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“A Wall Street Democrat”: Michael Bloomberg’s True Colors

After last week’s Aurora massacre, Michael Bloomberg emerged as something of a liberal hero by almost single-handedly forcing gun control into the national debate.

Within hours of the tragedy, the New York mayor said in a radio appearance that “soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.” He made the same call in a national television appearance over the weekend, leading a crusade on an issue that the Democratic Party once championed but essentially abandoned a decade ago. President Obama’s call last night for “violence reduction,” hesitant and non-specific though it was, is testament to the traction Bloomberg’s shaming campaign gained this past week.

And now, to follow this all up, Bloomberg is going to host a fundraiser for … a Republican senator who expressed his opposition just this week to reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons.

Granted, Scott Brown, the beneficiary of the Aug. 15 New York City fundraiser Bloomberg is planning, is unusually flexible on Second Amendment issues, at least by the standards of today’s Republican Party. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, he voted in 2004 to extend the state’s assault weapons ban (though he sided against banning the sale of weapons purchased before the ban went into effect). And as a U.S. senator, he broke with the NRA to oppose a bill that would require states to recognize concealed carry permits from other states.

Brown has been leaning on states’ rights to balance his home state’s liberalism on gun issues with the anti-gun control fervor that grips the national GOP, arguing that the federal government has no business passing new laws but that states should be free to do so. This is how he justifies his opposition to reinstating the federal assault weapon ban, which expired eight years ago.

The non-cynical reading of Bloomberg’s decision to raise money for Brown is that the mayor wants to reward what amounts to a modest break with GOP gun control orthodoxy, and to deliver a message to other Republicans that he’s willing to help them if they do the same. At some level, it’s surely a factor here.

But it’s hard to ignore the other major issue that might attract Bloomberg to Brown’s side: Wall Street. This has a little to do with Brown, who voted for the Dodd-Frank reform law but also worked to make it much weaker than it could have been, and a lot to do with his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, whom the Wall Street crowd is treating as its biggest enemy running for office this year.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged last fall, Warren boasted that she’d created “much of the intellectual foundation” for the movement’s top 1 percent/bottom 99 percent messaging. Bloomberg, meanwhile, called the protests “not productive” and said that “what they’re trying to do is take the jobs away from people working in this city.” More recently, Bloomberg argued that President Obama, who is calling for the end of the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $250,000, has “not only embraced the frustration expressed by Occupy Wall Street protesters—which was real—but he adopted their economic populism.”

Bloomberg’s decision to raise money for Brown tells us a lot about his ideology, which is commonly portrayed in the media as centrist and independent. But that’s not really where he’s coming from. On most issues – guns, abortion, gay rights, the environment — Bloomberg is a standard-issue liberal Democrat. On economic issues, he’s a Wall Street Democrat, not averse to raising taxes (he’s even said the Bush rates should expire for everyone) but mindful of and often deferential to the sensitivities of the financial services sector. This puts him on the same page as Bill Clinton, Cory Booker and the many, many other Democrats who’ve cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with Wall Street over the past two decades. Obama himself benefited from Wall Street’s help in 2008, although that won’t really be the case this year.

In this sense, Bloomberg’s support for Brown isn’t really a sign of how independent he is as much as it is an indicator of how far removed Warren is from where most elite Democrats are on Wall Street issues.

 

By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, July 26, 2012

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Political Stockholm Syndrome”: Rationalizing Gutlessness On Guns

Talk about power: The gun lobby barely had to say a word before the media sent advocates of saner gun regulation shuffling off in defeat.

In a political version of Stockholm syndrome, even those who claim to disagree with the National Rifle Association’s absolutist permissiveness on firearms lulled themselves into accepting the status quo by reciting a script of gutless resignation dictated by the merchants of death.

It’s a script built on half-truths and myths. For example, polls showing declining support for gun control in the abstract were widely cited, while polls showing broad backing for carefully tailored laws were largely ignored.

Arguments that gun regulation won’t accomplish anything were justified with citations of academic studies that offer mixed or inconclusive verdicts. In the wake of last week’s killings in Colorado, these studies were deployed to hide the elephant in the room: Our country is the scene of more gun deaths than any other wealthy nation in the world. And it isn’t even close.

A study last year in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care analyzed gun death statistics for 2003 from the World Health Organization Mortality Database. It found that 80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 industrialized countries occurred in the United States. For women, the figure rose to 86 percent; for children age 14 and under, to 87 percent. Can anyone seriously claim that our comparatively lax gun laws had nothing to do with these blood-drenched data?

Some of the evasions are couched in compassion. We are told that the real answer to mass slaughter lies not in better gun statutes but in more attentiveness to those afflicted with psychological problems.

Yes, we need better treatment for the mentally distressed. But while we build a better system of care for mental illness — and, by the way, nobody talks concretely about how to create and pay for such a system — isn’t the more direct solution to ban automatic weapons and oversize magazines so that when someone does go off the rails, it won’t be possible for him to shoot off close to 100 rounds in 100 seconds? And why shouldn’t we make it harder for such a person to buy the instruments of slaughter online?

Regulations, it is said, just won’t work. Bad people will get guns somehow. But if that were true, why did the assault-weapons ban work? If regulation is futile, why do we bother to regulate safety in so many other ways? We manage to prevent needless deaths through rules on refrigerators, automobiles and children’s toys, yet politics blocks us from keeping up to date on the regulation of firearms, whose very purpose is to kill.

We’re told that no laws will end all human tragedies. That’s true. And if the standard for a useful law is that it must put an end to all tragedies and solve all problems, there is no point in passing any laws at all.

Those of us who believe in sensible steps to regulate weapons are supposed to bow before this catalogue of despair and shut up. Most liberal politicians are doing just that. It does not seem to occur to them that the general idea of gun control is bound to recede in the polls when so many advocates of popular regulations give up on making their case.

Bad arguments prevail when they go unanswered. That, by the way, is why it’s not enough for advocates of a sensible course on guns to think their job is over if they write one impassioned column or make one strong statement after a mass killing — and then move on to the latest campaign flap.

The polls still show considerable support for practical measures to curb gun violence. For example: a 2011 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 63 percent of Americans favor a ban on high-capacity magazines; just as many supported an assault-weapons ban. The same year, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 83 percent supported financing a system in which people treated for mental illness would be reported to a federal gun registry database to prevent them from buying guns; 71 percent favored this for those treated for drug abuse.

Such numbers should give heart to those who seek solutions to gun violence. Yet so many progressive donors have given up on financing the cause of gun safety. And although President Obama took an important step forward in a New Orleans speech Wednesday night, so many progressive politicians sit back and assume that the gun lobby will win again.

There is a word for this: surrender.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 25, 2012

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Budget, No Pay”: How To Get Congress On Good Behavior

If taxpayers want better results from Congress, they must stop paying their elected officials for failure. After all, you get what you pay for.

That’s why I’ve introduced a bill called No Budget, No Pay. It’s not your typical congressional reform. It is the first effort to pay Congress for performance, the way that an increasing number of doctors, teachers, corporate executives, athletes, and other professionals are paid.

The bill, H.R. 3643, is so simple that it sells itself. If Congress fails to pass a budget and all 12 appropriations bills by the beginning of each fiscal year, October 1, congressional pay will stop. If Congress is even a day late, the penalties could be hundreds of dollars per day per congressman. Longer delays mean greater penalties (and the missed pay cannot be retroactively restored). It’s a harsh regime, but a necessary one. Our nation suffers when Congress fails to pay America’s bills on time.

Today’s Congress has not passed a budget in three years and has not completed all of its budget and appropriations bills on time in 15 years. Few incumbents can even remember meeting these obligations. This is no way to run a superpower.

Congress is so accustomed to today’s back-loaded schedule that it cannot imagine efficiency. Congress barely meets in January and February and, this year, the House was in session for only 10 days in May. Each house delights in passing bills that are dead on arrival in the other body. No Budget, No Pay would make the House and Senate actually talk to one another again. The heat from members to meet the deadline would be so intense that Congress, as a whole, could start forging deals.

A conventional reform would simply levy a flat penalty to punish Congress for tardiness. That’s like yanking a teenager’s allowance because he misbehaved. The goal should be to encourage better behavior. The threat of cutting congressional pay would do precisely that.

Properly understood, No Budget, No Pay is gentler than you think. It will not result in a single senator or congressman losing any pay. The reason: When everyone has an incentive to meet a deadline, you naturally finish on time, even early. For example, when California legislators tried it, they suddenly got much better at meeting deadlines. This is the power of aligned incentives: When everyone is on the same team, you have a much better chance of winning. The threat of punishment is more effective than the punishment itself.

This new type of reform engages the most powerful lobbyists on earth: congressional spouses. No one wants to miss a paycheck, especially spouses who are tired of excuses. These spouses will force Congress to work much harder much earlier in the winter and spring, instead of procrastinating into the summer and fall. Remember, members’ spouses have never let Congress miss a major holiday like Christmas. No Budget, No Pay puts October 1 in the same elite category as December 25.

The dirty secret of today’s Congress is that many members actually benefit from missing our financial deadlines. When they hold up negotiations, highlight a parochial cause, and take a budget or appropriations bill hostage, they get lots of free publicity and become a hero to the special interests they are protecting. This helps them finance their reelection campaigns. Some of their colleagues will honestly object to the delays, but most are just waiting for their own chance to grandstand. Meanwhile, taxpayers suffer because government agencies are crippled with unpredictable funding starts and stops on a month-to-month or even week-to-week basis. Sometimes a key agency like the Federal Aviation Administration is even forced to shut down many of its operations, as happened last August.

Having experienced (and often envied) their colleagues’ selfishness, many members are naturally afraid to be held accountable for the behavior of Congress as a whole. They are particularly afraid to vouch for the other body, either the House or Senate. Social scientists call this a collective action problem. It seems foolish to bet a paycheck that any group of politicians will be prompt. But these doubters have never been in a capitol where everyone was desperate to get paid.

Some fear that wealthy colleagues could afford to grandstand, while poorer members would be deprived of that free publicity. This is possible, but the rich are just as vulnerable to peer group pressure, sometimes more so, because they do not want to be stigmatized for being wealthy. The vast majority of members in the Senate and House need their paychecks and would be quick to ostracize anyone who slowed the budget process down, particularly a rich colleague. Fearing for their positions, party leaders would also make sure that wealthy members were not able to obstruct.

The task is an urgent one. The bill currently has 10 cosponsors in the Senate and 73 in the House. We need more cosponsors now, because there are only a few weeks left in this session of Congress before the November elections. Of course, Congress will miss its October 1 deadline again this year, but passage of No Budget, No Pay this fall would help us meet the deadline next year, in October of 2013. Unless Congress passes No Budget, No Pay this session, no adjustments to congressional pay will be possible until at least 2015, because the 27th Amendment requires an intervening election before any adjustment to congressional pay.

Since no president or Supreme Court has the constitutional power to reform Congress, Congress must heal itself with help from voters back home. Ultimately, Congressional medicine is like veterinary medicine: It must be strong enough to work, and tasty enough to swallow. No Budget, No Pay meets all these tests. It is hugely popular with voters, potent enough to make Congress meet the annual October 1 deadline, and palatable to members once they understand that they will be paid — because they will finish their work on time.

 

By: U. S. Rep Jim Cooper, The Atlantic, July 26, 2012 

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Runaway Train”: Corporations Gone Wild In The Year Of The Super PAC

What do Marriott, Waffle House, Orlando Magic, New Balance, Omni Hotels, Charles Schwab, Ritz Carlton, Georgia Pacific, Menards, Dixie, Brawny, and Venetian Hotel Las Vegas have in common? .

These companies and their owners have donated millions to Mitt Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the Koch brothers’ anti-Barack Obama operations, and other purveyors of attack ads.

According to Think Progress, Bill Marriott has given over $1,000,000; so has Omni’s co-founder Robert Rowling; so has Jim Davis of New Balance; so has John Menard. Charles Schwab has contributed at least $250,000. And, of course, the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson are into the super PACs and 501(c)4’s for tens of millions of dollars.

The list is growing larger—more and more companies putting millions into this year’s political race for president, almost all of it on the Republican side, much of it secret. When the dust settles, hundreds of millions of dollars will have been spent to defeat Barack Obama and the Democrats in the Senate and House. Many believe it will top a billion dollars in this election cycle.

The press and pundits believed that after Citizen’s United few corporations would play seriously in this political space. Boy, were they wrong. If anything, the proliferation of executives and businesses that are writing six-figure checks, even seven and eight-figure checks, is astounding.

What can be done about this run-away train? Not much this election cycle. But we need to move on this soon after November.

At the very least, we should make all donations public. No more secret contributions to political groups and organization that skirt the law. There should be legislation brought up in the Congress repeatedly that requires groups to file political contributions and expenditures when a candidate’s name is mentioned in advertising. Make the Republicans vote on this over and over until it is passed. With electronic filing there is no reason that transparency should not be the norm and our process should not be open and honest.

Second, many of these organizations have been given tax-exempt status by the government. If they are given such status they should be investigated if they are engaging in political campaigns. They should be forced to become political organizations or stop hiding their donors under their tax-exempt status.

Finally, we should stop the sham that these groups are independent from the campaigns. There are more often than not interlocking directorates with the same band of consultants, advisers, spokespeople, operatives, contributors, friends, colleagues, associates—for all practical purposes they are one and the same, joined at the hip.

All this adds to the public’s cynicism about politics and campaigns. The sooner we deal with it the better.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, July 26, 2012

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Anglo Saxon Statesman”: Romney Brags About Meeting With Chief Of U.K.’s Top-Secret MI6 Intelligence Service

So Mitt Romney spends Tuesday pledging that as president he would never, ever leak intelligence information and then today:

Eyebrows going up about Romney’s claim to have met the Sir John Sawers, the chief of MI6. Asked about Syria by an American reporter whether he and Cameron spoke about Syria and he replies: “I appreciated the insights and perspectives of the leaders of the government here and the opposition here as well as the head of MI6”

As The Guardian explains:

For our American readership, this isn’t like bragging you just met David Petraeus. The British take on the national secret intelligence service comes with an extra-heavy dollop of the whole secret thing. The very existence of the MI6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994.Good luck, Romney handlers: this is only stop No. 1 on a three-stop international tour. What will he say in Jerusalem?

Maybe if MI6 also handled Romney’s tax returns then he could have kept his mouth shut?

Or perhaps he was simply distracted by trying to put out the fire caused by his other gaffe: saying that he doubted Great Britain’s ability to pull off the games.

“You know, it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” Romney said. “There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the – private security firm not having enough people – the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

Prime Minister David Cameron reassured Romney that everything would turn out just fine, adding a bit of a rebuke to Romney: “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.” Romney, who has made “No Apology” the centerpiece of his foreign policy, subsequently apologized, walking backhis comments doubting London’s readiness.

I guess the moral of the story is that Mitt Romney has all of Dick Cheney’s diplomatic talent … with none of his charm.

By: Jed Lewiston, Daily Kos, July 26, 2012

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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