a scandal can’t go before the press, offer a lame excuse and then say, “Period. End of Story.” Here’s how you indicate a “period” and the end of a story: shut up.
New Rule The press must stop saying that each debate is “make or break” for Rick Perry and call them what they really are: “break.”
New Rule You can’t be against same-sex marriage and for Newt Gingrich. No man has ever loved another man as much as Newt Gingrich loves Newt Gingrich.
New Rule Internet headlines have to be more like newspaper headlines. That means they have to tell me something instead of just tricking me into clicking on them. If you write the headline, “She Wore That?” you have to go to your journalism school and give your degree back.
New Rule Let’s stop scheduling the presidential election in the same year as the Summer Olympics. I get so exhausted watching those robotic, emotionally stunted, artificial-looking creatures with no real lives striving to do the one thing they’re trained to do that I barely have energy left to watch the Olympics.
New Rule No more holiday-themed movies with a cast of thousands unless at least half of them get killed by a natural disaster. Fair’s fair — if I have to watch Katherine Heigl and Zac Efron as singles who can’t find love, I also get to see them swallowed up by the earth.
New Rule Jon Huntsman must get a sex change. The only way he’s going to get any press coverage is by turning into a white woman and disappearing.
New Rule Starting this year, every appliance doesn’t need a clock on it. My stove, my dishwasher, my microwave, my VCR — all have clocks on them. If I really cared that much about what time it was (or what year it was), would I still have a VCR?
By: Bi Maher, Author of “The New Rules”, New York Times Opinion, December 30, 2011
In Time magazine’s recent profile of Herman Cain, author Michael Crowley writes of Cain’s now famous “9-9-9” plan, “Conservative economists applaud the idea, but many others say it dramatically favors the rich and would actually raise taxes on the poor and require huge spending cuts.”
Sentences like these in magazines like this one tell us a great deal about what’s wrong with political coverage in the United States. In the first place, the sentence treats America as if it is made up of only two groups of people: “the rich” and “the poor.” It does not even allow for the existence of the vast majority of Americans who exist somewhere in-between (generally referred to—and exalted as—“the middle class”). Most egregious of all, however, is the implied equivalence between the alleged approval by “conservative economists” on the one hand and what “others” say on the other.
Now, a few questions. Who are these “others?” Are they also economists or are they, say, garbage men? And do these unnamed conservative economists applaud the idea because it “would actually raise taxes on the poor and require huge spending cuts” or in spite of it? And finally, what, Mr. Time Magazine, would the plan actually do? What is the point, Time, if not to offer readers some guidance on competing claims by “conservative economists” and “others” when it comes to the proposals of leading presidential candidates?
It’s not like it would have been so hard. The Tax Policy Center broke down the numbers behind Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, and Neil Klopfenstein even offered a visualization of the plan based on the Tax Policy Center’s analysis.
What we have here is a prime example of what I have called “on the one-handism,” what Paul Krugman calls “the cult of balance” and what James Fallows calls the problem of “false equivalence.” The phenomenon derives from a multiplicity of causes but rests on two essential insights.
First, conservatives have figured out that even the most high-minded members of the media will publish their claims without prejudice, even if they lack any credible supporting evidence. They will do this because they consider it both “unfair” and nonobjective to take a position between the two parties even when it involves passing along a falsehood.
Second, because of the relentless effectiveness of the right’s effort to “work the refs,” reporters and editors are particularly reluctant to invite the hassles and angry accusations certain to arrive whenever anyone prints an unfavorable truth about anyone associated with the right. Conservatives have gotten so good at this, as a matter of fact, that they even get reporters to thank them for it—as well as to misidentify their complaints with those of average everyday American citizens.
Just one case in point: In his profile of Jill Abramson, the recently named New York Times executive editor, Ken Auletta quotes her discussing her time as the paper’s Washington bureau chief, confusing the two: “All my years in Washington, and in some ways being attacked by conservatives, made me more conscious of how a story might be seen in the rest of America,” Abramson explained.
Fallows has done the world a favor in this respect by risking his reputation for moderation and overall reasonableness by getting a metaphorical bit in his mouth on the topic of false equivalence. In doing so, he demonstrates one of the blogosphere’s key blessings: the ability to return to a topic over and over for the purposes of clarification and intensification. In his discussion of a story by The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake entitled “Democrats thwart Obama’s bipartisan goals again,” Fallows notes that the story in question “manages not to use the word “filibuster” while describing why the administration’s programs have not gotten through a Senate that the Democrats ‘control.’”
This is a shame. For as I noted in Kabuki Democracy, “Accurate numbers can be difficult to discern because in most cases the mere threat is enough to win the battle at hand.” But if we examine a close corollary—cloture votes—these rose from fewer than 10 per two-year congressional session during the 1970s to more than 100 in both the 2006–2008 and 2009–2010 sessions. Political scientist Barbara Sinclair estimates that these threats have affected 70 percent of all Senate bills since 2000, nearly 10 times the average in the previous century.
The same numbers suggest that Democrats, who were no paragons of virtue on cloture votes when they were in the minority under President George W. Bush, are still no match for their opponents when it comes to using and deploying the body’s tactical weaponry of obstruction. Since the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress in 2006, Republicans have more than doubled the 130 cloture motions Democrats had managed to force during the four previous years under George W. Bush.
Fallows reprints one of journalist Ezra Klein’s charts demonstrating the degree to which Senate Republicans have abused the filibuster relative to its use in the past. As Fallows notes, the “blue line shows just some of the filibuster threats that McConnell’s minority has used to block consideration of even routine legislation and appointments.”
Fallows also notes, “[The Post story] reflects so thorough an absorption of the idea that the filibuster-threat is normal business that it describes the latest cloture vote as a vote on the bill itself … [and] Republicans end up voting against the bill, because that is the Republican strategy.” Fallows devotes most of his attention to The Post’s coverage but he actually began with a dissection of a Times version of the same story, demonstrating how widespread the problem is at the highest reaches of mainstream media.
Of course the issue goes well beyond mere politics. Because so much mainstream media misinformation is perpetuated based on the manipulation of data by conservatives unconcerned with evidence—and often even with reality—in the service of both ideology as well as their funders’ fortunes, Americans are actually worse informed about the reality of global warming than they were years ago, and hence the threat is going unmet.
Global warming misinformation is perhaps the most dramatic case, but almost everywhere, the refusal of so many in the media to even bother with the question of truth and falsehood is at the root of the problem. Boring as it may be to hear and see and read over and over, it bears repeating until it stops.
By; Eric Alterman, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, October 20, 2011
Gov. Rick Perry has anchored his presidential campaign to his claims of creating jobs.
With no business record of his own, Perry must contrast his ability to create jobs with public money against the records of two front-runners, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, who tout credentials as private employers.
His GOP opponents already have sniped at his gubernatorial record, saying Perry inflates his job-creation numbers and takes credit for a business climate he inherited. Perry’s efforts to create jobs and spur agribusinesses as the state’s agriculture commissioner during the 1990s might provide even more fodder for the opposition.
Over his eight years as Texas’ farmer-in-chief, Perry oversaw a loan guarantee program with so many defaults that the state had to stop guaranteeing bank loans to startups in agribusiness and eventually bailed out the program with taxpayer money.
The state auditor panned Perry’s claims of creating jobs and criticized Perry and his fellow board members at the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority for not following their own lending guidelines.
In some instances, the auditor said, Perry and the authority guaranteed loans to applicants with a negative net worth or too much debt. Citing growing debts, the auditor finally suggested that state officials consider dismantling the program.
Even as the first alarms were sounded, Perry defended the program, saying no taxpayer money was at risk, blaming others and claiming he had fixed it.
It only got worse.
By 2002, Perry’s successor, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, a Republican, stopped making loans as the percentage of bad loans neared 30 percent.
By 2009, her successor, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, also a Republican, asked the Legislature to pay off the loan guarantees with a $14.7 million appropriation. The finance authority could no longer afford the $541,000 to cover the annual interest on the bad debts, almost all of which dated back to Perry’s tenure.
“It’s bad,” Staples told the American-Statesman at the time. “Unfortunately, taxpayers are on the hook for something that happened as long ago as 1987.”
In effect, Perry, as governor, signed his own government bailout when he approved the 2009 appropriations bill.
The Perry campaign did not respond to questions about whether Perry, as president, would use public money in economic development programs and what lessons he learned from his experience guaranteeing risky business loans with public money.
Mired in partisan politics
When the Legislature created the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority in 1987, the intent was to boost the state’s agricultural economy by selling state-backed bonds to guarantee bank loans to entrepreneurs who could not get commercial loans. The goal was to create small businesses and jobs by processing — rather than simply growing — Texas agricultural products.
The program immediately got mired in partisan politics, with Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, a Democrat, on one side, and the Republican members of the finance authority appointed by Gov. Bill Clements on the other.
The impasse ensured that no loans were made during Hightower’s term.
In 1990, Perry campaigned on a promise to create jobs and expand the rural economy by making loans to agribusiness startups that would process the state’s agricultural products.
Clements’ appointees to the finance authority board gave Perry, a board member, sole authority to guarantee loans before newly elected Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, could replace them.
Under the program, the state would guarantee 90 percent of a lender’s loan — up to a maximum of $5 million — to an applicant.
Entrepreneurs lined up for money to spin cotton into yarn, process meats, develop cotton insulation, market canna bulbs to wholesale nurseries and sell pinto beans as a ready-to-eat frozen meal, to name a few.
‘This has not cost Texans money’
Perry had made four loan guarantees for $5.8 million by the time the attorney general ruled that he had to share that authority with his fellow board members. Even then, Perry and his staff drove the decisions.
Mary Webb, a Richards appointee who joined the finance authority as chairwoman in 1992, said the part-time board members had to rely on Perry’s staff at the agriculture department when screening loan applications.
“They did the legwork,” she said. “We looked at the deals to see if they fit with the legislation: Would they create jobs and help the agriculture community?”
By the time Webb left the board in 1995, she said she knew a couple of loans were in trouble. She said she learned only later the scope of the problems with other loans.
The first loan guarantees were financed by selling $25 million in bonds.
Twice, in 1993 and 1995, Perry campaigned for voters to approve more bonding authority.
Perry claimed the first two years of the program had created 4,100 jobs and pumped $390 million into the economy by guaranteeing loans to 47 companies. He predicted more than 40,000 jobs could be created with the additional bonding authority.
He didn’t mention troubled loans as he touted the program’s virtues at a 1993 Capitol press conference: “We think that this Texas Ag Finance Authority is, without a doubt, one of the finest programs that the Texas Legislature, that the citizens of Texas have ever gone forward with.”
At another stop, Perry said, “We can truly say it has not cost the taxpayers of Texas any money.”
Voters turned him down in 1993, but Perry finally won an extra $200 million in bonding authority two years later.
“This is one of the few government programs that truly has worked,” Perry said. “This has not cost Texans money.”
In January 1997, State Auditor Lawrence Alwin first alerted state officials, saying Perry and the board had violated their own lending guidelines.
He said 10 of the 48 companies had defaulted, and six more were in trouble. The first bad loans were written off as uncollectible in 1995, according to records.
Alwin also debunked a $40,000 report by a state-paid consultant claiming the program had created or retained more than 5,000 jobs at a cost of $412 per job as well as contributing $600 million to the economy.
The consultant’s data, which Perry submitted to the Legislature, were “unverifiable, incomplete, untimely, and inconsistent” and based on unrealistic assumptions about job creation, Alwin concluded.
A year later, Alwin warned that the situation had gotten worse. The program was $5.7 million in the red because of bad loans.
The issue hit the newspapers.
Perry and his lieutenants defended the program.
Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Larry Soward told The Dallas Morning News that the audit reflected a number of bad loans made early in the program to farmers and ranchers trying their first business ventures.
“The business acumen of the people behind them might not have been as strong as possible,” Soward said.
But he insisted the program would rebound: “The fact that there is a negative balance does not mean the program is in trouble.”
Perry echoed a similar refrain in a guest column in the Amarillo Daily News.
“By their very nature, TAFA loans are considered higher risk. Because of this, some defaults were inevitable and a negative balance was expected in the early years of the program,” he wrote.
He blamed the problems on “some unfortunate decisions made by the previous TAFA board early in the program.”
Perry promised the problem was fixed. “Today, TAFA is on solid footing with a positive balance projected by 2010,” he wrote.
He reminded readers that the loans were funded by debt — commercial paper: “No taxpayer money has ever been used to make TAFA loans.”
In 1998, Perry was elected lieutenant governor, and Combs succeeded him as agriculture commissioner.
She talked of expanding the loan guarantee program to other borrowers beyond food and fiber processors. But she asked Alwin to do a follow-up audit.
His warning was prescient. He said a program that guaranteed loans to people who typically couldn’t qualify for commercial loans would have a hard time finding enough good loans to generate the income to offset the losses from the bad ones.
In 2002, Combs and the agricultural finance authority bowed to that reality, suspending any new loans.
Twenty-nine of 102 guaranteed loans defaulted, almost all of them during Perry’s tenure, according to the records provided this month by the agriculture department.
While the majority of the loans were in good standing, the majority of the original $25 million — $14.7 million — was bad debt. Just as the auditor warned, the income from the good loans could not generate enough cash to make the program self-sustaining.
“We hit a brick wall,” Staples said in 2009.
By: Laylan Copelin, American-Statesman Staff, Statesman.com, October 22, 2011
At first blush, it’s tempting to think congressional Republicans are simply out of their minds to kill jobs bills during a jobs crisis. It seems insane — Americans are desperate for Congress to act; Americans overwhelmingly support bills like the one considered by the Senate last night; and yet GOP officials seem wholly unconcerned. Aren’t they afraid of a backlash?
Well, no, probably not. The reason probably has something to do with voters like Dale Bartholomew.
Now, my point is not to pick on one random voter quoted in an Associated Press article. He’s very likely a well-intentioned guy who’s simply frustrated with what’s going on in Washington. I certainly don’t blame him for that.
Consider, though, the significance of a quote like this one.
“If Romney and Obama were going head to head at this point in time I would probably move to Romney,” said Dale Bartholomew, 58, a manufacturing equipment salesman from Marengo, Ill. Bartholomew said he agrees with Obama’s proposed economic remedies and said partisan divisions have blocked the president’s initiatives.
But, he added: “His inability to rally the political forces, if you will, to accomplish his goal is what disappoints me.”
Got that? This private citizen agrees with Obama, but is inclined to vote for Romney anyway — even though Romney would move the country in the other direction — because the president hasn’t been able to “rally the political forces” to act sensibly in Washington.
That is heartbreaking, but it’s important — Republicans have an incentive, not only to hold the country back on purpose, but also to block every good idea, even the ones they agree with, because they assume voters will end up blaming the president in the end. And here’s a quote from a guy who makes it seem as if the GOP’s assumptions are correct.
It’s hard to say just how common this sentiment is, but it doesn’t seem uncommon. The public likes to think of the President of the United States, no matter who’s in office, as having vast powers. He or she is “leader of the free world.” He or she holds the most powerful office on the planet. If the president — any president — wants a jobs bill, it must be within his or her power to simply get one to the Oval Office to be signed into law.
And when the political system breaks down, and congressional Republicans kill ideas that are worthwhile and popular, there’s an assumption that the president is somehow to blame, even if that doesn’t make any sense at all. Indeed, here we have a quote from a voter who is inclined to reward Republicans, giving them more power, even though the voter agrees with Obama — whose ideas (and presidency) Republicans are actively trying to destroy.
As Greg Sargent, who first flagged the quote in the AP article, explained: “Voters either don’t understand, or they don’t care, that the GOP has employed an unprecedented level of filibustering in order to block all of Obama’s policies, even ones that have majority public support from Dems, independents and Republicans alike. Their reaction, in a nutshell, seems to be: The Obama-led government isn’t acting on the economy? Obama can’t get his policies passed? Well, he must be weak.”
The challenge for the president isn’t to teach Civics 101 to the populace; that would take too long. The task at hand is communicating who deserves credit for fighting to make things better, and who deserves blame for standing in the way.
Because if voters who agree with Obama are inclined to vote for Republicans because Republicans are blocking Obama’s ideas, then not only is 2012 lost, but the descent of American politics into hysterical irrationality is complete.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 21, 2011
The Real Voter Fraud Scandal: Conservatives Are Trying To Restrict And Distort The Will Of The Voters
Well over a year before the 2012 presidential election, there’s a battle going on over next year’s ballots—how they’ll count and who will get to cast them. At stake is an attempt to distort the voters’ will by twisting the rule of law.
Most recently, Pennsylvania has been the focus of this battle. Dominic Pileggi, the state Senate majority leader, wants to change the way the Keystone State distributes its electoral votes, divvying them up according to how each presidential candidate performed in each congressional district, with the remaining two electoral votes going to the candidate who won the popular vote.
So while Barack Obama’s 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2008 netted him all 21 of its electoral votes, the Pileggi plan would have shaved that figure to 11 electors. (Nationwide, Obama won 242 congressional districts while John McCain got 193.) The change would be even sharper as Pennsylvania’s new congressional map is expected to have 12 of the state’s 18 seats drawn to favor the GOP. Obama could win a majority of the Keystone vote again but only score eight of the state’s 20 electors. Do we really want to bring gerrymandering into presidential elections?
The politics here aren’t obscure: Every Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 has won Pennsylvania. This is a naked attempt to undercut Democratic nominees. (And while Pennsylvania would join Nebraska and Maine with such a law, Nebraska Republicans are trying to return to the unit rule after Obama won a single elector there in 2008.) But the Pennsylvania gerrymander gambit is only one aspect of a broader push to rig the game.
The 2010 elections marked a huge shift in control of state legislatures from Democrats to Republicans. The result, according to Tova Wang, a Senior Democracy Fellow at the progressive think tank Demos, has been “an attack on voting rights in this country like we haven’t seen in years and years.”
So far this year, bills have been introduced in at least 38 state legislatures designed to make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote. Fourteen have actually enacted such laws, according to a report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which found that the new rules could make it “significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.” As Rolling Stone reported recently, Kansas and Alabama, for example, now require proof of citizenship to register to vote; Florida and Texas have raised barriers to groups like the League of Women Voters conducting voter registration drives; Florida and Iowa barred ex-felons from voting, instantly removing nearly 200,000 voters from their states’ rolls; Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have cut back on early voting; and Maine repealed its law allowing citizens to register and vote on Election Day or on the two business days immediately preceding it (even though GOP Gov. Paul LePage had himself used that law to register the day before the 1982 election).
Perhaps the GOP’s most popular vote suppression tool is a set of new laws requiring voters to present photo identification before they cast ballots. Seven states—Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin—have enacted such measures this year. At first glance this may seem reasonable. Who doesn’t have a valid photo ID? The answer may surprise you. A 2006 study by the Brennan Center found that 11 percent of U.S. citizens lack one, a figure in line with a 2005 report by an election reform federal commission which suggested 12 percent of U.S. citizens lack driver’s licenses. Drilling down, the Brennan Center found that the groups worst off in this regard tend to be core Democratic constituencies: 25 percent of voting age African-Americans and 15 percent of voting age citizens who make less than $35,000 annually lack valid photo IDs.
In Ohio, where such a law is pending, roughly 940,000 citizens lack valid IDs, according to a study by a nonpartisan voters group. Or take Wisconsin: Less than half of Milwaukee County African-Americans and Hispanics have driver’s licenses, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the figures are worse for younger voters. Indeed, the Wisconsin law is especially pernicious, specifically not accepting student IDs, even from state institutions. Texas’s voter ID law is even more blatant in who it’s aimed at. State gun permits are acceptable, but student IDs and government employment cards are not.
And these laws are a solution searching for a problem. Conservatives have long bemoaned the menace of voter impersonation, but the evidence for this threat is nonexistent. George W. Bush’s Justice Department spent years ferreting out voter fraud and managed to prosecute not one voter for impersonating another. “Out of the 300 million votes cast [between 2002 and 2007] federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud,” Rolling Stone reported. A 2007 study by the Brennan Center found the instances of voter fraud to be literally infinitesimal. “You’re more likely to get killed by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud,” says the Brennan Center’s Michael Waldman. Which only makes sense: That thousands of people are casting illegal votes in others’ names while evading determined detection (always managing to choose people who weren’t going to vote anyway) doesn’t pass the smell test.
Knock away the spurious reasons for the push to restrict voting and you’re left with bare-knuckled partisanship. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” former President Bill Clinton told a group of young political activists over the summer. He’s right, and it must be fought at every level.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, October 6, 2011