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The GOP’s Economic Sabotage

It was somewhere between hilarious and pathetic to watch Republicans respond to the positive jobs report last Friday. Some friends and I were counting the minutes until some Republican started casting aspersions on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which compiles and releases the data. Sure enough, by early Friday afternoon, Tea Party Congressman Allen West was saying (on the basis of no evidence of course) that “Americans need truth, not these number games.” West’s comment suggests a desperation that will spread if future reports are as good as last week’s, which raises the question of what the Republicans will do next to try to wreck the economy.

I know, one isn’t supposed to talk like this. I know, it’s evil to suggest that politicians would put their electoral fate this fall ahead of the conditions of the people. And, I know, it’s just . . . ooooh, it’s so mean!

But the record shows clearly that all the Republican Party can do is destroy. First, Republicans destroyed the economy. We don’t speak much these days of George W. Bush, which I’ve always felt, from January 2009, was a big tactical error on the Democrats’ part. They should have been doing with Bush all this time what the Republicans did with Jimmy Carter. He was as bad a president. Actually worse. In terms of job creation, far, far worse. Check it out—Carter’s job-creation record was in fact rather enviable. So they spent eight years taking the humming economy they inherited and asphyxiating it. Bush handed Obama three huge messes—the biggest meltdown in 80 years, plus Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then Obama tries to clean up mess number one, and they do everything they can to block every step he’s taken. It’s worked pretty well for them politically because the jobless rate has been high, and as long as that was the case, they could say no, choosing whatever weapon was handy and wagging their collective finger at the president.

But what do they do now? What if the economy keeps creating 200,000-plus jobs a month? Economists, a pessimistic lot by training and nature, are now rethinking their pessimism. Just two weeks before the jobs numbers came out, the Congressional Budget Office released a report (PDF) showing, under one scenario, that unemployment would be 8.9 percent this fall and still higher in the last quarter of 2013, at 9.2 percent. These numbers received a massive amount of attention, as they fed the trouble-for-Obama story line that will yield the close election that political reporters are desperate to have. The report sent every Democrat in Washington into a funk.

But for now anyway, it’s looking as if these CBO numbers, found in a chart on page 30 at the link above if you’re interested, might turn out to be the worst prediction of 2012. After the jobs numbers came out last Friday, James Bullard, head of the St. Louis Fed, said that the Fed’s own unemployment projections—lower than the CBO’s, but still between 8.2 percent and 8.5 percent at the end of this year—now seemed too high to him, and that “sub-8 percent is a reasonable prediction.”

If the February numbers come in resembling the January ones, the whole collective psyche will change for the better, and the story line will be one of definite rebound. What will the Republicans do then? Rhetorically, they’ll feed us more of what Mitt Romney dished out Saturday night in his Nevada victory speech: “This week [Obama is] trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President. We welcome any good news on the jobs front. But it is thanks to the innovation of the American people in the private sector and not to you, Mr. President.” So Obama gets the blame when the unemployment is north of 9 percent but not the credit when it drops. Sure, guys. Keep using that one.

And the Allen West line will gather steam. The talk-radio right will start to lay into the BLS and try to discredit it. They go out and interview 60,000 households every month (plus more—read about the methodology here). They do not cook numbers. But reality never made any difference to these people anyway.

What’s more worrisome is what the Republicans on Capitol Hill will do in policy terms to try to blunt the recovery. They’re doing little things as they can manage them. Last week, the House Budget Committee approved a bill that would inflate the cost of federal programs. But what about the big things? Let’s watch what happens on the payroll tax-decrease extension the White House wants. The current reduction expires February 29. It would not exactly shock me to see Republicans start throwing new poison pills into the final negotiations.

Why? On the same “the sky is green and the grass is blue” logic that dominates today’s GOP on virtually all matters. They say publicly, as Senator Jon Kyl does in this clip, that the reduction has not had a stimulative effect. They must know that that is preposterous. Putting $1,000 back in the pocket of your average $50,000 wage earner is, economists agree, money she is likely to spend, and spent dollars are by definition stimulative dollars. They know full well that the stimulative effect of the reduction creates jobs, too. Will they really be so blatant as to try to kill it?

There are decent and honorable individual Republicans. Probably many of them. I even know some. But as a collective entity—as a party and a movement that includes the media wing and the base that boos a gay soldier at a debate and cheers executions—they are toxic destroyers, their minds infected by the idea that any cooperation with the president for the sake of the country is the moral equivalent of Munich (yes, with all that analogy implies). They will do anything. Nothing could be more just than to see a surprisingly low unemployment rate come November, with Republicans still insisting that black is white and that governance equals capitulation, and the public rewarding them accordingly.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 6, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Keep Your Fingers Crossed, Mitt!”: Romney’s Truth That Tells A Lie

So, no surprise, Mitt wins big last night in Nevada.  He carries 91% of the 26% of the caucus goers who are Mormons, so that helps him carry overlapping categories like “extremely conservative” and “strong tea party supporter” too.  But he also carries Evangelicals, so its pretty much a clean sweep for him of the extreme right of an extremely right wing Nevada Republican electorate.

More interesting were his victory remarks.  You see him trying out Pavlovian culture war phrases for the Revanchist base, e.g. references to Obama’s “colleagues in the faculty lounge.”  He’s not good at that—he doesn’t have the sheer ferocity required for it.

They key move he made in the speech, however, as Jonathan Chait predicted the other day, is a doubling down on hyping bad economic news and hoping that it stays bad.  Last night—knowing that a decline to 8.3% unemployment was, while not good, clearly an improvement—he shifted his gaze to what economists call the u6 employment rate.   The u6 is the measure, not only of the unemployed, but of those who have stopped looking for work, and those who want full time work, but who are working part time hours.  It’s certainly an important metric, and, by definition, it’s always substantially higher than the unemployment rate proper.

So Romney correctly told the crowd that the “real” unemployment rate is “over 15%.”  And he’s right.  It’s 15.1% which is very high. Over 15% obviously sounds a lot worse than 8.3%, and suddenly introducing it into a discussion with regular voters enables Romney to play the unlikely role of “truth teller.”  And talking about a “real” anything is always a nice touch for Republicans when referencing Obama because it implies that somehow Obama and the Democrats have been giving the country cooked figures or something.  “Real?  The guy faked his own birth certificate—he’s going to tell the country what the “real” unemployment numbers are??!”

But, as you can see in this chart, the u6 almost always perfectly tracks the conventional (u3) unemployment measure.  It’s dropped from a high of 17.4%, at the height of the recession in 2009, and, like the u3, it also declined this month from last month’s 15.2%.  So, as you would expect during a slow, sluggish, but continued recovery, it just keeps going down, just like the typical unemployment rate.

And that’s shows the limits of the “hype the bad news” Romney strategy.  Now that he’s told the country about the u6 and started his baseline at “over 15%”, any decline below that number is going to look, by comparison, like a hoped for improvement.  Than what does he do?

Nope, even the most clever rhetoric won’t work.  What Romney really needs is the the unlikely duo of Merkel and Netanyahu to really wreck the world’s economy.  Keep your fingers crossed, Mitt!


By: Rich Yeselson, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 4, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trying To Make The Economy Worse”: Last Friday The GOP Had A Really Bad Day

Last Friday the GOP had a really bad day. It didn’t come in the form of new polling results — or some new political scandal. It was delivered to them by the economic statistics:

Private sector jobs up 243,000 — almost 100,000 more than expected.

Unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent.

Twenty-three straight months of private sector jobs growth.

But you say, this is not bad news — this is good news. Not for the GOP and its chances of ousting President Obama, seizing control of the Senate or maintaining its majority in the House.

As Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell made ever so clear early last year, the Republican Leadership — and their backers on Wall Street — have one and only one goal: to defeat President Obama next fall. To do that, the GOP is betting against the American economy.

For the last two years they have done everything in their power to slow America’s recovery from the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression.

They have opposed virtually every element of the president’s American Jobs Act.

They brought the economy to the brink by threatening that they wouldn’t allow America to pay its bills during the debt ceiling standoff last year.

They tried their best to prevent extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits that are so critical to maintaining buying power momentum as the economy begins to pick up speed.

And, of course, they advocate returning to the regulatory and fiscal policies that caused the Great Recession in the first place.

But the most significant thing they have done to stall the economic recovery has been their refusal to continue federal aid to state and local government.

In the last 23 months, the economy has created 3.7 million new private sector jobs. But during the same period, it has created only 3.165 net total jobs. That is because government — mainly state and local government — laid off a net of about 535,000 people.

If the Republicans in Congress had not refused to continue providing aid to state and local governments, it is likely that unemployment would be in the mid 7 percent range and the economy as a whole would have at least another half million jobs.

And we would also be more likely to have more private sector jobs as well, since the additional teachers and firefighters and policemen who the Republicans basically fired, would have had money to spend on the products and services produced by private businesses.

As much as they like to pretend they don’t agree with “Keynesian” economics, many Republicans completely understand that by refusing to provide aid to state and local government, they are hurting the economic recovery — and that is exactly what they are trying to do.

They have been perfectly willing to allow our kids to have fewer teachers and bigger class sizes, and to allow our cities to have fewer policemen and firefighters all to advance their political goal of slowing the economic recovery.

But despite their efforts to the contrary, the economy is beginning to gain traction. That is very important to the prospects of everyday Americans — and it is critically important politically.

Anyone who has ever tried to move a car that is stuck in the snow — or in the mud — knows what I mean. As long as the car just keeps spinning its wheels, there seems to be no hope. But after you’ve shaken and pushed, and put sand under the tires and the car finally begins to get the smallest amount of traction — everyone’s spirits change. Suddenly there is hope that you’re finally going to get the car moving again.

That’s what’s beginning to happen to the economy — and it will have an enormous effect on the attitudes of voters. It begins to give them hope that the president’s policies are, in fact, moving the economy in the right direction — that it actually is beginning to build up steam — that there is hope that middle class Americans are actually going to see their prospects begin to improve.

And it gives lie to the ridiculous statements of Mitt Romney, who continued to claim as late as last Friday that Barack Obama has made the economy “worse.”

The definition of “worse” is “not as good as it was before.” The economic disaster that was caused by the policies of the Bush administration — the same policies that Romney wants to bring back to the White House — caused the destruction of 8 million jobs. In fact, George Bush was the first president in modern American history to preside over net zero private sector job growth.

As soon as President Obama took office he put into place policies that reversed those jobs losses.  Monthly private sector job losses declined continuously and finally turned positive — and the economy has added private sector jobs continuously for the last 23 months. In the last two months alone, the economy has added 446,000 new jobs. That is not worse. In fact, that is commonly known as better. And that is a huge problem for the GOP political narrative this fall.

In the next several weeks, Congress will rejoin the battle over the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits for those who are out of work for no fault of their own. Recall that this was the fight that involved the complete surrender of GOP opposition in the week leading to the Christmas holidays. Then, they agreed to a two month extension that guaranteed that the battle would be renewed — a fight that will once more highlight just how, when it comes to jobs, President Obama and the Democrats are doing battle with a “do nothing Republican Congress.”

There will likely be ups and downs in the jobs numbers over the next eight months. But as long as the economy continues to gain traction — and as long as Democrats continue to battle for jobs legislation in Congress — there will be many more bad days ahead for the GOP’s strategy of making themselves look better by trying to make the economy worse.


By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, February 5, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cancer Komen Must Cure Is Right Wing Extremism

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and took possession of a troubled land that was more geographic expression than country (as  Metternich once said of Italy), I remember thinking at the time that we were far less likely to export democracy to Iraqis than Iraqis were to teach us a lesson about how fragile are the cultural foundations upon which democracy rests.

American society has been fracturing for some time. This is due to many factors: growing anxiety over jobs in a global economy; changing  demographics as the nation becomes less white and Christian; the rise of identity politics, specifically more politically aggressive religious groups; and communications technologies that allow individuals to self-segregate  by ideology with dual citizenship to places like Fox “Nation” or Hannity’s “America.”

What may have once been an academic curiosity has now metastasized into a genuine concern: Intensifying political polarization  is threatening the ability of our community to hold together as both our politics and our government become increasingly dysfunctional.

To better understand one’s country and its own internal dynamics it is often advantageous to step away and see what lessons might be learned by studying the experience of other countries.

And for America this is especially true of the Middle East, where the more intimately America becomes entangled with that troubled region the more our own domestic politics absorb through osmosis the Middle East’s distinctive tribal pathologies and torments as well.

Christian fundamentalists, for example, are not merely obsessed with Israel because daydreaming about the Jewish State’s eventual  destruction by the armies of the Anti-Christ at the Battle of Armageddon  lets them act out their rapture fantasies from the Book of Revelation. The Religious Right also draws inspiration from Israel for what the Right might be able to accomplish here as they watch ultra-Orthodox groups transform Israel’s democracy into a Jewish theocracy.

In an article titled “The Troubling Rise of Israel’s Far Right,” New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier cites reports in the New York Times showing that the list of controversies – and confrontations — between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews is growing weekly.

Organizers of a conference on women’s health, for example, barred women from speaking from the podium.

Ultra-Orthodox men spit on an eight-year-old girl “whom they deemed immodestly dressed.”

The chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force resigned because the  army would not excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events  where female singers perform.

Jerusalem’s police commander was depicted as Hitler on posters because he allowed public buses with mixed-sex seating to drive through  ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in violation of that sect’s religious  dogmas — an intolerance the American Catholic bishops might want to think about as they use words like “totalitarian” to describe their dispute with President Obama over coverage for  contraception in health care plans.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews even went so far as to prohibit a distinguished woman scholar whose book on pediatrics was being honored  by Israel’s Ministry of Health from sitting with her husband at the ceremony or accepting her prize in person since  women were forbidden from stepping on stage.

The New York Times article, said Wieseltier “provoked widespread revulsion” in the US, as it ought.

The origin of the problem, both there and here, is the infusion of fundamentalism into politics.

Fundamentalism is less religious than psychological — an aspect of personality that abhors ambiguity and demands certainty, and thus authority, in every aspect of their lives, whether political or religious. Fundamentalism is fundamentally incompatible with liberalism and with the emphasis in liberal societies on the autonomy of the individual and individual free will.

“Like all liberal societies, says Wieseltier, “Israeli society  contains anti-liberal elements, and these anti-liberal elements, both  religious and secular, have become increasingly prominent, and  increasingly wanton, and increasingly sickening.”

Of chief concern is the treatment of women in Israeli society.

The “odious misogyny of the ultra-Orthodox” is not yet typical of Israeli life in general since the ultra-Orthodox have seceded from it, says Wieseltier. But gender discrimination is typical of traditional  Judaism where “there is no equality between men and women in theory and  in practice.”

Whatever freedom women enjoy in Jewish religious life, he says, “has been accomplished by movements and institutions that have broken with the inherited understandings.”

There are many rabbis, even among the more orthodox, “who have  shown glimmers of compassion for women and tried to mitigate their  doctrinal contempt for secular Jews,” says Wieseltier.

But more typical  is the rabbi who said that: “Only one who believes in the God of Israel  and in the Torah of Israel is entitled to be called by the name ‘Jew.'”

Using that standard, said Wieseltier, one of the more extreme Jewish sects declared that the total Jewish population in the world amounts to only about one million.

“Our worst enemies never eliminated so many of us,” said Wieseltier.

As the radicalization of Israeli Judaism continues apace,  Wieseltier said the bigger problem is that “Israeli politics is open to  these closers.” That is especially true given the outsized influence  Israel’s parliamentary democracy gives to small parties.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is disgusted by the tightening grip of orthodoxy in his country he doesn’t seem to be doing  much to stop it, says Wieseltier. “Nobody ever suffered political damage by pandering to obscurantism and folk religion,” he says. “And that is  how gender segregation came to some of the public sphere of a secular  state.”

All these developments are unique in their own way, “but the pattern is hard not to see,” says Wieseltier. “There are fevers on the  right, anti-democratic fevers. These are the excrescences of Benjamin  Netanyahu’s base. The outrage is not that these forces have gone too far, but that they have gone anywhere at all.”

The pattern is also hard not to see here in America.

An Israeli-style, orthodox-fueled fracturing  of the American community took place just last week in the  otherwise inexplicable schism that at least temporarily existed between Planned Parenthood  and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

That two organizations so committed to the same vital mission of fighting for  women’s health would be at bitter loggerheads is a stunning  reminder of the destructive nature of fundamentalist mindsets that let nothing stand in their way of achieving their ideological obsessions.

“We’re talking about breast cancer here!” said one exasperated  women’s health advocate when she first heard the news that Komen was pulling funding from Planned Parenthood.

As Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg reports, in the first 24  hours after Komen announced its decision to pull $700,000 in funding,  Planned Parenthood raised about $400,000 from outraged supporters  online. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg chipped in $250,000 and the Amy  and Lee Fikes Foundation also donated another $250,000.

Within the Komen organization itself, the Connecticut affiliate publicly rebuked the parent agency over the new policy, says Goldberg,  writing on its Facebook wall: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure Connecticut  enjoys a great partnership with Planned Parenthood, and is currently funding Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. We understand, and share, in the frustration around this situation.”

The Denver Komen affiliate said it too planned to continue grants to Planned Parenthood no matter what the organization’s top executives  might have to say about it.

And so it begins: the unraveling, fracturing and eventual disintegration of any organization, institution or communitiy invaded by the cancer of  right wing fundamentalism which fails to find a cure.


By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, February 5, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We The People,” Not “We The Rich”: The Citizens United Catastrophe

We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court’sCitizens United decision, and it doesn’t work. Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn’t happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.

Two years ago, Citizens United tore down a century’s worth of law aimed at reducing the amount of corruption in our electoral system. It will go down as one of the most naive decisions ever rendered by the court.

The strongest case against judicial activism — against “legislating from the bench,” as former President George W. Bush liked to say — is that judges are not accountable for the new systems they put in place, whether by accident or design.

The Citizens United justices were not required to think through the practical consequences of sweeping aside decades of work by legislators, going back to the passage of the landmark Tillman Act in 1907, who sought to prevent untoward influence-peddling and indirect bribery.

If ever a court majority legislated from the bench (with Bush’s own appointees leading the way), it was the bunch that voted for Citizens United. Did a single justice in the majority even imagine a world of super PACs and phony corporations set up for the sole purpose of disguising a donor’s identity? Did they think that a presidential candidacy might be kept alive largely through the generosity of a Las Vegas gambling magnate with important financial interests in China? Did they consider that the democratizing gains made in the last presidential campaign through the rise of small online contributors might be wiped out by the brute force of millionaires and billionaires determined to have their way?

“The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” Those were Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words in his majority opinion. How did he know that? Did he consult the electorate? Did he think this would be true just because he said it?

Justice John Paul Stevens’ observation in his dissent reads far better than Kennedy’s in light of subsequent events. “A democracy cannot function effectively,” he wrote, “when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

But ascribing an outrageous decision to naivetéis actually the most sympathetic way of looking at what the court did in Citizens United. A more troubling interpretation is that a conservative majority knew exactly what it was doing: that it set out to remake our political system by fiat in order to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy. Seen this way, Citizens United was an attempt by five justices to push future electoral outcomes in a direction that would entrench their approach to governance.

In fact, this decision should be seen as part of a larger initiative by moneyed conservatives to rig the electoral system against their opponents. How else to explain conservative legislation in state after state to obstruct access to the ballot by lower-income voters — particularly members of minority groups — though voter identification laws, shortened voting periods and restrictions on voter registration campaigns?

Conservatives are strengthening the hand of the rich at one end of the system and weakening the voting power of the poor at the other. As veteran journalist Elizabeth Drew noted in an important New York Review of Books article, “little attention is being paid to the fact that our system of electing a president is under siege.”

Those who doubt that Citizens United (combined with a comatose Federal Election Commission) has created a new political world with broader openings for corruption should consult reports last week by Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo in the New York Times and by T.W. Farnam in The Washington Post. Both accounts show how American politics has become a bazaar for the very wealthy and for increasingly aggressive corporations. We might consider having candidates wear corporate logos. This would be more honest than pretending that tens of millions in cash will have no impact on how we will be governed.

In the short run, Congress should do all it can within the limits of Citizens United to contain the damage it is causing. In the long run, we have to hope that a future Supreme Court will overturn this monstrosity, remembering that the first words of our Constitution are “We the People,” not “We the Rich.”


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 5, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Democracy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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