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“The GOP’s Holiday Gift Guide”: Pain For The Poor, Ponies For The Rich

Republicans are using the fiscal cliff to extract payback for all the “gifts” President Obama has given to Americans.

Before Americans have even finished digesting their Thanksgiving turkey, the holiday shopping season will have officially begun. But according to Mitt Romney, Christmas came early for those who voted for Barack Obama. The failed Republican presidential nominee and latter-day Scrooge told donors last week that President Obama had won re-election by “giving targeted groups a big gift.” And what generous stocking-stuffers they were! For the young and the poor, health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. For Hispanics, an executive order halting deportation of the children of undocumented immigrants. For women, free contraception for use in all their filthy lady activities. If Malia and Sasha don’t find a pair of baby unicorns under the White House Christmas tree this year, they have a right to feel jealous.

Romney’s comments met with disapproval from fellow Republicans who hope to have a future in elective office, but the truth is that they reflect an understanding of the American public and its relationship with government that is widely shared among conservatives. Paul Waldman argues that it fits right in with their “makers vs. takers” ideology, the notion that the country is divided between “the brave individualists needing nothing from anyone, and the blood-sucking parasites who rely on government.” But Republicans don’t just want to reset policy to some sort of neutral state where everyone gives and receives his or her fair share (slow down there, Karl Marx). Instead, they seem to view the fiscal cliff as an opportunity to impose austerity measures that would redistribute the gifts to their Nice List and punish those who have been spoiled by Obama’s Socialist Santa.

The fiscal cliff is in fact better described as an “austerity bomb,” a term coined by Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler and echoed by Paul Krugman. Despite what the cliff terminology might suggest, the problem isn’t that the federal deficit is about to explode, but that conservatives who have spent years demanding swift and substantial deficit reduction are about to get exactly what they wanted. If this mix of scheduled tax increases and spending cuts is allowed to take effect, it will carve $560 billion out of the budget next year—so why are deficit scolds suddenly terrified of the consequences? Krugman argues that they’re implicitly conceding that “Keynesians were right all along, that slashing spending and raising taxes on ordinary workers is destructive in a depressed economy, and that we should actually be doing the opposite.”

But are Republicans really worried about the plight of the working man? You wouldn’t know it based on the alternatives they’ve proposed, which involve swapping one set of austerity measures for a slightly different set of austerity measures. Their real concern is what the fiscal cliff will mean for their friends and supporters, not what it will mean for the broader economy. Sure, the poor will take the hit first, as is their lot in life, but taxes will go up on rich people, too! That’s money coming straight out of the 2014 campaign coffers. And what about those poor defense contractors who will suffer from cuts to the Pentagon’s budget? They have mouths to feed, too.

The terms that Republicans have set for the fiscal cliff negotiations provide clear evidence of this favoritism. Chastened by President Obama’s re-election, they keep claiming they’re open to compromise, but they steadfastly refuse to raise tax rates on the rich. Instead, they insist any new revenue must come from “closing loopholes,” a hoary Beltway cliché that means nothing in particular, and they’ll only concede that much if Democrats agree to “reform entitlements,” which is even less specific but more ominous. Oh, and they also want “changes” to the Affordable Care Act to be on the table. In fact, if Barack Obama would just go ahead and resign from office, it would be a real show of good faith and bipartisan spirit.

Proposing to cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age as part of a fiscal cliff deal is a non sequitur at best. With all due respect to financial masterminds like Lloyd Blankfein, it’s hard to believe that anyone could be told that Congress is about to pull the rug out from under the fragile recovery and honestly conclude that the solution is to make old people work longer. It’s the equivalent of the president being told that we’re on the verge of nuclear war and replying, “I’ll have the soup.” As Jeff Madrick has explained at length, Social Security is not in crisis, and there are plenty of easy fixes available for its future financial shortfall. (Medicare is a thornier problem, but one that probably shouldn’t be dealt with on a timer.) Senator Mark Begich, for instance, has proposed to cover the gap and pay for more generous benefits by eliminating the payroll tax cap. But don’t expect that plan to be taken very seriously by the Very Serious People, because it asks the rich to sacrifice more instead of inflicting some character-building pain on everyone else.

Aside from being unnecessary, such cuts would have a disproportionate impact on the poor. The right’s claim that Social Security wasn’t designed to handle increased life expectancies is based on a serious misunderstanding of history and human biology, but it is true that life expectancy has risen dramatically—for the rich. Workers on the lower rungs of the economic ladder haven’t been so lucky, so a higher retirement age is just a massive benefit cut for them. Of course, any such changes would only be phased in for younger workers, who (purely coincidentally) don’t vote Republican, not current retirees who do. That will teach those spoiled little punks. Er, I mean, preserve the promise of Social Security for future generations.

The same logic, if you can call it that, applies to demanding changes to the Affordable Care Act. The current law will save $109 billion over the next 10 years, so in theory, the deficit hawks should love it, right? Well, there are two problems with that theory. The first is that those cost savings are based on CBO projections, which, like Nate Silver’s electoral analysis, fall into that category of “liberal math” that Republicans find inherently suspect. The other is that the ACA achieves those savings while helping poor people — that’s what makes it a gift, according to Romney. But deficit reduction isn’t supposed to make life easier; it’s supposed to be tough love that forces people to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving world. Like exercise, the pain means it’s working. Or maybe you just tore a tendon. You should probably check with your doctor, assuming you can afford health insurance.

This barely concealed impulse to punish the undeserving is the source of Republicans’ internal conflict over the fiscal cliff and the biggest hurdle they must overcome in their efforts to become viable contenders for the White House again. They may not see it as punishment; to them, it’s just a teaspoon of unpleasant medicine that will eventually make the country much healthier. But things like government-funded health care, education, and retirement security only look like gifts from the perspective of the man who has everything. What Republicans see as unaffordable luxuries, the rest of us see as essential to a basic standard of living. Until they realize that, we might be able to reach a compromise on the fiscal cliff, but we’ll never really find common ground.


By: Tim Price, The National Memo, November 23, 2012

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“A Parody Of Constitutional Design”: The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Senate Confirmation Process

The U.S. Senate confirmation process is badly broken. In fact it is a disgrace. It needs to be fixed. There is no time like the present.

To appreciate the problem, let’s begin with an example. It is September 2010. The universally respected and admired Jack Lew, nominated by President Barack Obama in July for the crucial position of director of the Office of Management and Budget, can’t get a floor vote for Senate confirmation. The reason? Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, has placed a “hold” on his nomination — the equivalent of a filibuster, preventing a vote unless the Senate can muster a two-thirds majority (and schedule plenty of time for debate).

Landrieu has no questions about Lew’s character or qualifications. On the contrary, she doesn’t have a single negative word to say about either. Her objection is that in April, after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration imposed a temporary moratorium on offshore drilling. As everyone knows, the director of the Office of Management and Budget didn’t make that decision, and the director would have no power to unmake it.

For several long months, a crucial position in the president’s cabinet isn’t filled. Landrieu finally lifts her hold on Nov. 18, when she becomes satisfied that the Obama administration has gotten rid of the moratorium. Landrieu explains, “I figured it would get their attention and I think it has.”

When Landrieu (a Democrat, no less) blocked Lew’s appointment, she was playing within the rules. Republican senators have used the same rules to do far worse. They required a cloture vote to overcome their opposition to Robert Groves, a superb nominee who eventually served with distinction as director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

They were able to prevent a floor vote for Donald Berwick, the immensely qualified nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (Obama had to give Berwick a recess appointment, and he was able to serve for only an abbreviated period.) They succeeded in blocking confirmation of Peter Diamond, the Nobel-winning economist, nominated to serve on the Federal Reserve Board.

The largest problem is the broad pattern, not individual cases. Republican senators have subjected numerous Obama nominees to lengthy delays (disclosure: I was among them), and they have prevented some of those appointees from being confirmed, even though they had no reasonable basis for doing so. The structural problem seems to be getting worse, and it isn’t the product of one party: Under Republican presidents, Democratic senators have sometimes been far too aggressive as well.

An unfortunate consequence of Senate obstructionism is that important offices can remain unfilled for long periods. An entire presidential term is just four years, and many high-level appointees end up serving for less than that. If the Senate delays confirmation for six months or more, a significant chunk of an appointee’s total time in office is lost.

The confirmation process also has a damaging effect on the president’s thinking. His question can’t only be, “Who would be the best person for the job?” It must also be, “In light of the ugliness and stupidity of the confirmation process, who is going to get through?”

Nor can we ignore the deterrent effect of the confirmation process on honorable and highly qualified people. They might view the prospect of a presidential nomination as an honor and privilege, but too nightmarish and battering to try to get through.

Both Republicans and Democrats have contended that because federal judges have life tenure, and don’t work for the president, it is legitimate for the Senate to give careful scrutiny to judicial nominees. Fair enough (though even for selection of judges, the line should be maintained between scrutiny and recalcitrance).

For executive branch officials, the assessment must be different. Those officials work for the president. Within broad limits, the president, whether Republican or Democratic, is entitled to select his own staff. So long as the president’s choices meet basic standards of character and competence, the Senate should be reluctant to stall or stop them — much less to use the confirmation process to extort presidential favors or changes in policy.

The Senate should take three steps to remedy the situation.

First, it should reduce the intensity of its scrutiny. To that end, Democrats and Republicans should agree to adopt a strong presumption (rebuttable, but strong) in favor of confirming executive branch nominees.

Second, the Senate should amend its rules to forbid a single senator, or a small group, from placing a hold on a nominee to an executive branch position.

Third, the Senate should ensure that every executive branch nominee is given a prompt up-or-down vote, probably within two months of the nomination date (with an exception for extraordinary cases involving genuinely serious issues that require longer periods).

Starting from scratch, no sane person could propose the current confirmation process, which is a parody of the constitutional design. The problem, of course, is that when the president is a Republican, Democratic senators have no short- term incentive to fix it. The same is true for Republican senators when the president is a Democrat. Sometimes it’s hard to solve long-term problems, and sometimes it’s really easy. With respect to the confirmation process, we need a sensible, not-so-grand bargain, and we need it now.


By: Cass R. Sunstein, The National Memo, November 25, 2012

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP Crusade Against The UnInsured”: Republicans Are Doing Everything They Can To Sabotage Obamacare

When House Speaker John Boehner declared Obamacare the “law of the land” two days after his party took a drubbing in the election, the real reveal came in what happened next: he walked it back in record speed and re-affirmed his commitment to getting rid of it.

Having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act at the national level, Republicans are now dedicating their efforts to botching its implementation at the state level. And having failed to invalidate the law at the Supreme Court, they’re now seeking alternate legal avenues to weaken its regulations.

Republican governors are turning down the law’s Medicaid expansion, a move made easier by the Supreme Court decision that made the expansion optional. Among them are Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Given that the federal government pays the vast majority of the cost in the medium term, these states are, in effect, rejecting an extraordinarily generous financial incentive to insure their residents.

Implementing the expansion in full would insure about 17 million people. “If [many states] don’t accept the Medicaid expansion you’re going to have millions of low income Americans who will remain uninsured and without access to health care,” said Tim Jost, a health care expert at Washington and Lee University who supports the Affordable Care Act.

Some dozen Republican governors are refusing — and about a dozen more are considering refusing — to build state-based insurance exchanges, the law’s primary vehicle for expanding and improving coverage. These governors, which include John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Perry of Texas, Nathan Deal of Georgia and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, are consequently empowering the federal government to build one for them.

The law does not set aside funds for the federal government to construct or operate exchanges, creating implementation headaches for the Obama administration. But it can be self-sustained through user fees, and Jost argues that state residents with governors who are uncommitted would be better served by a federal exchange that wants to cover them.

Conservative thinkers are also resurrecting their argument, championed by top Republicans, that federally-administered exchanges lack the legal authority to provide tax subsidies, which are critical to making them work. Although the language of the law is vague on this question, the IRS has said federal exchanges are permitted to provide the premium subsidies.

“I don’t believe they’re going to win on that one,” Jost said. “If they did win that would do serious damage to what Congress intended, which is to have a federal fallback exchange.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is flirting with continuing his state’s existing insurance exchange even though it does not comply with rules in the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, conservative advocates are advancing a separate legal challenge to the law’s requirement that insurance plans cover contraception for women as part of a copay-free preventive services package. Cheered on by congressional Republicans, Catholic institutions such as the Archdiocese of Washington and University of Notre Dame are moving forward with lawsuits that could end up in the Supreme Court.

All in all, Republicans and conservatives are telegraphing that they’re not chastened by years of failed efforts to wipe away Obamacare. The crusade shows no signs of ending, and could still do serious damage to the law.


By: Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo, November 21, 2012

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Men Threatened By Women”: John McCain Is Not Very Bright, And Neither Is Lindsey Graham

Neither is Lindsey Graham. The rest of the Republicans who persist with smear campaigns against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and other women, especially women of color, aren’t too smart either. To the 97 members of the House, who wrote a letter to President Obama attacking Rice, I say, you are even stupider.

The Monday letter was written by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chairman of a House subcommittee on terrorism. Those that signed the letter are among the most conservative House Republicans, and at least 10 of them lost reelection bids this month.

Buh bye.

They should have figured out by now that women go to the polls more than men, and more black and Latina women voted for Barack Obama than did their male counterparts.

But men like McCain who are ruled by an overweening sense of personal privilege are not very bright. Though they sit on committees with the word “intelligence” in the name of the group, it doesn’t seem to have rubbed off. In fact, all this macho posturing and bluster in front of the cameras may put the nation at risk. Loose lips sink ships.

My assessment has nothing to do with his courage, or past service to the country in war.

Men who feel threatened by women of strength and superior intelligence, who resort to bullying, bluster and lying when challenged by said women, are simply lacking smarts.

Their bigotry tends to crowd out brain cells.

I have a rule of thumb when judging the males of our species. I choose to look at their behavior towards women to understand their character. Men who exhibit bonhomie towards other men, yet choose trophy wives (who they demean while pimpin’ off of them), who can’t or won’t deal on a level of equality with women (especially women of color), or accept that there are women who are smarter than they are, have a part of the brain that has never fully developed. It has been culturally limited, constrained, constricted and shaped by our cultural gender norms and as such many would never even recognize it as a failing.

In fact, there are those who see it as admirable. They see them as “manly men.”

I’m not one of them.

I’m happily married to a man who is pleased as punch to tell his male friends that his wife is smarter than he is. He isn’t the least bit uncomfortable about it. In fact, he thinks he’s pretty smart for marrying me. I agree. I’m pleased that he is more talented than I am. We respect each other. That’s what makes a good partnership.

Politics is about partnerships. Political leadership requires selecting and building a smart team. If your team doesn’t have smart women in it, you won’t get my vote.

Let’s take this latest Benghazi bullcrap being used to taunt and demean U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. It has nothing to do with Benghazi really, which I wrote about in Black Kos last Tuesday. The racism, blended with their sexism is blatant.

By now those who didn’t know her credentials are aware of them. Those of us who have her back, from the president on down to a coalition of congresswomen, to bloggers and commentators like Soledad O’Brian and Rachel Maddow, have made it clear that she is not only a brilliant Rhodes scholar, but is an astute diplomat, with an important background in not only international affairs in general, but Middle East terrorism specifically.

President Obama is not afraid of strong smart women. He’s surrounded by them.

Republicans have attacked his wife, his mother-in-law, his daughters, appointees like Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Melody Barnes and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Republicans have gone after Tammy Duckworth on her military record. Teh stoopid ruled. Scott Brown went after Elizabeth Warren on her pride in having Native American ancestry.

So McCain lost an election partly because of his choice of a female running mate. Her selection—based on her having a uterus rather than brain cells—was stupid.

The War on Women launched by the Teapublicans was stupid.

Escalating that war to target Susan Rice is the height of stupidity.

Targeting women of color is political suicide.

Keep it up.

See how well stupid works out for you in 2014 and 2016.


By: Denise Oliver Velez, Daily Kos, November 25, 2012

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Our Grand Old Planet And The Grand Old Party”: If The Evidence Contradict’s Faith, Suppress The Evidence

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 22, 2012

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Science | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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