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“Troublesome Ted”: Ted Cruz Is The Symptom, Not The Disease

Ted Cruz seems to be becoming something of a Republican bogeyman. One can imagine Republican lawmakers trudging home and telling their recalcitrant kids that if they don’t brush their teeth and go to bed, Ted Cruz is going to bring a mob of torch-bearing tea partiers over to take them away. But they should remember that Ted Cruz is a particularly irritating symptom, not the problem.

So per the San Francisco Chronicle (h/t Hot Air’s Allahpundit), House Republicans lay the blame for immigration reform stalling in their chamber at … Cruz’s feet:

House Republicans who supported the “principles” of immigration reform floated by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, late last month grumbled Tuesday that the plan was dead on arrival because Cruz blasted it as “amnesty,” spurring a blizzard of negative phone calls to House Republicans.

Then there was the debt ceiling near-fiasco – or, depending on your point of view, actual fiasco – this week. The House passing the clean debt ceiling suspension teed up Senate Republicans perfectly: They could all vote against the legislation but it would still pass. The GOP would avoid crashing the economy but still get an issue with which to beat Democrats.

It was Cruz who put the kibosh on that plan, compelling a 60-vote threshold for passage (as is his prerogative as a senator), prompting the vote to last an hour before GOP leaders Mitch McConnell (facing a serious primary) and John Cornyn (facing a farcical primary) fell on their proverbial swords and cast the votes necessary to nudge the majority north of 60.

These antics have won Cruz no friends among Senate GOPers, but as Byron York points out today, he’s a cipher for a particularly problematic part of the party:

Many in the GOP believe Cruz is just out for himself. But even if that’s true, they have to remember that he represents more than just Ted Cruz. There are a lot of Republicans — it’s not clear how many, but a significant portion of the party’s base — that cheers Cruz on when he battles with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They want to see a Republican throw a wrench in the Washington spending machine, even if it creates chaos and damages the GOP’s standing with independent voters. And it is that conviction that is really behind the party’s problems; it is why Republicans would not enjoy smooth sailing even if Cruz were to retire tomorrow.

Cruz is adept at whipping up that section of the GOP and is equally skilled at self-promotion. But make no mistake: He’s riding a wave of sentiment, not causing it. If there was no Ted Cruz someone else would fill that role; it might be someone in the Congress, like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, or it might be one of the professionally aggrieved outside conservative groups like Heritage Action or the Senate Conservatives Fund, who know a rich fundraising vein when they see one.

As Hot Air’s Allahpundit writes:

Would any tea-party Republicans in the House have embraced the leadership’s immigration plan if Cruz had kept quiet? It’s not pressure from big-name conservatives that keeps them in line, it’s the fact that they come from overwhelmingly red districts and know what backing amnesty would mean for their primary chances.

So go ahead, GOPers, roll your eyes at Troublesome Ted. But remember that there are many more where he came from.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Bad For Consumers”: Merging Cable Giants Is ‘An Affront To The Public Interest’

When it comes to media, bigger is not better. And when it comes to the control of the infrastructure of how we communicate now, the trend toward extreme bigness—as illustrated by Comcast’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable and create an unprecedented cable combine—is accelerating at a dangerous pace.

In the aftermath of a federal court decision striking down net neutrality protections that were developed to maintain an open and freewheeling discourse on the Internet, and with journalism threatened at every turn by cuts and closures, the idea of merging Comcast and Time Warner poses a threat that ought to be met with official scrutiny and grassroots opposition.

The point of the free-press protection that is outlined in the First Amendment is not to free billionaire media moguls and speculators to make more money. The point is to have a variety of voices, with multiple entry points for multiple points of view and a communications infrastructure that fosters debate, dissent and democratic discourse.

When media conglomerates merge, they do not provide better service or better democracy. They create the sort of monopolies and duopolies that constrain America’s promise. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he decried “concentration of economic power in the few” and warned that “that business monopoly in America paralyzes the system of free enterprise on which it is grafted, and is as fatal to those who manipulate it as to the people who suffer beneath its impositions.”

Merging the two largest cable providers is a big deal in and of itself—allowing one company to become a definitional player in major media markets across the country—but this goes far beyond cable. By expanding its dominance of video and Internet communications into what the Los Angeles Times describes as a “juggernaut” with 30 million subscribers, the company that already controls Universal Studios can drive hard bargains with content providers. It can also define the scope and character of news and public-service programming in dozens of states and hundreds of major cities—including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, DC.

That’s too much power for any one corporation to have, especially a corporation that has been on a buying spree. Comcast already controls NBCUniversal and a broadcast and cable empire that includes NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, the USA Network, Telemundo and various other networks.

It’s bad for consumers.

“In an already uncompetitive market with high prices that keep going up and up, a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable. The deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped,” says Craig Aaron, the president of the media-reform group Free Press.

It’s bad for musicians, documentary makers and other creators.

“Comcast’s proposed takeover of Time Warner would give one company incredible influence over how music and other media is accessed and under what conditions,” says Casey Rae, interim executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, who noted “the ever present danger of a huge corporation like Comcast—which already owns a major content company—disadvantaging competition or locking creators into unfair economic structures.”

And it is bad for the democratic discourse of a nation founded on the premise memorably expressed by Thomas Jefferson in 1804 when he wrote, “No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press.”

The idea that “all the avenues to truth” would be controlled by a monopoly, a duopoly or any small circle of multinational communications conglomerates is antithetical to the understanding of the authors of a free press, and of its true defenders across the centuries.

So yes, US Senator Al Franken—the Minnesota Democrat who has proven to be one of the most serious and savvy congressional watchdogs on communication policy—is absolutely right when he says, “There’s not enough competition in this space; we need more competition. This is going in the wrong direction.”

Franken has written to the US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, urging each of them “to act quickly and decisively to ensure that consumers are not exposed to increased cable prices and decreased quality of service as a result of this transaction.”

The FCC, in particular, has broad authority to review telecommunications-industry mergers, with an eye toward determining whether they are in the public interest. And watchdog groups have been pressuring the commission’s new chairman, Tom Wheeler, to assert the FCC’s authority. For Wheeler, a former president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the lobbying organization for the cable industry, this is will be a critical test of his leadership.

But challenges to this proposed merger must also come from the anti-trust lawyers at the Department of Justice and the congressional watchdogs over consolidation and monopoly issues.

“Stopping this kind of deal is exactly why we have antitrust laws,” says Free Press’s Aaron.

The congressional role cannot be underestimated. The Department of Justice, the FTC and the FCC get cues from Congress. And the voices of members of the House and Senate will play a critical role in determining whether the merger goes forward.

Some of the initial signals have been good.

“This proposed merger could have a significant impact on the cable industry and affect consumers across the country,” says Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, who announced: “I plan to hold a hearing to carefully scrutinize the details of this merger and its potential consequences for both consumers and competition.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Utah Senator Mike Lee, supports the review, as do public interest groups ranging from Public Knowledge to Consumers Union.

But hearings will not be enough. The Senate, in particular, must send clear signals.

Former FCC Commissioner Mike Copps is precisely right when he says of the idea of creating an even larger telecommunications conglomerate, “This is so over the top that it ought to be dead on arrival at the FCC.”

Copps, who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, is also right when he says, “The proposed deal runs roughshod over competition and consumer choice and is an affront to the public interest.”

But the public interest will prevail only if the public, and its elected representatives, raise an outcry in defense of the robust competition that opens “all the avenues to truth.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Cable Companies, Consumers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lord Of The Flies”: Mitt Romney Would Like Your Attention Now

Dan Hicks once asked, “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?” I find myself having a similar thought about Mitt Romney.

Last May, the failed presidential candidate was reportedly “restless” and decided he would “re-emerge in ways that will “help shape national priorities.’”

As we discussed at the time, failed national candidates, unless they hold office and/or plan to run again, traditionally fade from public view, content with the knowledge that they had their say, made their pitch, and came up short.

But Romney has decided he wants to keep bashing the president who defeated him.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Thursday that President Barack Obama lost the confidence of the American people over broken health care promises.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly pointed out that Romney predicted during his 2012 campaign that Americans would be dropped from their insurance plans under Obamacare. “Do you believe the American people should trust this president?” she asked.

“Well, I think they’ve lost the confidence they had in him,” Romney replied.

First, if anyone should avoid the subject of honesty in the public discourse, it’s Mitt Romney. Ahem.

Second, if it seems as if Romney can’t stop talking, it’s because the former one-term governor keeps popping up – a lot.

He’s been praising Vladimir Putin. He’s still complaining about the debates he lost. He’s annoyed at how appealing the Affordable Care Act was to minority and low-income voters. He’s wistfully telling Fox News, “I wish I could go back and turn back the clock and take another try.”

Romney’s defending Chris Christie. He’s dancing. He’s weighing in on GOP primaries. He’s trying to advise members of Congress. He’s hosting retreats.

This was not the most predictable course for Romney. It seems like ages ago, but in the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the Republican candidate was not popular – with anyone. By the time he told donors that Americans had been bought off in 2012 with “big gifts” such as affordable health care and public education, Romney’s standing managed to deteriorate further.

By mid-November, Romney was something of a pariah, with a variety of Republican leaders eager to denounce him, his rhetoric, and his campaign style. Remember this?

Mitt Romney, who just two weeks ago was the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, seen by many as the all-but-elected president of the United States, has turned into a punching bag for fellow Republicans looking to distance themselves from his controversial “gifts” remark. […]

Whether it’s an instance of politicians smelling blood in the water as the party, following Romney’s defeat, finds itself without a figurehead, or genuine outrage, a number of Republicans have eagerly castigated their former nominee.

Josh Marshall said at the time the GOP pushback amounted to “Lord of the Flies” treatment, which seemed like an apt comparison.

And yet, here we are, and Romney’s still talking. Whether anyone is enjoying what they’re hearing is unclear.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Mitt Romney | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gird Thy Loins, War Is Nigh”: Bobby Jindal Tries To Become A General In The Eternal War On American Christians

Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America’s greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President ’16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It’s partly Barack Obama’s war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it’s important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn’t the victory but the fight.

Here’s how Politico describes the speech, which they got an early copy of:

“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance.”

“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power,” he adds, according to the prepared remarks. “It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”

The speech sounds like pretty standard stuff; Jindal reiterates his support for Duck Dynasty homophobe/Jim Crow nostalgist Phil Robertson, saying, “The modern left in America is completely intolerant of the views of people of faith. They want a completely secular society where people of faith keep their views to themselves.” Which is not actually true; what Jindal (and some others) seem to want is a society where conservatives can say ignorant, bigoted things and no one is allowed to criticize them for it. But what interests me is the religious war stuff.

“Our religious freedom was won over the course of centuries of persecution and blood,” Jindal says, “and we should not surrender them without a fight.” Maybe he explains in the actual speech about the centuries of persecution and blood—is he talking about here in America? Because I don’t really remember all the Christians being tossed in jail or rounded up for massacres during the colonial period, culminating in the First Amendment, but maybe I missed something. In any case, this is a little more complex than simply appealing to social conservative voters, though it certainly is that.

Jindal is rather shrewdly attempting to tap into something that’s universal, but particularly strong among contemporary conservatives: the urge to rise above the mundane and join a transformative crusade. It’s one thing to debate the limits of religious prerogatives when it comes to the actions of private corporations, or to try to find ways to celebrate religious holidays that the entire community will find reasonable. That stuff gets into disheartening nuance, and requires considering the experiences and feelings of people who don’t share your beliefs, which is a total drag. But a war? War is exciting, war is dramatic, war is consequential, war is life or death. War is where heroes rise to smite the unrighteous. So who do you want to get behind, the guy who says “We can do better,” or the guy who thunders, “Follow me to battle, to history, to glory!”

Not that candidates haven’t tried to ride the “war on Christianity” thing before, with only limited success. But Fox News does crank up the calliope of Christian resentment every December, and there’s enough of a market there to keep it going. Can Bobby Jindal—slight of build, goofy of mien, dull of voice—be the Henry V of the 2016 version of this unending war? Let’s just say I’m a wee bit skeptical.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Oh, The Irresponsibility”: Karl Rove–Presidents Who Leave Deficits, Bad Economies, And War Are The Worst

Karl Rove is most famous for being architect of one of the worst presidencies in American history and then a Superpac strategist/delusional Romney campaign-night dead-ender. I’m a Rove junkie, and just as a snobbish fan of any popular band must have some obscure album he finds superior to the band’s most popular work, the Rove career function I find most delightful and rewarding is his work as a Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist. This is the medium that truly pulls back the curtain on Rove’s fascinating combination of insularity from facts outside the conservative pseudo-news bubble, delusional optimism, and utter lack of self-awareness. The Journal column is a weekly gift to amateur Rove psychoanalysts everywhere.

Today’s column begins with Rove’s bizarre belief that the health exchanges in Obamacare are a “single-payer” system, reflecting his apparent confusion about what this term means. (The single-payer in a single-payer system is the government, not the insurance companies in the exchanges.) But the main point is the Orwellian proposition that “Mr. Obama’s pattern is to act, or fail to act, in a way that will leave his successor with a boatload of troubles.” What kind of president would bequeath a boatload of troubles to his successor? Oh, the irresponsibility. The first count in Rove’s indictment is the budget deficit, which “was equal to roughly 40% of GDP when Mr. Obama took office. At last year’s end it was 72% of GDP.” One possible cause of this deficit might be the over-trillion-dollar annual deficit, that one George W. Bush handed over when he left office, along with the massive economic collapse.

Rove’s column goes on to express very strong views on the need for fiscal responsibility:

Then there’s Medicare, whose Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will go bankrupt in 2026. For five years, Mr. Obama has failed to offer a plan to restore Medicare’s fiscal health as he is required by the law establishing Medicare Part D. When Medicare goes belly-up, he will be out of office.

The Congressional Budget Office projects the Affordable Care Act will reduce deficits by more than a trillion dollars in its second decade. Yes, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is expected to reach insolvency by 2026, but when Bush left office, that projected insolvency date was nine years earlier. Meanwhile, Medicare’s projected spending has fallen by nearly $600 billion since the passage of Obamacare:

You can plausibly argue that these changes, combined with other cuts to long-term deficits, including partial expiration of the Bush tax cuts, don’t go far enough. But Rove is trying to make the case that Obama’s policies made the long-term budget outlook worse, which is false.

You know whose policies made the long-term outlook way, way worse? Yes, of course you do. Literally the entire Bush agenda – tax cuts, new domestic spending, major expansions of the military — was financed by debt. Rove tries to paint Bush as fiscally responsible because Obama has “failed to offer a plan to restore Medicare’s fiscal health as he is required by the law establishing Medicare Part D.”

That sentence is really the best. The point of the column is that Obama is terrible for leaving deficits to his successor. Rove is supporting this charge by citing a law his president passed, that created a major new debt-financed entitlement that Obama inherited. And he’s presenting this as Obama’s irresponsibility because the debt-financed entitlement Bush passed required the next president to come up with a law solving Medicare’s problems. And because Obama has alleviated but not completely solved Medicare’s problems, this shows that Obama has sloughed problems off onto the future. What a slacker, Obama is, sloughing off problems onto his successor rather than solve them as the president who came before him required him by law to do.

This leads us to the most Rove-ian paragraph in the column, and possibly in the entire history of the Rove oeuvre:

From the record number of Americans on food stamps to the worst labor-force participation rate since the 1970s to rising political polarization to retreating U.S. power overseas and increasing Middle East chaos and violence, Mr. Obama’s successor—Republican or Democratic—will inherit a mess.

What kind of president would leave his successor with a bad economy and a violent Middle East?

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, Karl Rove | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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