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“Pants On Fire”: Chris Christie Gets Called A Liar

Friday afternoon, Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, got called a liar by someone he had called a nothing. At a multi-hour press conference on January 9th, Christie had said that he’d had no idea that his aides and allies had deliberately choked off traffic from the town of Fort Lee for political reasons. Bridget Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, had sent a message to David Wildstein, whom he’d appointed to the Port Authority, that read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”; his former campaign manager was on some of the e-mail and text chains, too, using words like “retaliate.” Christie responded by calling himself the victim of a monumental betrayal by very small people. He said that he knew nothing about the closures, and he wanted everyone to know that he hardly knew Wildstein: “Let me just clear something up, O.K., about my childhood friend David Wildstein.”

David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school…. We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.… So we went twenty-three years without seeing each other, and, in the years we did see each other, we passed in the hallways. So I want to clear that up. It doesn’t make a difference except that I think some of the stories that’ve been written implied like an emotional relationship and closeness between me and David that doesn’t exist.

He also said that he had no desire to even speak to Bridget Kelly again.

One view, at the time, was that Christie couldn’t possibly be lying. He had thrown the people who were involved aside too disdainfully; there had been gratuitous slashing. Would he do that if they could contradict him easily? The answer that David Wildstein, at least, is now offering by way of a letter from his lawyer, Alan Zegas, is yes. The letter, first obtained by the Times, takes the form of an insistence that the Port Authority pay Wildstein’s legal bills, and says that “Mr. Wildstein contests the inaccuracy of certain statements the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”

Here is one of those statements: “I had no knowledge of this—of the planning, the execution or anything about it—and that I first found out about it after it was over.” Zegas writes, however, that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly” in the press conference.

Christie’s office issued a statement on Friday afternoon in which it said the letter confirmed that the governor had “no prior knowledge” of the closures. To recap the logic there, in the press conference, Christie said that he hadn’t known until after; Wildstein’s lawyer says there’s evidence that he knew during; which Christie’s team is presenting as proof that he didn’t know before. (The statement also denied the letter’s “other assertions.”)

We’ll have to see the evidence to know if or how Christie lied. But expecting the truth because it would so clearly be foolish for Christie to lie, or for any politician to, is a misguided notion. There have been too many times that it just hasn’t worked out that way. The dumb, disprovable lies often have to do with sex. But there are other disorienting impulses, too, like pride and money and Republican primaries.

Money comes up in what is the most interesting passage of Zegas’s letter, suggesting even more damaging material than a press-conference lie:

Subsequent to Mr. Wildstein testifying, there have been reports that certain Commissioners of the Port Authority have been connected directly or indirectly to land deals involving the Port Authority, that Port Authority funds were allocated to projects connected to persons who supported the administration of Governor Chris Christie or whose political support he sought, with some of the projects having no relationship to the business of the Port Authority, and that Port Authority funds were held back from those who refused to support the Governor.

The outline of those allegations fits those that the mayor of Hoboken has made, about the pressure on her to approve a deal or lose Sandy reconstruction funds. (The Christie administration has contested them.) But the Zegas letter refers to multiple “projects” and “land deals”; did Christie, before telling the world that he and Wildstein just “passed in the hallways,” do a mental accounting of what was said in the corners of those halls?

Christie likes to talk about himself as someone so full of feeling that he can’t help but tell the truth; now one question is whether, in the moment, he can remember what the truth is. Is he the sort of politician who gets more disciplined as the stakes get higher, or more reckless—if he ran for President, would the stories he told just get bigger? What may bring Christie down is his own sense that his importance—to the state, the nation, the solar system—is such that he can get rid of a problem just by saying that certain people aren’t really his friends. Didn’t they already know?


By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, January 31, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Deliberate Coyness”: The Farce Of Paul Ryan, Serious Man

Like a phoenix risen from the ashes of Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is back.

The conservative budget guru is once again being hailed as the Ideas Man who will lead the GOP to electoral salvation. But this time, he’s supposedly toning down his idealism a bit and, as is his party in general, putting on a softer, gentler face.

From Politico’s Jake Sherman, we hear that Ryan “is sifting through the lessons of his political past to shape a new persona” and, after trying to radically redraw the federal budget toward his conservative vision in the past, now “betting that incrementalism — legislative half-steps toward conservative solutions is the best look for Republicans.”

“The brand Ryan is cultivating is deliberate, serious, and aims to be inclusive of other political parties and voters who haven’t considered Republicans,” he adds.

Ah, there it is, the “S” word: Serious.

Ryan is often portrayed as the lone adult in the room, the man with serious ideas when the rest of Washington is embroiled in partisan sniping. Whether or not he’s truly offering sound policy — and there have been many questions on the front — he’s incessantly framed as being above-the-fray, concerned only with making Washington work right. In a word: Serious.

The trouble is that the mystique is largely media-crafted. A quick Lexis-Nexis search of U.S. newspapers for “Paul Ryan” and “serious” returned more than 3,000 results from the past year alone.

To be sure, Ryan does offer up a lot of policy proposals, an anomaly in D.C., and especially for a party that has voted to repeal ObamaCare more than 40 times without offering, until now, any semblance of an alternative. Yet his policy ideas don’t always hold water. Sometimes, they’re deeply flawed.

His previous budget plans were widely criticized for relying on highly suspect data, and for following a formula along the lines of: Cut spending + pixie dust = economic growth.

“If Obama tried to claim that his policies would achieve anything like this,” the liberal Paul Krugman wrote of Ryan’s 2011 budget plan, “he’d be laughed out of office.”

As for Ryan’s big new anti-poverty crusade, the details there, too, are suspect. His ideas — placing work requirements on safety-net programs, tax breaks, and so on — are “supply-side policies that don’t change the overall level of poverty” says Ryan Cooper in The Washington Post, making them no more than “vague rhetoric and window dressing.”

Other thorough assessments of his anti-poverty campaign have been similarly harsh. Meaning, it’s not so much that Ryan has changed, but rather that he’s tucked his old ideas into new packaging and — voila! — become the serious man once again.

Consider it the Republican rebrand writ small.

Part of Ryan’s enduring “seriousness” is actually deliberate coyness, which allows pundits to hang the simple narrative on him. He’s deflected questions about his political ambitions with a “Who, me?” shrug, while insisting he’s just trying to do his job. It’s an effective though farcical facade. Ryan has a knack for shrewdly self-promoting his supposed quiet humility and wonkish credentials. As the economist Jared Bernstein wrote, Ryan “is the classic example of the adage that if you’ve got a reputation for being an early riser, you can sleep til noon.”

To be sure, Ryan did help craft the mini budget compromise that passed earlier this year to avoid another government shutdown. But absolutely no one — okay, maybe Ted Cruz — wanted another shutdown, especially the GOP leadership, considering how badly the last one hurt the party. In that sense, Ryan was merely ensuring the GOP didn’t self-immolate once again.

Ryan’s big rebrand doesn’t prove that he’s a “serious” lawmaker. It does, however, prove he’s serious about looking serious.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, January 30, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“There’s Nothing New About The New Racism”: It Is What This Country Was Built On

Let’s be clear, there’s nothing “new” about “the new racism,” the term Suketu Mehta uses to characterize the arguments of Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld in reviewing their new book, “The Triple Package.” Chua and Rubenfeld’s ahistorical and condescending-sounding treatise, which seems primed to satisfy the appetites of salivating marketing departments and morning show producers, argues that three traits — a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control — account for why immigrant groups like Asians and Indians thrive in America. Mehta argues that this constitutes a “new racism,” where some groups are praised in order to denigrate others — who apparently deserve to fail because they lack these traits.

But isn’t this just the same old racism — barely wearing new clothes? Racism has always come in a variety of costumes and cloaks. Put another way: bigotry, intolerance, discrimination and violence can be as covert as they are overt; can owe a debt as much to the seemingly reasonable intellects of academies and legislatures as the Neanderthal ranting of the ugliest segregationists and supremacists.

The umbrella term for these scourges, “racism,” is the physical and psychological genocide of generations of stolen people, yes, but it is also the root of modern-day drug policy and the for-profit, institutionalization of millions of black and brown men. It is the privileging of the needs of luxury real estate developers over a commitment to fair, safe, affordable housing. It is a member of Congress shouting “You lie.” And it is the wink-wink of the modern-day Republican party insisting that “yes, you built that.”

Racism is not, nor has it ever been, “new” — it is what this country was built on. It is as American as apple pie.
To be fair, Suketu Mehta says as much, writing that Chua and Rubenfeld’s “The Triple Package” contains within it ideas and conclusions about American achievement that have long been dressed up in other, perhaps more explicitly distasteful — genetic, religious, economic — disguises.

But even calling this slightly new shade, this culture-based argument for achievement, this soft bigotry of the myth of group Exceptionalism, “new” obscures the realities of injustice in America. It assigns to publicity-hungry individuals and pseudoscientists responsibility for a narrow-mindedness that is, in fact, long-established and structural — as political as it is personal. It suggests that there is an “old” racism we have somehow moved beyond. As the Los Angeles Times’ Ellen D. Wu says of the model minority myth, it “both fascinates and upsets precisely because it offers an unambiguous yet inaccurate blueprint for solving the nation’s most pressing issues.”

So let’s not call it “new.” Let’s acknowledge that even if, as Mehta says, the United States thinks it has moved beyond race, many Americans refuse to believe that “race” was ever an issue to move beyond in the first place. Let’s not only recognize but thoroughly explore this nation’s longstanding, stubborn and self-deluding need to believe that success is based solely — or mostly — on merit, not the more complex, messy stew of opportunity, visibility, class, physical privilege, social capital, psychological stamina, and yes, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“The Triple Package” is not evidence of a “new racism.” It’s the same old garbage, in a slightly different, Ivy League-endorsed disguise.


By: Anna Holmes, Time, January 24, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Much For Reform”: The Only Winners In The Farm Bill Are Farmers And Big Insurance

Late Monday, House and Senate negotiators finalized a bipartisan compromise on the five-year farm bill, a warm-and-fuzzy-sounding Frankenstein-like amalgamation of crop subsidies, food stamps, and various handouts to industries loosely related to agriculture. The 949-page House-Senate compromise, two years in the making, will likely go up for a House vote on Wednesday and a Senate vote next week.

“We’ve got a bill that makes sense, works for farmers and ranchers and consumers and families that need help, and protects our land and water and our wildlife,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, tells Reuters.

Stabenow may be correct that the farm bill will make it to President Obama’s desk — “it’s expected to sail through the House and Senate in the coming days — mostly because lawmakers want to get it over with already,” says The Washington Post‘s Ed O’Keefe. But it’s not exactly great for farmers and families that need help or other consumers.

The bill cuts spending by about $23 billion versus current funding levels, with more than $8 billion of that coming from cuts to food stamps, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It amounts to roughly a $90-a-month cut to 850,000 households. That’s far less than the $40 billion in SNAP cuts in the House version, but roughly twice the reduction in the Senate bill.

Another $6 billion comes from combining 23 conservation programs into 13. Other programs being cut include the “Red Meat Safety Research Center.” But the biggest supposed saving — $19 billion — is from ending direct payments to farmers (and some landowners who don’t actually farm), which cost taxpayers about $5 billion a year.

So that sounds like shared sacrifice, right? Not exactly. Most of the money from the direct payments is being shifted to subsidized crop insurance programs. “It’s a classic bait-and-switch proposal to protect farm subsidies,” Vincent H. Smith, a professor of farm economics at Montana State University, tells The New York Times. “They’ve eliminated the politically toxic direct payments program and added the money to a program that will provide farmers with even larger subsidies.”

On the other hand, the farm lobby is lining up behind the package. “The bill is a compromise,” says Ray Gaesser, president of the American Soybean Association. “It ensures the continued success of American agriculture, and we encourage both the House and the Senate to pass it quickly.” The American Farm Bureau Association — the big muscle of the farm lobby, employing 52 Washington lobbyistsurged quick passage of the bill.

The House and Senate conferees also loosened limits on how much individual farmers can receive in subsidies and loans in a given year, to $125,000 per person from $50,000 in the earlier bills. “If what we’ve heard proves true, the deal will result in virtually unlimited farm program payments continuing to inure to the nation’s largest and wealthiest mega-farms,” says Traci Bruckner at Nebraska’s Center for Rural Affairs.

@ChadPergram : Club for Growth on farm bill: It’s a “Christmas Tree” bill where there’s a gift for practically every special interest group out there..

For an in-depth look a the politics of the farm bill, read Molly Ball’s excellent article at The Atlantic. Her thesis is that the big losers here are Republicans, since rural Red State GOP stalwarts are feeling betrayed by the intra-party fighting over the bill between the “more urban, libertarian, ideological strain” of the party represented by the Tea Party and the traditional faction that represents rural and farming interests. But it’s also pretty clear who the winners are: Farmers and insurance companies.

When America’s programs of crop subsidies began during the Great Depression, more than 20 percent of employed workers made their living on farms, earning a third of what Americans pulled in for non-farm work, Ball notes. Now, farmers make up only two percent of the U.S. workforce, and farming households earned $84,400 on average in 2010, 25 percent higher than the national average.

“Farm subsidies are welfare for the well-to-do,” argued the Cato Institute’s Tad DeHaven and Chris Edwards at The Hill. Farmers booked record profits in 2012, despite severe droughts, thanks largely to federally supported crop insurance. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), taxpayers pick up 62 percent of the average farmer’s crop insurance premiums. And the feds pay insurers directly, too, to the tune of $1.3 billion a year.

“In 2012, the Corn Belt’s unprecedented drought led to an insurance payout of $18 billion in crop indemnities — $14 billion of it taxpayer-funded,” Ball adds. “The insurance companies, in what should have been a terrible year for them, made a profit.” This has created a strange coalition that includes Cato and the conservative Heritage Foundation plus liberal groups like the EGW. They disagree on food stamps, she says, but “left and right alike charge that programs billed as a safety net to protect farmers from the vicissitudes of nature are instead an increasingly cushy hammock.”

The outlook is mixed for consumers. Efforts to stabilize or boost prices for farmers isn’t great for shoppers in the short run — a program to limit sugar imports and domestic production is designed to keep sugar prices artificially high. But new rules will force meat packagers to say where the animal was raised and slaughtered, a boon to label-watchers.

And in the long run, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting last week, the one percent of Americans who grow the nation’s food supply “ought to be celebrated.” Their toil lets the rest of the country pursue other work, he said. “The country ought to be reminded of it, and every farmer in this country should be valued, appreciated, and thanked.”

I like farmers and am glad when rural America gets the tools it needs to survive. But the Farm Bureau and other members of the farm lobby appears to have gotten their money’s worth in this Congress. On the other hand, it’s called the farm bill — so it’s not exactly a breach of truth in advertising.


By: Peter Weber, The Week, January 28, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Agriculture, SNAP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Republicans Say Versus What Republicans Mean”: A Classic Exercise In Political Disguise And Deceit

Now that the State-of-the-Union cameras are off, House Republicans are eager to discard their frozen smiles and return to their jobs of undermining virtually every goal President Obama set out in his speech on Tuesday night. They made that clear in a letter that the top four House officials sent to the president today, which purports to seek agreement on four points in the speech. It actually does quite the opposite.

The letter is a classic exercise in political disguise and deceit. The real aim of House Republicans is to reduce or remove the influence of the federal government in the marketplace and in the lives of Americans. But that’s not a usable political motto, since most people — except for the most rigid Tea Partiers or libertarians —still expect Washington to work for their benefit. So to preserve the standing of the Republican Party, its leaders have to make it sound as if they share the public’s desire, while concealing their own.

The four leaders — Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the conference chairwoman — wrote that if Mr. Obama truly wants to have “a year of action,” as he said in his speech, he can work with them to enact four bills the House has already passed. They all sound lofty until you actually read them, which is the reason the president has no intention of signing any of them.

Skills training. The president wants more training to match up workers and students to the needs of employers, and called on Vice President Joe Biden to oversee reform of existing training programs. The House training bill, passed last March, would actually eliminate many of the best programs, particularly those that involve labor organizations, and would not replace them. Requirements to direct training to low-income workers– the people who need new skills the most — would be dropped. Instead, the bill would freeze funding for seven years and send much of the remaining federal training money to the states, which cannot be counted on to build reliable programs. The bill’s real intention is to cut spending and weaken labor.

Natural Gas. The president said he would help businesses build factories that use natural gas, which causes less pollution than coal or oil, while strengthening protection of air, water, and federal lands. The Republican letter says nothing about the environment, but does push a bill the House passed in November to automatically allow construction of gas pipelines if the federal government takes too long to issue permits. Almost all pipelines are approved or disapproved within a year, which is apparently too long for the House’s business supporters. The bill’s real intention is to remove federal oversight of the pipeline industry.

Workplace flexibility. The president called for better maternity and paternity leave policies, and an end to restrictions on personal time that he said belonged in a “Mad Men” episode. The Republican response is that businesses should be able to choose whether to give overtime or compensatory time to hourly employees. The House bill, passed in May, would remove the worker protection in place since 1938 that requires extra pay for overtime work. Employees would be able to request comp time, but employers wouldn’t have to give them time off when requested, and wouldn’t have to pay them for comp time that wasn’t used. The bill’s real intention is to give more power to employers and less to workers.

Medical research. Republicans slashed important research in the sequester — the National Institutes of Health has been cut by $4.2 billion since 2011 — and the president urged that the money should be restored. The letter points to a House bill passed last month that would give $126 million to the N.I.H. over ten years for pediatric research. But it would get that money by eliminating public funding for political conventions. The House is free to stop cutting research and put all the money it wants into the N.I.H. The bill’s real intention is to force the political parties to rely on corporations to pay for their conventions, giving businesses far more leverage.

The letter makes no mention of the other popular ideas that Republicans have no intention of approving, including raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and making preschool universal. The party is on retreat today to come up with disguises for blocking those ideas, too.


By: David Firestone, The New York Times, January 30, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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