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Joe Scarborough And The Straw Man Problem

Joe Scarborough has an op-ed in Politico premised entirely on the false premise that left-wingers who once “condemned [President Bush] as an immoral beast who killed women and children to get his bloody hands on Iraqi oil” have now “meekly went along” with President Obama’s Libya intervention.

Now, there are all kinds of things wrong with this argument. For one, there are some massive differences in the two cases. Scarborough describes the Libya intervention as an “invasion,” but that’s quite a stretch given that no ground troops are involved. Libya is a multilateral response to an imminent massacre, while Iraq was neither. Third, and worst of all, those who most fervently opposed the Iraq invasion — the blood for oil folks described by Scarborough — are all opposed to the Libya intervention. Has he not been following the debate on this?

The whole failure of Scarborough’s argument points to one of my professional hobbyhorses, which is the need for opinion journalists to quote the people they’re criticizing. It’s a really simple step, but it’s absolutely vital, one that allows your readers to see if the belief you’re attacking is actually held by anybody influential. If Scarborough decided to find some examples of lefties who were wildly denouncing Bush as a wanton murderer of civilians driven by a lust to steal Iraqi oil who also supported the Libya intervention, he’d have quickly discovered that there aren’t any, and that his whole argument is based on a false premise.

Indeed, at the end of his op-ed, Scarborough does cite one real life-example — Katrina Vanden Heuvel, who he calls “one of the few liberals to take a principled stand.” But she’s not the exception. She’s just the one actual case study he bothered to look at.

Now, calling people out by name is sort of rude, and the most prestigious outlets of opinion journalism tend to shy away from it. I believe New York Times columnists are actually instructed not to argue with each other in print, which leads to these weird “Tell Joe I won’t pass the salt until he apologizes” indirect debates. It’s probably no surprise that a chummy guy like Scarborough would only want to name liberals he praises, while leaving the targets of his criticism unnamed. But this is a habit of opinion journalism that leads to terrible, straw man arguments.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, March 29, 2011

March 29, 2011 Posted by | Ideologues, Iraq, Libya, Middle East, Neo-Cons, Politics, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Talk Of Refusing To Raise The Debt Limit Is Just That—Talk”

The debt limit is the maximum amount of debt the federal government can legally issue at a point in time. The current limit will be reached in the next few months, prompting discussion over whether Congress should raise the limit. As with so many deliberations in Washington, though, the popular discussion on this topic is shrouded in confusion and ignorance, and masks the real issues.

 The underlying issue is simple: If you spend your income on things you want, and the charges then show up the following month on your credit card bill, would you pay those charges? Yes, of course you would. You’ve made purchases and the bill has come due.

That’s the whole question about raising the debt limit—whether Congress should allow the government to pay for spending that has already been approved by Congress. (Remember, it is Congress that authorizes all federal spending.) The answer, of course, is yes.

Now, as you’re paying your credit card bill, you may well conclude that you are spending too much or that you need to earn more income to pay for your current standard of living. But that would be a separate issue, and stiffing the people who supplied the goods you just bought not only wouldn’t resolve that problem, it would in fact make solving it harder, because your credit rating might fall if you don’t pay what you already owe.

Likewise, the separate problem for the U.S. government is how to deal with our dismal fiscal future. The nation needs to resolve the looming fiscal imbalance through spending cuts and tax increases. Not paying the bills we already owe—that is, not raising the debt limit—not only won’t solve the real problem, it would actually make a solution more difficult by undercutting the government’s creditworthiness.

In short, raising the debt limit has nothing to do with controlling future spending or with raising the taxes necessary to pay for future spending. It is just a matter of paying bills that we’ve already incurred.

Raising the debt limit is a completely ordinary event. The limit has been raised 74 times in the last 50 years and 10 times in the last 10. Debt limit increases are associated with both Republicans and Democrats. When federal debt approaches the limit, the president typically favors raising the limit and the other political party demagogues the move. That is exactly what is happening right now.

Talk of refusing to raise the debt limit is just that—talk. Not raising the limit would require Congress to annually find about $1.3 trillion in federal tax increases or spending cuts—a set of policy changes larger than the revenues currently raised by the individual income tax. So far, the legislators who say they oppose a debt limit increase have not come forth with anything near such a plan. Nor should you expect them to. They are just blowing smoke. Eventually, they will agree to raise the limit.

While voters and members of Congress may find it cathartic to channel their outrage and frustration at the underlying budget situation onto the current debt limit discussion, the real question is how to adjust future spending and taxes to bring about future fiscal stability and sanity. The sooner we get to that discussion, the better.

Refusing to raise the debt limit not only would not help solve that problem, it would actually make a solution much harder to achieve.

By: William Gale, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institute, U. S. News and World Report, March 28, 2011

March 29, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Politics, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Birther Donald Trump A Democratic Sleeper Agent?

I’m becoming concerned that a certain political figure in the 2012 presidential field has a sinister, hidden agenda. We all like to laugh and be dismissive–but it’s increasingly hard to ignore the questions about his birth certificate. One has to ask: Is Donald Trump, seemingly a “birther” running for the GOP presidential nod, really an Obama sleeper agent?

Trump has been ratcheting up his embrace of birtherism–the spurious accusation that President Obama was born outside of the United States but has cleverly covered it up, in part by inducing the state of Hawaii to produce a fake birth certificate testifying to his U.S. origin. Trump upped the birther ante Monday morning on Fox News Channel:

This guy either has a birth certificate or he doesn’t. I didn’t think it was such a big deal, but I will tell you, it is turning out to be a very big deal. People are calling me from all over saying please don’t give up on this issue. If you weren’t born in this country, you cannot be president. You have no doctors that remember, you have no nurses — this is the President of the United States — that remember. Why can’t he produce a birth certificate? I brought it up just routinely, and all of a sudden, a lot of facts are emerging and I’m starting to wonder myself whether he was born in this country?

(As an aside, I love the idea that in 1961, when doctors brought a half-white, half-black baby into the world, they should have committed the moment to memory because “this is the President of the United States.”

Trump’s comments are grabbing a great deal of attention. David Frum, for example, wants to know whether Trump is nuts or just thinks GOP primary voters are stupid. Like I said at the top, I’m wondering if perhaps the Donald is really an Obama catspaw.

Republicans firmly grounded in reality have long groused that birtherism is a construct of Democrats, liberals, and the media, a–no pun intended–trumped up issue designed to make conservative look like nutty conspiracy theorists. Polls showing large numbers of GOPers doubting Obama’s origins seem to belie that, as do apparent dog-whistles by GOP leaders who dance around the birther question by treating it as something other than proven fact (“we should take the president at his word,” Michele Bachmann said last month) or refusing to call out the birthers (“it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” John Boehner demurred last month).

But with a GOP primary field composed of professional politicians who know better than to tread beyond winks, nods, and dog-whistles, who benefits the most from a GOP candidate willing to go full birther? With Trump in a presidential debate (the first one will be May 2) making birtherism his signature issue, the rest of the GOP field will be forced to weigh in definitively and either alienate the rabid base (the people who vote in Republican primaries and, according to one recent poll, are majority birther) or risk alienating centrist voters.
The Democratic National Committee’s opposition research department must be licking their collective chops. They couldn’t have invented a better sabotage candidate than Trump: Unserious enough to actually wave the bloody birth certificate, but wealthy and famous enough that he’s impossible to ignore.

Now, do I believe that Donald Trump is really a Democratic plant? It’s tempting to say that I’m just raising questions about the Donald in the same spirit that he is about the president. But I’d put it this way: This conspiracy theory requires as big a suspension of disbelief as does contemplating President Donald Trump.

Politico’s Ben Smith brings the kicker to the whole story. Trump made a big show Monday of releasing his own birth certificate in an effort to push the “issue.” One problem: He didn’t release a legally valid birth certificate, which would have the New York City Department of Health’s seal and the signature of the city registrar. Smith adds, tongue happily in cheek:

Trump’s mother, it should be noted, was born in Scotland, which is not part of the United States. His plane is registered in the Bahamas, also a foreign country. This fact pattern — along with the wave of new questions surrounding what he claims is a birth certificate — raises serious doubts about his eligibility to serve as President of the United States.

Hmmm, makes you wonder…

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, March 29, 2011

March 29, 2011 Posted by | Birthers, Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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