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“Beyond The Water’s Edge”: Romney Adviser Takes U.S. Political Debate Overseas, Mitt Has “No Comment”

A senior economic adviser to Mitt Romney criticized President Obama and his policy toward crisis-torn Europe, and Germany in particular, in an op-ed article in a leading German newspaper on Saturday, raising the question of the propriety of taking America’s political fights into international affairs.

The article — written by R. Glenn Hubbard, the dean of the Columbia Business School and a former adviser in the Bush administration, and published in the business journal Handelsblatt — drew a rebuke from the Obama campaign.

“In a foreign news outlet, Governor Romney’s top economic adviser both discouraged essential steps that need to be taken to promote economic recovery and attempted to undermine America’s foreign policy abroad,” said Ben LaBolt, press secretary for the president’s re-election campaign.

Every presidential election seems to test the frequently quoted cold war-era axiom of former Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican who cooperated with President Harry S. Truman, that “politics stops at the water’s edge” — though even then the rule was often observed in the breach. Separately, the Hubbard critique illustrates how the austerity-versus-stimulus debate concerning Europe is also a proxy for the ideological fight over fiscal policy that Democrats and Republicans are waging in this country.

“Unfortunately, the advice of the U.S. government regarding solutions to the crisis is misleading. For Europe and especially for Germany,” Mr. Hubbard wrote, according to a translation of his article from the Handelsblatt Web site.

He opposed what he described as the Obama administration’s efforts “to persuade Germany to stand up financially weak governments and banks in the euro zone so that the Greek crisis would not spread to other states.”

“These recommendations are not only unwise,” he added, “they also reveal ignorance of the causes of the crisis and of a growth trend in the future.”

Mr. Hubbard proposed a classic conservative pro-austerity, anti-Keynesian approach, arguing that cutting government spending will restore public confidence, encourage growth and avert future tax increases.

“Long-term confidence in solid government financing shores up growth and enables the same scope for short-term transitional assistance,” he said. “Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican opponent, understands this very well and advises a gradual fiscal consolidation for the U.S.: structural reform to stimulate growth.”

Mr. Obama and his Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, are in the camp with economists who argue that the German-led push for austerity in Europe — at a time when businesses and consumers are too weak to spend — has produced a spiral of job losses, belt-tightening and, lately, a backlash against several governments.

But, Mr. Hubbard wrote, “President Obama’s advice to the Germans and Europe has therefore the same flaws as his own economic policy — that it pays for itself over the long term if we focus on short-term business promotion.”

When Mr. Obama ran for president in 2008, he received some criticism for a foreign trip that included a speech in Berlin before 200,000 Germans. At the time, Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to plans to use the city’s historic Brandenburg Gate as a backdrop for what a Merkel spokesman called “electioneering abroad,” leading Mr. Obama to speak at another site. But Mr. Obama did not explicitly criticize Bush administration policies, despite their prominence in the American debate that year. He mainly extolled the partnership between the United States and Germany — and Europe, more broadly — in promoting freedom and prosperity around the globe.

A Democrat with experience in foreign policy and presidential campaigns, who asked not to be identified as weighing into the debate, suggested that the Vandenberg rule had lost resonance in a polarized age. “The ‘water’s edge’ is changing, and not just because of climate change,” he said. “It’s too bad, but there it is.”

The Romney campaign declined to comment.

By: Jackie Calmes, The New York Times, June 9, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Cautionary Tale”: Remember When Breaking The Law Used To Mean Something?

The big piece today is in the Washington Post, where Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward share a byline for the first time in 36 years. It’s about President Nixon and Watergate 40 years after the fact, and how the whole situation was much worse than was thought back then:

Ervin’s answer to his own question hints at the magnitude of Watergate: “To destroy, insofar as the presidential election of 1972 was concerned, the integrity of the process by which the President of the United States is nominated and elected.” Yet Watergate was far more than that. At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.

Today, much more than when we first covered this story as young Washington Post reporters, an abundant record provides unambiguous answers and evidence about Watergate and its meaning. This record has expanded continuously over the decades with the transcription of hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret tapes, adding detail and context to the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives; the trials and guilty pleas of some 40 Nixon aides and associates who went to jail; and the memoirs of Nixon and his deputies. Such documentation makes it possible to trace the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.

The article is full of great quotes from the Nixon tapes as he became increasingly paranoid and irrational, going on profanity-laced tirades against journalists, the antiwar movement, and “the Jews,” among others. But what is perhaps most notable about the article is the implicit frame it presents. The sense I get from it is that Woodward and Bernstein are presenting a cautionary tale, a kind of story to tell young politicians before you tuck them into bed. “Be careful, kids, or this is where you’ll end up.”

The trouble with this is that recent cases of elite lawbreaking, up to and including top officials, are still almost too common to count. Just for the most obvious example, consider the fact that George Bush has admitted to ordering the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. There’s a ginned up controversy about whether or not that was against the law, but don’t take my word for it, listen to the chief law enforcement officer of the United States:

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder declared that the interrogation practice known as waterboarding amounts to torture, departing from the interpretation of his Bush administration predecessors.

And finally, from the UN Convention Against Torture, Article II, signed by President Reagan:

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Nixon was not the last of the presidential lawbreakers. Far from it.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 6, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fragility Of The 3rd Branch Of Government”: Why The Public’s Growing Disdain For The Supreme Court May Help Obamacare

The public’s growing disdain of the Supreme Court increases the odds that a majority will uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare.

The latest New York Times CBS Poll shows just 44 percent of Americans approve the job the Supreme Court is doing. Fully three-quarters say justices’ decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal political views.

The trend is clearly downward. Approval of the Court reached 66 percent in the late 1980s, and by 2000 had slipped to around 50 percent.

As the Times points out, the decline may stem in part from Americans’ growing distrust in recent years of major institutions in general and the government in particular.

But it’s just as likely to reflect a sense that the Court is more political, especially after it divided in such partisan ways in the 5-4 decisions Bush v. Gore (which decided the 2000 presidential race) and Citizen’s United (which in 2010 opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending).

Americans’ diminishing respect for the Court can be heard on the right and left of our increasingly polarized political spectrum.

A few months ago, while a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich stated that the political branches were “not bound” by the Supreme Court. Gingrich is known for making bizarre claims. The remarkable thing about this one was the silence with which it was greeted, not only by other Republican hopefuls but also by Democrats.

Last week I was on a left-leaning radio talk show whose host suddenly went on a riff about how the Constitution doesn’t really give the Supreme Court the power to overturn laws for being unconstitutional, and it shouldn’t have that power.

All this is deeply dangerous for the Court, and for our system of government.

Almost 225 years ago, Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist (Number 78, June 14, 1788) noted the fragility of our third branch of government, whose power rests completely on public respect for its judgement:

The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. [Yet lacking sword or purse, the judiciary] is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.

The immediate question is whether the Chief Justice, John Roberts, understands the tenuous position of the Court he now runs. If he does, he’ll do whatever he can to avoid another 5-4 split on the upcoming decision over the constitutionality of the Obama healthcare law.

My guess is he’ll try to get Anthony Kennedy to join with him and with the four Democratic appointees to uphold the law’s constitutionality, relying primarily on an opinion by Judge Laurence Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia – a Republican appointee with impeccable conservative credentials, who found the law to be constitutional.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, June 8, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Illogical Reasoning”: Mitt’s Utterly Empty Massachusetts Boasts

The Obama campaign has been criticizing Mitt Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor, and the presumptive Republican nominee is now responding with an ad of his own. Romney certainly has a right (and, from a strategic standpoint, an obligation) to rebut his opponent’s attacks, but the defense he offers is a textbook demonstration of how to make something out of nothing.

The spot makes three specific boasts about Romney’s term as governor, which ran from 2003 to 2007. The first involves job creation:

“As Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney had the best jobs record in a decade.”

That sounds impressive, but look a little closer. In the decade before Romney’s tenure, Massachusetts had three other governors, all Republicans. One of them, Bill Weld, clearly had a better jobs record than him. When Weld came to office in January 1991, the state’s economy really was in a freefall. A major Boston-based bank, the Bank of New England, had just failed and the jobless rate was 7.4 percent and climbing fast. Within a few months it reached 9.7 percent, then began falling as the economy – in the state and nationally – revived. Weld left office at the end of July ’97 (to pursue an ill-fated bid to become ambassador to Mexico) with the jobless rate at just 4.1 percent.

His successor, Paul Cellucci, oversaw a further decline, with the rate plummeting to just above 2 percent in 2000. But the economy began sagging, and the number started to rise again. On April 10, 2001, he resigned to become George W. Bush’s ambassador to Canada. If you use the data from March ’01, Cellucci’s last full month on the job, he left the state with a jobless rate of 3.1 percent. If you use the April ’01 data, the figure was 3.3 percent. Either way, it’s comparable to the 0.9 percent drop that Romney presided over from ’03 to ’07.

The only governor in the decade before Romney’s arrival with a clearly worse jobs record was his immediate successor, Jane Swift, who served as acting governor from April ’01 to January ’03. During that time, unemployment climbed to 5.6 percent, which is where it stood when Romney was sworn-in.

So what Romney’s “best governor in a decade” boast actually means is that he had a better jobs record than Cellucci and Swift. And the reality is that there wasn’t a dramatic difference between his jobs record and Cellucci’s. So really, Romney is just bragging that he was better than Swift, who served less than half a term.

Then there’s this:

“He balanced every budget without raising taxes.”

This is only true in a very literal sense. Romney didn’t raise the income or sales taxes, but his first budget did impose more than $500 million in new fees that directly hit middle class residents. At the time they were enacted, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted that no other state had relied so heavily on fees to balance its books. Not that this is news: Obama’s campaign has been playing up Romney’s fee spree, and his Republican opponents threw it in his face during both of his presidential runs.

The ad’s final claim is that Romney achieved balanced budgets “by bringing parties together to cut through gridlock.” Again, this means a lot less than it sounds like. A balanced budget is required in Massachusetts and the state’s legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic. The only way for Romney to meet his constitutional duties was to sign a balanced budget approved by Democrats.

What Romney is banking on, of course, is that swing voters aren’t aware of this context, or don’t care about it even if they are. His entire strategy depends on economic anxiety leading voters to look for reasons to throw out Obama and to give Romney the benefit of the doubt, even if those reasons aren’t logical. From that standpoint, this ad might work just fine.

By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, June 8, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Corporations Are Not People”: Elizabeth Warren Rips Mitt Romney

Democrat Elizabeth Warren is running to unseat Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, but she took off today after Mitt Romney when she ripped the “Romney-Brown vision” of economic policy.

“Corporations are not people,” she told the crowd at Netroots Nation, an annual event. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they love, they cry, they dance, they live and they die. Learn the difference. And Mitt, learn this. We don’t run this country for corporations. We run it for people.”

Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, was widely criticized for telling an Iowa crowd last year that “corporations are people, my friend.”

Warren is the biggest political star to speak at this year’s gathering of liberal bloggers and activists, and she drew an ovation both before and after her talk.

Warren and two other women candidates — Rep. Mazie Hirono, who is running for the Senate from Hawaii, and Darcy Burner, a Washington state congressional candidate — said Democrats need to make a better case to voters in favor of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul – and against Republican legislation on abortion and contraception.

“How much have we gotten out there and sold it? Not very much,” Warren said.

Republicans have pushed back on Democratic rhetoric about the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers not to cover contraception in health insurance, and a pay-parity bill rejected by the Senate last week. Both have been characterized as attacks on women.

“I do see this as a war on women. I don’t use these words frivolously,” Hirono said. “It’s so clear that there is an all out frontal assault on reproductive rights. Are people not paying attention?” Drawing a laugh from the audience, she added, “Do they not watch Rachel Maddow?”

Even an event centered on women in politics was not safe from sports analogies. Citing her role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, Warren compared financial markets to football: It requires rules “and an official with a whistle to enforce them,” she said. “Without rules and a ref, it isn’t football, it’s a mugging.”

 

By: Martha T. Moore, USA Today, June 8, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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