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“Christie Runs Into Budgeting And Bullying Trouble”: How Often Do You Have To Be Wrong Before You’re Dismissed Governor?

The speculation about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) plans two years from now is not only premature, it’s also obscuring the fact that the governor has some pressing problems right now.

A major Wall Street credit-rating agency downgraded New Jersey’s debt again Thursday, unnerved by “both the scale and belatedness” of an $807 million budget gap disclosed this week by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

The action by Fitch Ratings followed a similar ratings cut last month by Standard & Poor’s. Earlier this week, Moody’s Investors Service called the shortfall a “credit negative development,” forewarning that yet another downgrade may be coming.

The Fitch analysts wrote that the downgrade “incorporates the state’s ongoing budget strain created by overly optimistic revenue forecasts, a multitude of long-term spending pressures, and the state’s repeated reliance on one-time solutions to achieve budgetary balance.”

The more a state’s debt is downgraded, the more difficult it is for the state to borrow for capital improvements.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D), the legislature’s budget committee chairman, told the Star-Ledger, “Credit-rating agencies have no faith in the fiscal health of the state of New Jersey because year in and year out we miss our revenue targets. If we continue at this pace, we’re going to end up in junk-bond status. This is crazy.”

And how does this relate to Christe? Because it was the governor who was warned about “overly optimistic revenue forecasts,” and instead of taking them seriously, Christie bullied those who told him the truth.

Andrew Prokop had a good report on this the other day.

“Governor Christie’s predictions for tax collections have missed the mark,” the Bergen Record’s John Reitmeyer writes today, and the state now has an $800 million budget shortfall. It’s only the latest in a series of optimistic budget estimates by Christie that have been disproven by reality.

Economic forecasting is hard, and there isn’t malfeasance behind every missed projection. But what makes this particularly embarrassing for Christie is that, when the state’s top budget wonk criticized his past forecasts, Christie responded by insulting him and suggesting that he be fired.

Almost immediately after Christie released his budget projections for 2014 last year, they seemed wildly unrealistic. But as the governor geared up for re-election, he didn’t want to increase taxes or make sharp spending cuts, so Christie assured everyone that a revenue windfall was on the way.

David Rosen, the chief budget officer for the last 30 years for New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services, tried to explain that the governor’s projections simply weren’t reliable. The governor, true to form, attacked.

Weeks later, Christie went further, going after Rosen personally in what the Star-Ledger called “a fiery 20-minute tirade.” He called Rosen, widely respected among legislators of both parties for years, a “Dr. Kevorkian of the numbers” and asked, “Why would anybody with a functioning brain believe this guy? … How often do you have to be wrong to finally be dismissed?” Christie went on: “It should be humiliating to him. Nobody in this state believes David Rosen, anymore, nobody. And nobody should. He’s so wrong, for so long, that his credibility is now gone.”

But Rosen wasn’t wrong; Christie was. In fact, Rosen’s restrained criticism of the governor’s numbers was too kind – Christie was even further from reality than Rosen predicted.

In other words, the Republican governor was (a) wrong; (b) irresponsible with state finances; and (c) tried to bully the one credible figure who told Christie the truth he didn’t want to hear. And now New Jersey is struggling to deal with the consequences.

Two weeks ago, at a town-hall forum, the governor demanded proof that he’d created a culture of intimidation in Trenton. The evidence  really isn’t that hard to come by.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time For Some Happy Talk From Democrats”: Ban The Word “But” Until After The Election

Democrats, if you want to win in the fall, take some advice from Pharrell Williams: “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”

The Mountie-hat-wearing pop singer’s infectious “Happy” should be the Democratic Party’s theme song for the midterm election. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, things are definitely looking up. Democrats ought to be clicking their heels and spreading the good news.

Friday’s announcement that unemployment fell to 6.3 percent was huge. The fact that the economy added 288,000 jobs in April — despite continued bad weather early in the month in parts of the country — suggests that the recovery has greater momentum than pessimists had feared. Economists were expecting decent numbers. These are great.

The stock market, meanwhile, is flirting with an all-time high. The Dow has risen about 10 percent over the past year; the S&P 500, more than 16 percent; the Nasdaq, about 22 percent . During President Obama’s term in office, the Dow has more than doubled. If he were a socialist, as his harshest critics claim, he’d be a truly lousy one.

The numbers prove that Obama is, in fact, a skillful capitalist who guided the economy out of its worst slump since the Great Depression. He accomplished this feat despite being saddled with a Republican opposition in Congress that reflexively opposes his every initiative — even those based on policies the GOP supported in the past.

Speaking of which, the Affordable Care Act — which is based, you’ll recall, on a framework developed in Republican think tanks — is clearly a success and may soon be seen as a triumph. More than 8 million people have signed up for insurance through the federal and state exchanges; Obama’s benchmark had been 7 million. Enough of these enrollees are young and healthy to ensure the program’s continued viability.

The disasters predicted by the Republican Party have not come true. Critics have stopped talking about a hypothetical “death spiral” in which the health insurance reforms collapse of their own weight, since it is now clear that nothing of the sort will happen. Early indications are that any increase in premiums for next year will be modest. Republicans will keep attacking Obamacare because it fires up the base, but the program is here to stay.

Democrats now have a positive story they can tell in their campaign ads and speeches: “We promised you that these were the right policies to get the economy on track and reform health care. We said it would take time to see results and asked for patience. You gave us your trust, and now we’re seeing the benefits. This is just the beginning. Give us a mandate to keep moving forward on an agenda that is working.”

This is what Democrats are saying, more or less. But would it hurt to show a little enthusiasm?

Obama can be excused for his brief and relatively low-key reaction to the jobs numbers Friday. He spoke in the White House Rose Garden alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he had just met, and the situation in Ukraine was clearly weighing on both leaders’ minds.

“The grit and determination of the American people are moving us forward,” Obama said, “but we have to keep a relentless focus on job creation and creating more opportunities for working families.”

I propose that Democrats ban the word “but” until after the election.

Republicans are giving “but” a workout. Unemployment may be down to 6.3 percent, they say, but too many people are leaving the workforce. The jobs numbers for April may look good, but we don’t know if this rate of growth can be sustained. Enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act may be impressive, but have all those people actually paid their premiums?

These are not honest caveats. Republican claims about enrollees not paying their insurance premiums, for example, are based on a survey taken before many of those premiums were even due. The GOP wants to foster the notion that nothing is going well with Democrats in charge of the White House and the Senate — and that it’s time for a change.

When Democrats sound like the old “Saturday Night Live” character Debbie Downer — emphasizing what’s still ailing about the economy, promising to “fix what’s broken” in Obamacare — they reinforce the Republicans’ message rather than refute it.

Listen up, Democrats. You fixed the economy. You expanded access to health care. Oh, and you ended two wars.

Show a little happiness. It’s contagious.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2014 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Inventing A Failure”: Republican Lies, Damned Lies And In This Case, Bogus Statistics

Last week, House Republicans released a deliberately misleading report on the status of health reform, crudely rigging the numbers to sustain the illusion of failure in the face of unexpected success. Are you shocked?

You aren’t, but you should be. Mainstream politicians didn’t always try to advance their agenda through lies, damned lies and — in this case — bogus statistics. And the fact that this has become standard operating procedure for a major party bodes ill for America’s future.

About that report: The really big policy news of 2014, at least so far, is the spectacular recovery of the Affordable Care Act from its stumbling start, thanks to an extraordinary late surge that took enrollment beyond early projections. The age mix of enrollees has improved; insurance companies are broadly satisfied with the risk pool. Multiple independent surveys confirm that the percentage of Americans without health insurance has already declined substantially, and there’s every reason to believe that over the next two years the act will meet its overall goals, except in states that refuse to expand Medicaid.

This is a problem for Republicans, who have bet the ranch on the proposition that health reform is an unfixable failure. “Nobody can make Obamacare work,” declared Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, a couple of weeks ago (when it was already obvious that it was working pretty well). How can they respond to good news?

Well, they could graciously admit that they were wrong, and offer constructive suggestions about how to make the law work even better. Oh, sorry — I forgot that I wasn’t writing jokes for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

No, they have in fact continued to do what they’ve been doing ever since the news on Obamacare started turning positive: sling as much mud as possible at health reform, in the hope that some of it sticks. Premiums were soaring, they declared, when they have actually come in below projections. Millions of people were losing coverage, they insisted, when the great bulk of those whose policies were canceled simply replaced them with new policies. The Obama administration was cooking the books, they cried (projection, anyone?). And, of course, they keep peddling horror stories about people suffering terribly from Obamacare, not one of which has actually withstood scrutiny.

Now comes the latest claim — that many of the people who signed up for insurance aren’t actually paying their premiums. Obviously this claim is part of a continuing pattern. It also, however, involves a change in tactics. Previous attacks on Obamacare were pretty much fact-free; this time the claim was backed by an actual survey purporting to show that a third of enrollees hadn’t paid their first premium.

But the survey was rigged. (Are you surprised?) It asked insurers how many enrollees had paid their first premium; it ignored the fact that the first premium wasn’t even due for the millions of people who signed up for insurance after March 15.

And the fact that the survey was so transparently rigged is a smoking gun, proving that the attacks on Obamacare aren’t just bogus; they’re deliberately bogus. The staffers who set up that survey knew enough about the numbers to skew them, which meant that they have to have known that Obamacare is actually doing O.K.

So why are Republicans doing this? Sad to say, there’s method in their fraudulence.

First of all, it fires up the base. After this latest exercise in deception, we can be fairly sure that Republican leaders know perfectly well that Obamacare has failed to fail. But the party faithful don’t. Like anyone who writes about these issues, I get vast amounts of mail from people who know, just know, that insurance premiums are skyrocketing, that far more people have lost insurance because of Obummercare than have gained it, that all the horror stories are real, and that anyone who says otherwise is just a liberal shill.

Beyond that, the constant harping on alleged failure works as innuendo even if each individual claim collapses in the face of evidence. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority of Americans know that more than eight million people enrolled in health exchanges; but it also found a majority of respondents believing that this was below expectations, and that the law was working badly.

So Republicans are spreading disinformation about health reform because it works, and because they can — there is no sign that they pay any political price when their accusations are proved false.

And that observation should scare you. What happens to the Congressional Budget Office if a party that has learned that lying about numbers works takes full control of Congress? What happens if it regains the White House, too? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 4, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Four Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Inequality”: Don’t Listen To All Those Right-Wing Lies

Even though French economist Thomas Piketty has made an air-tight case that we’re heading toward levels of inequality not seen since the days of the nineteenth-century robber barons, right-wing conservatives haven’t stopped lying about what’s happening and what to do about it.

Herewith, the four biggest right-wing lies about inequality, followed by the truth.

Lie number one: The rich and CEOs are America’s job creators. So we dare not tax them.

The truth is the middle class and poor are the job-creators through their purchases of goods and services. If they don’t have enough purchasing power because they’re not paid enough, companies won’t create more jobs and economy won’t grow.

We’ve endured the most anemic recovery on record because most Americans don’t have enough money to get the economy out of first gear. The economy is barely growing and real wages continue to drop.

We keep having false dawns. An average of 200,000 jobs were created in the United States over the last three months, but huge numbers of Americans continue to drop out of the labor force.

Lie number two: People are paid what they’re worth in the market. So we shouldn’t tamper with pay.

The facts contradict this. CEOs who got 30 times the pay of typical workers forty years ago now get 300 times their pay not because they’ve done such a great job but because they control their compensation committees and their stock options have ballooned.

Meanwhile, most American workers earn less today than they did forty years ago, adjusted for inflation, not because they’re working less hard now but because they don’t have strong unions bargaining for them.

More than a third of all workers in the private sector were unionized forty years ago; now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Lie number three: Anyone can make it in America with enough guts, gumption, and intelligence. So we don’t need to do anything for poor and lower-middle class kids.

The truth is we do less than nothing for poor and lower-middle class  kids. Their schools don’t have enough teachers or staff, their textbooks are outdated, they lack science labs, their school buildings are falling apart.

We’re the only rich nation to spend less educating poor kids than we do educating kids from wealthy families.

All told, 42 percent of children born to poor families will still be in poverty as adults – a higher percent than in any other advanced nation.

Lie number four: Increasing the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs. So we shouldn’t raise it.

In fact, studies show that increases in the minimum wage put more money in the pockets of people who will spend it – resulting in more jobs, and counteracting any negative employment effects of an increase in the minimum.

Three of my colleagues here at the University of California at Berkeley — Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich – have compared adjacent counties and communities across the United States, some with higher minimum wages than others but similar in every other way.

They found no loss of jobs in those with the higher minimums.

The truth is, America’s lurch toward widening inequality can be reversed. But doing so will require bold political steps.

At the least, the rich must pay higher taxes in order to pay for better-quality education for kids from poor and middle-class families. Labor unions must be strengthened, especially in lower-wage occupations, in order to give workers the bargaining power they need to get better pay. And the minimum wage must be raised.

Don’t listen to the right-wing lies about inequality. Know the truth, and act on it.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scandal Envy Is An Ugly Thing”: Republicans Have Prioritized Keeping The Far-Right Base In A State Of Perpetual Rage

It’s been a few days since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that what Benghazi conspiracy theorists really need is yet another committee to complement the seven other congressional committees that have already investigated the deadly 2012 attack. This time, however, it’ll be special select committee, which will presumably do what’s already repeatedly been done.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Intelligence Committee member, appeared on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday to dismiss the Republican obsession and to make a little news. “I don’t think it makes sense, really, for Democrats to participate” in this latest investigation, Schiff said. “I think it’s a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources.”

That’s a fair assessment, though this election year, red herrings and wasting taxpayer resources on discredited conspiracy theories appear to be high on the House Republicans’ list of priorities.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that the House will vote on May 7 on whether to ask Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special counsel to look into allegations the IRS illegally targeted conservative organizations for extra scrutiny.

The action comes the same day House Republicans announced that Secretary of State John Kerry has been subpoenaed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to testify on the 2012 Benghazi attack and Speaker John A. Boehner said he plans to call for a select committee to begin a new probe into how the administration handled the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack.

As a matter of substance, we appear to be quickly approaching a point of genuine partisan madness. As the Benghazi conspiracy theory evaporates, House Republicans create a select committee for no particular reason. As the IRS conspiracy theory unravels, House Republicans demand a special prosecutor for imaginary reasons.

But as a political matter, the fact that GOP lawmakers are going all in – embracing a self-indulgent, all-conspiracy-all-the-time agenda with reckless enthusiasm – tells us something important about how Republicans perceive the state of play against the White House.

For example, the focus on the Affordable Care Act and the economy has obviously shifted. Indeed, the very idea of House Republicans legislating has become something of a punch-line – the GOP-led House won’t pass immigration reform, won’t come up with a health care plan, won’t consider a credible jobs bill, won’t raise the minimum wage, won’t consider background checks, won’t touch pay equity, won’t vote on ENDA, won’t create infrastructure jobs, and won’t extend unemployment benefits, but by golly, they still love their discredited conspiracy theories.

And at first blush, we know why: this election year, Republicans have prioritized keeping the GOP’s far-right base in a state of perpetual rage for the next five-and-a-half months. This is what they’ve come up with. I guess it beats governing.

But taking a step further, it’s important to remember a phenomenon Paul Waldman once labeled “scandal envy.”

It must be incredibly frustrating for the right that after five years, the near-constant search for a legitimate White House scandal has produced bupkis. Of all the various incidents that have popped up, the only thing that arguably rises to the level of a real controversy is NSA surveillance, but on this, the program started under Bush/Cheney and most Republicans like the administration’s policies and whine incessantly when the president even talks about scaling back the surveillance state.

Republicans thought they had something with the job offer to Joe Sestak (remember the calls for an FBI special prosecutor?). Then maybe the “Fast & Furious” story. Or maybe Solyndra. Or Benghazi. Or the IRS. The new Watergate will turn up eventually, if only the GOP keeps digging.

As we talked about a couple of years ago, part of the underlying cause for the right’s apoplexy is that they’re absolutely convinced that President Obama is a radical criminal up to no good, which means there must be some kind of scandal somewhere.

And when the “scandals” unravel into nothing and the various investigations point to no actual wrongdoing, two things seem to happen. First, Republicans see the lack of proof as proof – if it appears that Obama is running a scandal-free administration, it necessarily means he’s hiding something awful. Second, some in the GOP make the transition to delusional thinking, convincing themselves that discredited controversies remain viable, evidence be damned.

In other words, the lack of proof to substantiate what Republicans believe appears to have driven some in the party a little crazy.

Nixon had Watergate; Reagan had Iran-Contra; Clinton had Lewinsky; Bush had more scandals than he knew what to do with (Plame, the U.S. Attorney purge, torture, etc.). There’s an expectation that every White House will invariably have to deal with its share of damaging controversies.

In reality, however, Obama just isn’t cooperating in the scandal department. His critics aren’t wearing their desperation well.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Conspiracy Theories, House Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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