"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Politics Of Free Food”: The Rules On Campaign Contributions In Virginia Are Pretty Much The Same As In Texas

Today, let’s talk about Virginia, host of the nation’s most interesting off-year election. True, the New York mayor’s race has been pretty frisky since we acquired Anthony Weiner as a candidate, but I’m still going with Virginia.

The governor’s race there has a dandy ethics controversy that began with charges that a businessman with a rather dicey background gave Gov. Bob McDonnell $15,000 to pay for the catering at his daughter’s wedding. Actually, this would have been perfectly legal if McDonnell had just disclosed it. Under Virginia’s ethics laws, the governor can accept anything — house, car, private jet, former Soviet republic — as long as he puts it in the proper form.

He also might have been able to get off the hook when the transaction was discovered, just by saying he forgot to mention it. (Virginia’s rules are more flexible than a Slinky.) But McDonnell claimed total innocence, arguing that the $15,000 was a wedding gift to his daughter and, therefore, didn’t count.

“It’s caused a fair amount of pain for me personally,” he said. “I’m a governor, but I’m a dad, and I love my daughter very much.”

What, exactly, do you think that means? That McDonnell feels bad about shoveling the blame onto his offspring? That he could not have afforded to give her all the jumbo shrimp she deserved without financial assistance?

Looks like an investigation for Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli! Except — whoops — it turned out that Cuccinelli had also taken gifts from the same businessman, some of which he, too, had failed to report. Like several stays in a vacation home, one of which involved a catered Thanksgiving dinner. Have you noticed a theme here?

McDonnell’s term is up and Cuccinelli is running to replace him. Perhaps unreported freebies will be a big campaign issue. Although in a more perfect world, voters might focus on the attorney general’s two-year investigation of a University of Virginia scientist for the crime of believing in global warming.

But, still, the catered affairs are pretty interesting. When politicians take freebies, it is, alas, generally more compelling than conflicts involving campaign finance. Governor McDonnell had previously taken more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the same benefactor, the dietary supplement maker Jonnie Williams. But somehow that seemed to pale beside those shrimp.

“There’s a personal relationship attached to gifts and perks,” said Peggy Kerns, the director of the National Conference of State Legislatures Center for Ethics in Government. A former Colorado lawmaker herself, Kerns offered a vision of resentful voters, sitting shivering at the end zone of a Broncos game, while comfy officials enjoyed the buffet in a corporate sponsor’s luxury box.

Campaign contributions do way, way more to corrupt the political process than gifts to politicians. Unfortunately, it’s harder to make the emotional connection to a wayward PAC. This is why so many public officials get into trouble for accepting free home repairs. Everybody wants a kitchen with granite countertops. But few of us yearn to purchase our own negative ad campaign.

Do you remember John Rowland, the governor of Connecticut who got sent to the clink for corruption? A ton of corruption, including an aide who took a bribe in the form of gold coins that he then buried in the backyard. But the thing that stuck in everybody’s mind was the free $3,600 hot tub.

This week, Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, celebrated his release from prison after serving three years for eight felony charges, from tax fraud to lying to White House officials. But we will all remember his fall from grace in terms of $250,000 in apartment renovations. (Kerik was welcomed home with a shrimp scampi dinner provided by a star of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” It was probably a gift, but we don’t care anymore.)

Virginia believes that as long as officials report what they take, the system will work honorably. But there’s not even a mechanism to assure those reports are accurate. There isn’t a huge record of political corruption, but, as John McGlennon, a professor of government at William and Mary pointed out, “our laws are so loose, it’s hard to run afoul of them.” The home of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson regards itself as someplace special. But the rules on campaign contributions are pretty much the same as in Texas.

“Virginians probably would not want to hear you say that,” said McGlennon.

Some states have already figured out an answer to the gift question, which is to prohibit officials from accepting even a free cup of coffee from lobbyists or people who do business with the government. This appears likely to happen in Virginia several months after hell freezes over. And that’s actually the easier issue. The big problem is campaign contributions, which have become so huge and complicated that it’s hard for despairing voters to get their heads around them.

If we could only figure out a way to require that they all are made in the form of shrimp.


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 31, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Soon We Forget”: Bob Dole As A Tribune Of Civility Is Laughable

So now we’re supposed to fall in love with Bob Dole: the enfeebled old solon went on Fox News this week and said his beloved Grand Old Party should be “closed for repairs” for having abandoned civility and comity, and for lacking “ideas.” All right then; let’s give Bob Dole half credit. It is true that Bob Dole was on the Republican side of the hyphen for plenty of pieces of bipartisan legislation (never mind that many of those laws were awful—like “Bayh-Dole,” the 1980 law that let universities patent, and thus privatize, their publicly financed inventions). But let’s also call it half bullshit. All in all, Bob Dole was much more an architect of the Republican Party’s culture of hyper-partisan nastiness than a tribune of civility.

Once, when LBJ was thundering toward his 1964 landslide, megalomaniacally rolling up road miles to defeat as many incumbent Republicans as possible, he told the reporters traveling with him, “You all know a bit about the Republicans in Congress, and there must be at least a few of them that you think deserve to be defeated. Give me some names and either Hubert and I will try to get into their districts in the next few days and talk against ’em.” After they got over their shock, one piped up proposing that Dole kid, the young congressman out of Kansas: he was a nasty man, a hatchet man—a traducer of the civility of Washington. Which was largely how Bob Dole rose in Republican counsels. How soon we forget.

It’s one of those ineluctable patterns in American political culture. As I wrote in 2004 upon Ronald Reagan’s death: “each generation of nonconservatives sees the right-wingers of its own generation as the scary ones, then chooses to remember the right-wingers of the last generation as sort of cuddly. In 1964, observers horrified by Barry Goldwater pined for the sensible Robert Taft, the conservative leader of the 1950s. When Reagan was president, liberals spoke fondly of sweet old Goldwater. Nowadays, as we grapple with the malevolence of President Bush, it’s Reagan we remember as the sensible one.” As, thus, does Robert Dole: in today’s Republican Party, “Reagan wouldn’t have made it.”

And now, like clockwork, Bob Dole volunteers Bob Dole as the cuddly one, thereby basking in the pundits’ lionization of Bob Dole. Bob Dole!

Rick Perlstein is not buying it. Bob Dole, who in 1971 when Richard Nixon expanded the Vietnam War into Laos, called Democrats who protested to Nixon publicly (but not Republicans who did the same thing privately) “the new Chamberlains in what they hope will be another era of appeasement,” saying George McGovern has went “as close as anyone has yet come to urging outright surrender.”

The next year, as Nixon’s Republican National Committee chair, Bob Dole eagerly stood up on his hind legs for the Watergate-plagued president, then peed on Woodward and Bernstein: “For the last week, the Republican Party has been the victim of a barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations by George McGovern and his partner-in-mudslinging, the Washington Post…McGovern appears to have turned over the franchise for his media attack campaign to the editors…who have shown themselves every bit as surefooted along the low road.”

Others can add their greatest hits from their own personal Wayback Machines. Meanwhile, let’s count down for another Bob to bob forth with some blathering about Bob: Bob Woodward. It can’t really be long.


By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, May 31, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Failure To Hold Congress Accountable”: Economic Policy Is Largely Being Driven By Obstructionism, Not Economic Advisers

President Obama is reportedly planning to nominate economist Jason Furman to replace Alan Krueger as the head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Like Krueger and, for that matter, Austan Goolsbee and Christina Romer who previously served this administration in the same capacity, Furman boasts an impressive resume, with a Harvard economics doctorate as well as stints at the Brooking Institution, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), and the CEA under President Clinton, among others. If you’re still of the incorrect belief that tax cuts largely pay for themselves (looking at you, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), do yourself a favor and read his CBPP report explaining the mechanics and empirics of “dynamic scoring” (pdf) and why invoking it as a talisman doesn’t mean one can claim anything one finds politically expedient.

The Beltway coverage of this news is overly focused on the inside baseball politics between the CEA and the National Economic Council, where Furman has been serving as Deputy Director since January 2009. But it’s important to step back and remember that economic policy in recent years has been principally driven not by well-qualified economists with the CEA, NEC, or elsewhere in the executive branch, but instead by conservative congressional obstructionism. Jason Furman’s appointment to the CEA will not alter the troubling reality that the United States is on an autopilot course of premature, excessive austerity and intentionally poorly designed sequestration spending cuts. But even if the ghost of conservative saint Milton Friedman rose up and warned the GOP against such austerity, today’s conservatives in Congress would declare him an apostate and continue their destructive course.

Consequently, the U.S. economy will almost certainly continue muddling through an adverse equilibrium of anemic growth, severely depressed output, massive underemployment, large cyclical budget deficits, subdued price inflation, widespread real wage deflation and low interest rates. It’s really quite simple: a steep aggregate demand shortfall continues to keep the economy’s performance well below potential, and the Federal Reserve has been and will continue to be incapable of fully ameliorating this shortfall so long as contractionary fiscal policy is being pursued. (See this paper for a thorough treatment.)

In short, the intellectual debate over austerity vs. stimulus has been totally decoupled from the policy debate and, more importantly, policy outcomes in Washington—despite having been resolved in a virtual TKO by those opposed to foisting austerity on depressed economies. The United States doesn’t face, or, perhaps more accurately, no longer faces a deficit of economists capable of opening up an intermediate macroeconomics textbook and relearning liquidity trap/depression economics. But the U.S. Congress faces a depressing deficit of members who seem to care about empiricism or evidence-based policy, never mind their unemployed constituents.

My colleague Josh Bivens and I have chronicled the ways the GOP has routinely and frequently obstructed economic recovery since 2009—much of which should inform any debate this summer regarding much needed reform of the Senate’s filibuster rules, as well as the inevitable political fight over the debt ceiling. Conservatives, particularly the Tea Party caucus, are to blame for exploiting every piece of leverage available (including the nation’s credit worthiness) to extract premature spending cuts, filibustering just about anything that would boost aggregate demand, watering down the Recovery Act, hamstringing monetary policy and demanding counterproductive legislative ‘pay fors’—stipulated to never, ever include revenue increases. The frequently espoused pox-on-both houses punditry is not just off-base, but is also somewhat complicit in this sad state of affairs.

Does it matter who advises the president? Absolutely. But the distressing state of the U.S. economy is, at root, a failure of our representative democracy and institutions to hold Congress accountable for its decisions preventing economic recovery, not a failure of technical advice given to the president. Realistically, the Constitution and budgetary process outlook afford the administration scant leverage to force more deficit-financed government spending, the most effective policy lever for digging out of this Lesser Depression. Under this backdrop, the United States needs more than qualified economic advisers to the president—a majority of representatives and (barring meaningful filibuster reform) super-majority of senators who heed evidence, as well as a press corps holding them accountable, jump to mind.


By: Andrew Fieldhouse, Economic Policy Institute, May 29, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Economic Recovery | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Blind To The Past And The Future”: Republicans Are Ignorant Of The Lessons Of History And Impervious To The Wisdom Of Experience

As a new effort at comprehensive immigration reform inches its way forward in the Senate, dissent from many conservatives is revealing their true contempt for, and fear of, the possibility that demographic groups who look different from their base will accrue power.

The questions are: Is providing a pathway to citizenship (or at least permanent residency) for the 11 million people in this country illegally an act of humanity and practicality? Or is it an electoral imperative to which opposition ultimately guarantees political suicide?

The answer probably is “yes” to both, although many Republicans seem to think the opposite.

President George W. Bush, a supporter of a pathway to citizenship, spoke to The Huffington Post about the current efforts for comprehensive immigration reform, saying, “I think the atmosphere, unlike when I tried it, is better, maybe for the wrong reason.”

Bush continued: “The right reason is it’s important to reform a broken system. I’m not sure a right reason is that in so doing we win votes. I mean when you do the right thing, I think you win votes, as opposed to doing something that’s the right thing to win votes. Maybe there’s no difference there. It seems like there is to me though.”

But that distinction — humanitarianism over opportunism — is as lost on as many of Bush’s fellow Republicans today as when he was in office. They don’t even accept the logic of long-term electoral viability over extinction.

The most outlandish example of conservative rhetoric in its truly offensive glory on this subject came in an interview last week with Phyllis Schlafly, a prominent conservative activist, on the news site PolicyMic. In it she said:

“I don’t see any evidence that Hispanics resonate with Republican values. They have no experience or knowledge of the whole idea of limited government and keeping government out of our private lives. They come from a country where the government has to decide everything. I don’t know where you get the idea that the Mexicans coming in resonate with Republican values. They’re running an illegitimacy rate that is extremely high. I think it’s the highest of any ethnic group. We welcome people who want to be Americans. And then you hear many of them talk about wanting Mexico to reclaim several of our Southwestern states, because they think Mexico should really own some of those states. Well, that’s unacceptable. We don’t want people like that.”

There are so many stereotypes and fallacies in that statement that it’s not even worth unpacking, but it is a great illustration of some deep-rooted conservative views.

The one thing I will take the time to contest is the notion that even if Republicans changed their rhetoric and tactics, they wouldn’t gain traction with Hispanics (not all of whom are Mexican, by the way, Ms. Schlafly).

According to exit poll data, from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, Republicans made significant headway in closing the gap between the number of Hispanics who voted for Democratic candidates to the House of Representatives and those who voted for Republicans, shrinking a 50-point Democratic advantage in 1982 to just 12 points in 2004.

But then came Bush’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform and the enormous pushback it got from Congressional Republicans. Just before Christmas in 2005, the Republican-led House passed an enforcement-only immigration bill that sparked huge protests.

In the 2006 elections, the Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters for House races shot back up to 48 points. That year, Democrats recaptured the House and the Senate, and took control of a majority of governorships.

Republicans, seemingly ignorant of the lessons of history and impervious to the wisdom of experience, are hellbent on revisiting 2005. While the Democratic advantage among Hispanics in presidential races is large and growing, the Democratic advantage in House elections has slowly begun to shrink again. And Hispanics, seemingly excited by the movement on immigration reform and optimistic about its prospects, have developed sharply more favorable opinions of Congress. A full 56 percent of Hispanics hold Congress in high esteem, up from 35 percent in November 2011, according to an ABC News/Washington Post Poll.

So what do some Republican lawmakers want to do to the only segment of the population in which a majority now has a favorable opinion of Congress? Spurn them and dash their hopes.

Brilliant, if you want to cement Democratic preference among Hispanics in perpetuity.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 1, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From The Mouths Of Babes”: The Ugly, Immoral, Destructive War Against Food Stamps

Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 30, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Poverty | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: