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“Birds Of A Feather Stick Together”: Raging Bulls, Christie And Rove

When I saw that Karl Rove had said that Chris Christie’s handling of the bridge-closing scandal would give “him some street cred with some tea party Republicans” and essentially proved that he had the right qualities to be president, I wasn’t just reminded that Rove was the main architect of the U.S. Attorney dismissal scandal (that Christie somehow escaped). I was also reminded of an experience reporter Ron Suskind had when he went to the White House to interview Rove. He wrote about it in Esquire back in January of 2003.

Eventually, I met with Rove. I arrived at his office a few minutes early, just in time to witness the Rove Treatment, which, like LBJ’s famous browbeating style, is becoming legend but is seldom reported. Rove’s assistant, Susan Ralston, said he’d be just a minute. She’s very nice, witty and polite. Over her shoulder was a small back room where a few young men were toiling away. I squeezed into a chair near the open door to Rove’s modest chamber, my back against his doorframe.

Inside, Rove was talking to an aide about some political stratagem in some state that had gone awry and a political operative who had displeased him. I paid it no mind and reviewed a jotted list of questions I hoped to ask. But after a moment, it was like ignoring a tornado flinging parked cars. “We will f*ck him. Do you hear me? We will f*ck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever f*cked him!” As a reporter, you get around—curse words, anger, passionate intensity are not notable events—but the ferocity, the bellicosity, the violent imputations were, well, shocking. This went on without a break for a minute or two. Then the aide slipped out looking a bit ashen, and Rove, his face ruddy from the exertions of the past few moments, looked at me and smiled a gentle, Clarence-the-Angel smile. “Come on in.” And I did. And we had the most amiable chat for a half hour.

This, I imagine, is much like the phone call (or meeting) that Chris Christie made that drove his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly to initiate the plot to close the Fort Lee access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. Whether the idea was to get a piece of the Hudson Lights luxury development in Fort Lee, as Steve Kornacki proposed on his program this morning, or it was retaliation for the blockage of Supreme Court nominees, as Rachel Maddow has speculated, or it was for some unknown reason, it is very clear that those lanes were not closed because of the lack of an endorsement, or without Christie’s rage being the cause.

Karl Rove can obviously relate.

 

By: Maritn Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 12, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Karl Rove | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The War Over Poverty”: The Problem Of Poverty Is Part Of The Broader Problem Of Rising Income Inequality

Fifty years have passed since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. And a funny thing happened on the way to this anniversary. Suddenly, or so it seems, progressives have stopped apologizing for their efforts on behalf of the poor, and have started trumpeting them instead. And conservatives find themselves on the defensive.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. For a long time, everyone knew — or, more accurately, “knew” — that the war on poverty had been an abject failure. And they knew why: It was the fault of the poor themselves. But what everyone knew wasn’t true, and the public seems to have caught on.

The narrative went like this: Antipoverty programs hadn’t actually reduced poverty, because poverty in America was basically a social problem — a problem of broken families, crime and a culture of dependence that was only reinforced by government aid. And because this narrative was so widely accepted, bashing the poor was good politics, enthusiastically embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, too.

Yet this view of poverty, which may have had some truth to it in the 1970s, bears no resemblance to anything that has happened since.

For one thing, the war on poverty has, in fact, achieved quite a lot. It’s true that the standard measure of poverty hasn’t fallen much. But this measure doesn’t include the value of crucial public programs like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit. Once these programs are taken into account, the data show a significant decline in poverty, and a much larger decline in extreme poverty. Other evidence also points to a big improvement in the lives of America’s poor: lower-income Americans are much healthier and better-nourished than they were in the 1960s.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence that antipoverty programs have long-term benefits, both to their recipients and to the nation as a whole. For example, children who had access to food stamps were healthier and had higher incomes in later life than people who didn’t.

And if progress against poverty has nonetheless been disappointingly slow — which it has — blame rests not with the poor but with a changing labor market, one that no longer offers good wages to ordinary workers. Wages used to rise along with worker productivity, but that linkage ended around 1980. The bottom third of the American work force has seen little or no rise in inflation-adjusted wages since the early 1970s; the bottom third of male workers has experienced a sharp wage decline. This wage stagnation, not social decay, is the reason poverty has proved so hard to eradicate.

Or to put it a different way, the problem of poverty has become part of the broader problem of rising income inequality, of an economy in which all the fruits of growth seem to go to a small elite, leaving everyone else behind.

So how should we respond to this reality?

The conservative position, essentially, is that we shouldn’t respond. Conservatives are committed to the view that government is always the problem, never the solution; they treat every beneficiary of a safety-net program as if he or she were “a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.” And why not? After all, for decades their position was a political winner, because middle-class Americans saw “welfare” as something that Those People got but they didn’t.

But that was then. At this point, the rise of the 1 percent at the expense of everyone else is so obvious that it’s no longer possible to shut down any discussion of rising inequality with cries of “class warfare.” Meanwhile, hard times have forced many more Americans to turn to safety-net programs. And as conservatives have responded by defining an ever-growing fraction of the population as morally unworthy “takers” — a quarter, a third, 47 percent, whatever — they have made themselves look callous and meanspirited.

You can see the new political dynamics at work in the fight over aid to the unemployed. Republicans are still opposed to extended benefits, despite high long-term unemployment. But they have, revealingly, changed their arguments. Suddenly, it’s not about forcing those lazy bums to find jobs; it’s about fiscal responsibility. And nobody believes a word of it.

Meanwhile, progressives are on offense. They have decided that inequality is a winning political issue. They see war-on-poverty programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned-income tax credit as success stories, initiatives that have helped Americans in need — especially during the slump since 2007 — and should be expanded. And if these programs enroll a growing number of Americans, rather than being narrowly targeted on the poor, so what?

So guess what: On its 50th birthday, the war on poverty no longer looks like a failure. It looks, instead, like a template for a rising, increasingly confident progressive movement.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beyond Polarization To Warfare”: It’s The Broader Acceptance Of Political Warfare In The Conservative Movement That’s Most Alarming

At WaPo’s Monkey Cage subsite today, there’s an important piece by University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault that gets to a distinction in political attitudes that some of us have been trying to articulate ever since the radicalization of one of our two major parties occurred:

I have been studying party polarization in Congress for more than a decade. The more I study it, the more I question that it is the root cause of what it is that Americans hate about Congress. Pundits and political scientists alike point to party polarization as the culprit for all sorts of congressional ills. I, too, have contributed to this chorus bemoaning party polarization. But increasingly, I’ve come to think that our problem today isn’t just polarization in Congress; it’s the related but more serious problem of political warfare….

Perhaps my home state of Texas unnecessarily reinforces the distinction I want to make between these two dimensions. Little separates my two senators’ voting records – of the 279 votes that senators took in 2013, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn disagreed less than 9 percent of the time (the largest category of their disagreement, incidentally, was on confirmation votes). In terms of ideology, they are both very conservative. Cruz, to no one’s surprise, is the most conservative. Cornyn is the 13th most conservative, which is actually further down the list than he was in 2012, when he ranked second. Cornyn’s voting record is more conservative than conservative stalwarts Tom Coburn and Richard Shelby. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz disagreed on twice as many votes as John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

The difference between my senators is that when John Cornyn shows up for a meeting with fellow senators, he brings a pad of paper and pencil and tries to figure out how to solve problems. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, brings a battle plan.

That’s probably why Cornyn has attracted a right-wing primary challenge from Rep. Steve Stockman.

The rise of “politics as warfare” on the Right, accompanied with militarist rhetoric, is one that my Democratic Strategist colleagues James Vega and J.P. Green and I discussed in a Strategy Memo last year. We discerned this tendency in the willingness of conservatives to paralyze government instead of redirecting its policies, and in the recent efforts to strike at democracy itself via large-scale voter disenfranchisement initiatives. And while we noted the genesis of extremist politics in radical ideology, we also warned that “Establishment” Republicans aiming at electoral victories at all costs were funding and leading the scorched-earth permanent campaign.

All I’d add at this point is that it’s not terribly surprising that people who think of much of the policy legacy of the twentieth century as a betrayal of the very purpose of America–and even as defiance of the Divine Will–would view liberals in the dehumanizing way that participants in an actual shooting war so often exhibit. But it’s the broader acceptance of political warfare in the conservative movement and the GOP–typified by the perpetual rage against the Obama administration–that’s most alarming.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 10, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Willful Ignorance?”: Did Chris Christie Turn A Blind Eye?

Well, that was a virtuoso performance by Chris Christie yesterday. For about 20 minutes. Unfortunately for him, he spoke, and spoke, and spoke, for about 110 minutes.

For the first 20, he had something to say—firing deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, announcing that his former campaign manager Bill Stepien would have no role going forward either in Trenton or with the Republican Governors’ Association. He summoned the requisite fake contrition and outrage. It all could have been a big recovery.

Then he just kept talking. Let’s put it this way. When you say toward the beginning of a press conference with some degree of dramatic flair that you’re going to go up to Ft. Lee to meet with the mayor, and then you end up talking long enough so that a chyron eventually appears at the bottom of the TV screen that says (I forget the precise wording) Ft. Lee Mayor Doesn’t Want to Meet With Christie, you’ve gone way past lights out. (They did meet in the end.) He was like Norma Desmond up there, still craving the spotlight after the spotlight had long since been dimmed.

In much of pundit land, “time” equals “candor,” as Christie is undoubtedly aware, so he surely knew that the longer he went on, the more some pundits would gush. But I think he started to repeat himself and become tiresome, and he left thousands of words on video tape that can someday be used against him.

Maybe there was a reason Christie was filibustering. Sometime shortly after noon, his disgraced ex-Port Authority  appointee David Wildstein started testifying before the legislative committee leading the investigation into “Bridgegate”, having failed in his bid to quash the subpoena that required him to do so. Good chance, it seems to me, that if Christie had finished up before noon, the cable networks would have gone straight to Wildstein invoking the Fifth Amendment (as indeed they eventually did). So maybe Christie was running out the clock. The more him, the less Wildstein.

Turns out, though, that Christie was running out the clock in more ways than one. In New Jersey, a legislature’s subpoena power into a particular investigation ends when the legislative session ends. In this case, that’s next week: January 14. That might not mean much, because the assembly (where the investigation is taking place) is in Democratic hands in the current (ending) session, and will remain in Democratic hands in the next one, so one might assume the new legislature would renew the probe.

But here’s the wrinkle: The speakership of the assembly is changing hands, from Sheila Oliver, who has a rocky history with Christie, to Vincent Prieto, who has no such history. So maybe there was a chance that Prieto wasn’t going to continue the investigation. Indeed, he’d refused to say one way or the other for a long time as the scandal percolated. But once these damning emails came out, Prieto had little choice, and sure enough, he finally said Wednesday that the investigation will continue into the next session.

So think of this from Christie’s perspective: He had to be sitting there thinking, all I have to do here is make it to January 15 when the new session starts, and maybe this whole thing will die.

And so, the most plausible current theory of the case to me. Christie knew, in his head, what happened here. He’s not a stupid man. And even if he were a stupid man, this controversy has been in the media for several weeks now. So there can be virtually no question that he knew that the notion that the lanes were closed for political reasons existed as an allegation. But he pointedly didn’t ask any questions, or at least any probing questions in search of honest answers.

Stop and think about that. If it’s true, as he’s been saying, that he had no idea all this was political until Wednesday, then he’s telling us that while allegations were swirling around in the state’s newspapers and political web sites, he a) perhaps didn’t even read them or b) read them but didn’t ask any hard questions of either his staff, his campaign manager, or his Port Authority appointees.  Remember, he said he didn’t even speak to Bridget Kelly about this until Wednesday.

So that was Christie’s probable posture here. Ignorance is bliss. He did everything he could not to know, waiting for January 15, when, he was hoping, the whole thing would just go away.

But now it’s not going away in the assembly, and of course he now has the bigger problem of the U.S. Attorney sniffing around. He hung the people involved in this out to dry. When the U.S. Attorney starts asking questions, how strong an urge are they going to feel to protect the governor?

This story is a long way from over. What was redacted (or can we just say censored?) from those emails and texts? Was this really “the exception, not the rule” in how the Christie administration tries to enforce political loyalty? We’ll presumably find out answers to these questions.

And if even Christie is telling the truth, that Wednesday was the first time he’d heard that the lane closures were a political act, all that means is that he went out of his way to make sure he didn’t hear it, which in turn means there was a grotesque abuse of political power that happened right under his nose and that he not only didn’t try to get to the bottom of, but tried to sweat it out until January 15. That’s some definition of leadership.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 10, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Vicious Circle Of Income Inequality”: New Forces Are Causing Inequality To Feed On Itself

Almost every culture has some variation on the saying, “rags to rags in three generations.” Whether it’s “clogs to clogs” or “rice paddy to rice paddy,” the message is essentially the same: Starting with nothing, the first generation builds a successful enterprise, which its profligate offspring then manage poorly, so that by the time the grandchildren take over, little value remains.

Much of society’s wealth is created by new enterprises, so the apparent implication of this folk wisdom is that economic inequality should be self-limiting. And for most of the early history of industrial society, it was.

But no longer. Inequality in the United States has been increasing sharply for more than four decades and shows no signs of retreat. In varying degrees, it’s been the same pattern in other countries.

The economy has been changing, and new forces are causing inequality to feed on itself.

One is that the higher incomes of top earners have been shifting consumer demand in favor of goods whose value stems from the talents of other top earners. Because the wealthy have just about every possession anyone might need, they tend to spend their extra income in pursuit of something special. And, often, what makes goods special today is that they’re produced by people or organizations whose talents can’t be duplicated easily.

Wealthy people don’t choose just any architects, artists, lawyers, plastic surgeons, heart specialists or cosmetic dentists. They seek out the best, and the most expensive, practitioners in each category. The information revolution has greatly increased their ability to find those practitioners and transact with them. So as the rich get richer, the talented people they patronize get richer, too. Their spending, in turn, increases the incomes of other elite practitioners, and so on.

More recently, rising inequality has had much impact on the political process. Greater income and wealth in the hands of top earners gives them greater access to legislators. And it confers more ability to influence public opinion through contributions to research organizations and political action committees. The results have included long-term reductions in income and estate taxes, as well as relaxed business regulation. Those changes, in turn, have caused further concentrations of income and wealth at the top, creating even more political influence.

By enabling the best performers in almost every arena to extend their reach, technology has also been a major driver of income inequality. The best athletes and musicians once entertained hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at one time, but they can now serve audiences of hundreds of millions. In other fields, it was once enough to be the best producer in a relatively small region. But because of falling transportation costs and trade barriers in the information economy, many fields are now dominated by only a handful of the best suppliers worldwide.

Income concentration has changed spending patterns in other ways that widen the income gap. The wealthy have been spending more on gifts, clothing, housing, celebrations and other things simply because they have more money. Their extra spending has shifted the frames of reference that shape demand by others just below them, so these less wealthy people have been spending more, and so on, all the way down the income ladder. But because incomes below the top have been stagnant, the resulting expenditure cascades have made it harder for middle- and low-income families to make ends meet. Despite taking on huge amounts of debt, they’ve been unable to keep pace with community standards. Interest payments impoverish them while enriching their wealthy creditors.

But perhaps the most important new feedback loop shows up in higher education. Tighter budgets in middle-class families make it harder for them to afford the special tutors and other environmental advantages that help more affluent students win admission to elite universities. Financial aid helps alleviate these problems, but the children of affluent families graduate debt-free and move quickly into top-paying jobs, while the children of other families face lesser job prospects and heavy loads of student debt. All too often, the less affluent experience the miracle of compound interest in reverse.

More than anything else, what’s transformed the “rags to rags in three generations” story is the reduced importance of inherited wealth relative to other forms of inherited advantage. Monetary bequests are far more easily squandered than early childhood advantage and elite educational credentials. As Americans, we once pointed with pride to our country’s high level of economic and social mobility, but we’ve now become one of the world’s most rigidly stratified industrial democracies.

Given the grave threats to the social order that extreme inequality has posed in other countries, it’s easy to see why the growing income gap is poised to become the signature political issue of 2014. Low- and middle-income Americans don’t appear to be on the threshold of revolt. But the middle-class squeeze continues to tighten, and it would be imprudent to consider ourselves immune. So if growing inequality has become a self-reinforcing process, we’ll want to think more creatively about public policies that might contain it.

In the meantime, the proportion of our citizens who never make it out of rags will continue to grow.

 

By: Robert H. Frank, Economics Professor, The Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University; The New York Times, January 11, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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