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“It Only Takes One Simpleton”: Our Laws Are Made By Idiots

Back in 2009, Michele Bachmann told an interviewer that she was refusing to answer any questions on the census form other than how many people lived in her household. It seems this passionate advocate of the Constitution as sacred text found Article 1, Section 2 incompatible with her small-government ideology. But that’s the problem with seeing things through such narrow blinkers: when you are convinced that every question in public debate has but a single answer (“Government is bad!”), then your answers to some ordinary questions can become absurd.

So it was when the House of Representatives, a body now seemingly devoted to seeking out new ways to make itself look stupid when it isn’t pushing the country toward economic calamity, recently voted to undermine the American Community Survey, a supplement to the decennial census. The ACS gathers information on many different measures of Americans’ lives, providing valuable data that demographers, historians, and all manner of social scientists use to understand our nation and its people. Because the ACS is far larger than ordinary public opinion polls, it provides highly reliable data that are also used by government itself and by private industry. So how could something like that become politicized? How could any congressional Republican, no matter how stupid, possibly come to see it as some kind of liberal plot or wasteful boondoggle? Catherine Rampell of The New York Times explains (forgive the long excerpt; it’s a good explanation):

This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.

It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes. “This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.

“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

In fact, the randomness of the survey is precisely what makes the survey scientific, statistical experts say.

Each year the Census Bureau polls a representative, randomized sample of about three million American households about demographics, habits, languages spoken, occupation, housing and various other categories. The resulting numbers are released without identifying individuals, and offer current demographic portraits of even the country’s tiniest communities.

It is the largest (and only) data set of its kind and is used across the federal government in formulas that determine how much funding states and communities get for things like education and public health.

I don’t for a minute think that John Boehner has been gunning for the ACS for years, or that the entire Republican caucus feels passionately about it one way or the other. But in the House today, all it takes is one simpleton of a first-term Tea Party congressman to bring this up, and the rest of them say, “Gee, I don’t want to vote for government! Because government is bad!” So they go along. All but ten House Republicans voted for Webster’s amendment, and Rand Paul has a companion bill in the Senate. What a fine display of leadership and responsible governing.

And about Webster saying the ACS “is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey,” a bit of explanation is in order. When you say a survey is “random,” it means the respondents are selected randomly, meaning everyone in the population has an equal chance of being in the sample. That’s what makes a sample unbiased, as opposed to, say, interviewing only men or only people in California, which would be non-random surveys. Surveys have to be random, except under some very carefully defined circumstances, in order to allow you to extrapolate to a larger population. But what obviously happened is that Webster saw something about the sample being “random,” and said, “What?!? It’s just some random survey? What the hell? Let’s kill this thing!” And here’s where it’s really disheartening. From that point forward–as he wrote his bill, convinced his colleagues, and saw it passed through the House–nobody clued him in to the first thing about how surveys work in general or how this survey works in particular. Nor, obviously, did he try to find out for himself. Because who cares?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 20, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Lawmakers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pathetic Scam”: Boehner On Health Care, “Everything Must Go”

For about three years now, congressional Republicans have sworn up and down that they’re hard at work on a health care reform package of their own. It’s going to be awesome, they said, and will meet Obamacare’s goals without all that unpopular stuff.

Sensible people gave up on actually seeing this vaporware quite a while ago, realizing that “repeal and replace” was a rather pathetic scam. But with the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act due fairly soon, and with the possibility of a Republican White House and a Republican Congress on the horizon, there’s renewed interest in what, exactly, GOP policymakers intend to do on the issue.

There was some talk this week that Republicans, fearing a public backlash, would “draw up bills to keep the popular, consumer-friendly portions in place — like allowing adult children to remain on parents’ health care plans until age 26, and forcing insurance companies to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.” (The interconnectivity of the popular and unpopular parts are generally as lost on Republicans as they are on the general public.)

The GOP’s base immediately said this would be outrageous. Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) joined them, making it clear that Republicans intend to kill the whole law, including the parts Americans like, want, and have come to expect.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated Thursday that he wants to repeal all of President Obama’s healthcare law if the Supreme Court doesn’t toss out the entire statute.

“We voted to fully repeal the president’s healthcare law as one of our first acts as a new House majority, and our plan remains to repeal the law in its entirety,” Boehner said to reporters. “Anything short of that is unacceptable.”

Let’s not brush past too quickly exactly what this means. The only “acceptable” outcome for Romney is one in which tens of millions of Americans lose their health care coverage, seniors pay higher prescription drug costs, small businesses lose their tax breaks, and the deficit goes up by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

But there’s another point that’s gone largely forgotten: we’ve gone from a policy landscape in which Republicans agreed with 80% of Obamacare to one in which Republicans agree with 0% of Obamacare.

No one seems to remember this, but in September 2009, Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany (R), the Republican who delivered the official GOP response to President Obama’s speech on health care reform, made an interesting declaration, telling MSNBC “about 80%” of the Democratic proposal is acceptable to Republicans.

Soon after, none other than Eric Cantor, now the House Majority Leader, said Republicans and Democrats agree on 80% of the health care reform measures.

Keep in mind, these comments came when the public option was still a key component of the Democratic plan — which suggests by the time the proposal was being voted on, Republicans liked more than 80% of Obamamcare.

This, of course, leads us to a few questions for Boehner and his cohorts. One, how is it congressional Republicans went from 80% to 0%, when the reform package itself did not move to the left? And two, if Republicans intend to get rid of “the entirety” of the law, including parts that enjoy overwhelming public support, why should voters back GOP candidates?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 18, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Exceedingly Unlikely Proposition”: Can The Romney Campaign Co-Opt The Ron Paul Movement?

When Ron Paul released a statement earlier this week informing supporters that “moving forward … we will no longer spend resources campaigning in primary states that have not yet voted,” it was easy to imagine Mitt Romney’s campaign staff quietly rejoicing. The Congressman’s staff was quick to clarify that he was not officially suspending his efforts for the nomination, but it was hard to see this as anything other than the end of the Paul campaign—and, in turn, the beginning of Romney’s cooptation of it.

As Barack Obama’s campaign proved in 2008 after its bruising primary fight against Hillary Clinton, a party that’s been unified in time for the national convention is its own reward. But bringing Paul’s supporters into the fold would also seem to have a special attraction for the Romney campaign: The Massachusetts governor earned plenty of votes in the primary, but he never quite inspired the enthusiasm of the Paul movement, which has regularly attracted thousands of committed supporters to rallies. It’s only reasonable for Romney to hope he can transfer some of that fervor—especially from young people, a demographic President Obama himself seems to be targeting—to his own campaign.

Having spoken with a wide swathe of young Paul voters, however, I’ve learned that’s an exceedingly unlikely proposition. Paul may have been running for the Republican nomination, but what he produced was a movement whose identity revolves around his own personality and his professed libertarian ideology. It’s a movement with hardly any affinity for the GOP—and for a man like Romney least of all.

It’s telling that Paul supporters almost uniformly refer to Paul’s bid for the presidency as a “movement” or “revolution,” rather than a “campaign.” To ask about their allegiance to the party is, for many of them, to make a category mistake. “It’s not a matter of partisan politics,” says Casey Given, an organizer for the University of California Berkeley chapter of the Youth for Ron Paul group. “It’s more about the ideas than the party.” Indeed, a common refrain among Ron Paul supporters is that the Republican Party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Generally, Paul’s supporters speak of his campaign as something more akin to a political science or philosophy seminar, than a campaign for public office. Paul’s message has always encouraged his supporters to believe there’s much more at stake than temporary occupancy of the Oval Office. “It’s not designed to win votes, it’s designed to illuminate the right path forward for both the U.S. and its role in the world and how we manage the economy,” says Jacob Arluck, an organizer for Cornell University’s Youth for Ron Paul chapter.

In the words of Cliff Maloney, the former Pennsylvania Campus Coordinator for the Paul campaign, who has since been hired by Paul’s congressional office, “They don’t want anybody that’s going to give them rhetoric, they want someone that will give them the truth.” And, having been given access to the “truth,” Paul’s supporters are refusing to abandon their candidate. “They will stick with him until he says he drops out of the race or when he wins the race,” Maloney says. “[Ron Paul supporters] would do anything for Dr. Paul’s message.”

But even if they’re reconciled to the fact that Paul won’t win this year, many young voters don’t think of their support for Paul as a lost cause. The college-aged students who comprise the Paul campaign’s base was attracted to him in part because they hoped even if he didn’t win him the election, his organization could at least shape the political discourse for years down the line. “Being the party of old white rich men will not be a winning strategy in the future,” says Given. But that’s a strategy that depends on their staying firm to their principles and not transferring their allegiance to another candidate this year. “After 2012 is over, the Republican Party is going to have no choice but to realize that the future of the party is in more of a classically conservative libertarian direction,” says Pinter. “That’s where the youth is voting.”

Unsurprisingly, then, when I asked Paul supporters whether they would be voting for Romney this year, every single one of them said definitely not, and they insisted other Paul supporters they know wouldn’t either. “I think it would be very difficult for Ron Paul supporters to sleep at night and support someone that represents a lot of the principles that they disagree with,” said Tyler Koteskey, who called Romney a “liberal in conservative sheepskin.” Indeed, for some, the very suggestion that they might vote for Romney was an insult. “Personally, I would not vote for Romney,” said Mike Pinter of UC Davis. “I have conservative principles that can, under no circumstances, rationalize a vote for Romney.”

Needless to say, Barack Obama faced nothing like these challenges when he wooed disaffected Hillary supporters in 2008. Paul’s fans, it seems, will insist on continuing to divide the GOP, unless, and until, they can take it over entirely.


By: Eric Wen, The New Republic, May 19, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Libertarians | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nauseating”: Cory Booker, Surrogate From Hell

If Cory Booker went on “Meet the Press” on Sunday with the intent of helping President Obama, then his appearance was an utter failure. But anyone who’s followed the enormously ambitious Newark mayor’s career closely knows he’s not one to pull a Joe Biden. He’s just too smart and too smooth to screw up so epically.

More likely, Booker went on the show to help himself and to advance his own long-term political prospects. And on that score, his appearance was a success.

You’ve probably seen or are now seeing the headlines Booker generated by calling the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity background “nauseating” and likening them to efforts by some on the right to inject Rev. Jeremiah Wright into the campaign.

“Enough is enough,” Booker said. “Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”

He added: “I have to just say from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America. Especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people invest in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this, to me — I’m very uncomfortable with.”

Playing up Romney’s Bain record is, of course, central to Obama’s general election plan. Romney is running as a business-savvy “job creator” and relying on the public’s tendency to associate private sector success with economic competence. There is no overstating how vital it is for Obama and his campaign to break that link, and to establish that Romney’s real expertise is in making investors rich – not adding jobs and improving the quality of life for middle class workers.

In belittling this strategy, Booker isn’t just breaking with Obama, he’s breaking with just about everyone who’s ever run against Romney – including Ted Kennedy, who used criticisms of Bain’s treatment of workers to pull away from Romney in their 1994 Senate race. Essentially, Kennedy created the blueprint that Obama is now using. Booker is also providing Republicans with a dream talking point: A top Obama surrogate not only disapproves of Obama’s use of Bain, he finds it nauseating!

It wouldn’t be surprising if Booker has already heard from the White House, and surely he’s now in for a world of abuse from Obama supporters. But that hardly means he made a mistake, at least in terms of his own ambition. Financial support from Wall Street and, more broadly speaking, the investor class has been key to Booker’s rise, and remains key to his future dreams.

It’s easy to forget, but before the world met Barack Obama in 2004, many believed that the first black president would be Booker. Armed with Stanford, Yale and Oxford degrees and all of the invaluable personal connections he forged at those institutions, he set out in the mid-1990s to craft a uniquely appealing political biography, swearing off lucrative job offers to move to Newark’s Central Ward and take up residence in public housing. Within a few years, he won a seat on the City Council, where he showed an early and consistent knack for self-generated publicity, most notably with a ten-day hunger strike in the summer of 1999.

That set the stage for Booker’s 2002 race for mayor, an ugly contest against incumbent Sharpe James, an entrenched icon of the city’s civil rights generation of black politicians. James, as any self-respecting Newark mayor would do, leveraged his clout for campaign contributions from city workers, vendors and those who aspired to be city workers and vendors.

Booker, meanwhile, had hardly lost touch with his old classmates, keeping one foot in Newark and the other in Manhattan, where he built on the connections to elite donors that he already had. He called the millions of dollars he raised for the race “love money.” The press – and James’ campaign – took note that almost all of it was from outside Newark, nearly half of it was from outside New Jersey, and a quarter of it came directly from Wall Street.

This helped bolster James’ claim that Booker, who grew up in an affluent suburb, was not an authentic Newarker. That attack resonated just enough to save James, who won in a squeaker. It was a pyrrhic victory, though: Booker had captured national interest – there was a Time profile during the campaign, and an Academy Award-nominated documentary followed – and immediately started campaigning for the next race, while a federal investigation soon swallowed up James. In 2006, Booker was elected with ease, while James was on his way to jail.

Since then, the only question in New Jersey has been when – and not if – Booker will seek to run for statewide office. In 2009, the beleaguered Jon Corzine begged him to run for lieutenant governor on his ticket, an offer that Booker wisely refused. He’s often touted as a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2013, but those who know him say his eye is more on the Senate seat now held by 88-year-old Frank Lautenberg, which will be up in 2014.

This is why it’s not at all surprising to see Booker going to bat for private equity. The allies he’s cultivated on Wall Street and in the financial industry (think, for instance, of his chummy relationship with Michael Bloomberg) have made Booker a prolific fundraiser, and when he ventured into the ultra-expensive statewide game, he’ll need them more than ever. Many of them have turned fiercely against Obama over the past few years, convinced that he’s unfairly targeted them. Booker’s words on “Meet the Press” may have enraged the average Obama supporter, but to the Wall Street class they were probably close to heroic – finally, a big-name Democrat with the cojones to call out Obama on his class warfare!

The Booker calculation, in other words, is probably that the average Democratic voter’s memory of his outburst will fade long before 2014 – but that the average Wall Street donor’s won’t.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, May 20, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Choice Of Capitalisms”: Creative Acts vs Acts of Betrayal

In this election, we’re not having an argument that pits capitalism against socialism. We are trying to decide what kind of capitalism we want. It is a debate as American as Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay — which is to say that we have always done this. In light of the rise of inequality and the financial mess we just went through, it’s a discussion we very much need to have now.

The back-and-forth about Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s old company, is part of something larger. So is the inquest into the implications of multibillion-dollar trading losses at JPMorgan Chase. Capitalism can produce wonders. It is also capable of self-destruction, and it can leave a lot of wounded people behind. The trick is to get the most out of what capitalism does well, while containing or preventing the problems it can cause.

To describe this grand debate is not to deny that President Obama’s campaign has some, shall we say, narrower motives in going after Bain. Obama’s lieutenants need to undermine Romney’s claim that his experience in the private equity business makes him just the guy to get our economy back on track.

The Bain conversation has already been instructive. Romney’s friends no less than his foes have had to face the fact that Bain’s purpose was never about job-creation. Its goal was to generate large returns to Bain’s partners and investors. It did that, which is why Romney is rich.

Romney wants to focus on the positive side of his business dealings that did create jobs. He wants to brag about the companies Bain helped bring to life, among them Staples, Sports Authority and Domino’s.

That’s fair enough. But having made an issue of Bain on the plus side, he also has to answer for the pain and suffering — or, as defenders of capitalism like to call it, the “creative destruction” — that some of Bain’s deals left in their wake.

This leads naturally to the question of how creative the destruction wrought by our current brand of capitalism actually is. Since the dawn of the leveraged buyout era three decades ago, many friends of capitalism have questioned whether loading companies with debt as part of these deals is good for companies and for the economy as a whole.

Does this approach cause unnecessary suffering among the employees of the companies in question and the communities that often lose plants and jobs as a result? Sucking pension and health funds dry to aggrandize investors seems less like a creative act than a betrayal of workers who made bargains with their employers in good faith.

More generally, while some of the innovations in the financial sphere have been beneficial to growth, it’s far from clear that this is true of all or even most of them. Some of them helped cause the downturn we are still trying to escape and created incentives for the dangerous risk-taking that led to JPMorgan’s troubles. And there’s little doubt that our new financial system has transferred wealth from other sectors of the economy to the people at the top of the financial business.

Vice President Biden’s speech last week in Youngstown, Ohio, drew wide attention for its criticism of Romney as someone who just doesn’t “get it.” But when Biden moved beyond Romney, he offered an energetic broadside against the new world of finance, and he picked the right venue to make his case: a noble blue-collar town that has been battered by the winds of globalization and economic change.

“You know the difference between having an economy that makes things that the rest of the world wants, and having an economy that is based on financialization of every product,” Biden told his listeners. “You know the difference between an economy . . . that’s built on making things rather than on collateralized debt, creative credit-default swaps, financial instruments like subprime mortgages. That’s not how you build an economy.”

Romney, by contrast, is wary of dismantling any of these nifty new Wall Street inventions, one reason why he wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

We need to have this great national argument. To borrow a term pioneered by Germany’s Christian Democrats, we can try to build a social market. Or we can have an anti-social market. An election is the right venue for deciding which it will be.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 20, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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