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“About Those New Lois Lerner Emails…”: As With Previous “Smoking Guns”, The Truth Is Not Nearly So Outrageous

If the Ways and Means investigation into Lois Lerner had really and truly uncovered a “push to audit Senator Chuck Grassley,” then the Republican Party might finally have had the scandal it was so sure it would eventually find.

Yet as with previous smoking guns in the never-ended Internal Revenue Service story, the truth is not nearly so outrageous.

The supposed targeting of Tea Party groups actually involved keyword searches that included liberal groups, as well. And the supposed “push” was actually more of an aborted nudge.

Here’s what happened. Ms. Lerner received an invitation to an event intended for Mr. Grassley. Ms. Lerner sent an email to a colleague, Matthew Giuliano, wondering if the invitation were kosher, and asked if the issue should be referred for examination. The colleague suggested it should not, and Ms. Lerner backed off.

You can read the full e-mail exchange here. Or read an excerpt below:

Lerner: Is this the one where we got the copy to Grassley? Did he get one to me? Looked like they were inappropriately offering to pay for his wife. Perhaps we should refer to Exam?

Giuliano: It is, and yes. Your and Grassley’s invitations were placed in each other’s envelopes. Not sure we should send to exam. I think the offer to pay for Grassley’s wife is income to Grassley, and not prohibited on its face … We would need to wait for: (i) Grassley to accept and attend the speaking arrangement; and (ii) then determine whether [blacked out] issues him a 1099. And even without the 1099, it would be Grassley who would need to report the income on his 1040.

Lerner: Thanks — don’t know why I thought it was a [blacked out] — maybe answer would be the same. Don’t think I want to be on stage with Grassley on this issue.

Ms. Lerner was maybe a little too eager to investigate Mr. Grassley, but once her colleague suggested there probably wasn’t any wrongdoing, she didn’t “push” or shove or anything of the sort. If we’re looking for a physical metaphor, what she did was turn around and walk away.


By: Juliet Lapidos, Taking Note, The Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 26, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Chuck Grassley, Internal Revenue Service, Lois Lerner | , , , | 1 Comment

“They Have No Evidence”: How Climate Change Ate Conservatism’s Smartest Thinkers

Climate change remains perhaps the single largest policy weakness of the Republican Party, and that’s saying a lot. Thus, since the publication of the new “reform conservatism” book, the reformers have gotten a lot of flak for almost totally ignoring the subject.

Ross Douthat grappled yesterday with the issue, arguing that reform conservatives have been given short shrift to their attention on climate change, but that he’s basically okay with doing nothing about the problem. Here’s the conclusion:

These answers are obviously subject to revision — trends can change, risks can increase, cost-benefit calculations can be altered — but for now they’re what reform conservatism offers on this issue. We could be wrong; indeed, we could be badly wrong, in which case we’ll deserve to be judged harshly for misplacing priorities in the face of real perils, real threats. But on the evidence available [at] the moment, I’m willing to argue that we have our priorities in order, and the other side’s allegedly forward-looking agenda does not. [The New York Times]

There are two problems with this. Just like Clive Crook, Will Wilkinson, and Walter Russell Mead, Douthat doesn’t seriously engage with the evidence. Earlier in the article, he constructs a lengthy Rube Goldberg analogy to “insurance” salesmanship to cast doubt on every portion of the climate hawk case, but he doesn’t take the obvious next step of trying to work through what that means on a quantitative basis.

Douthat implies that based on his careful read of the evidence, world society can take more carbon dioxide than the greens say. But he doesn’t even gesture at how much more. Is the international agreement that warming should be limited to 2 degrees too low? If so, what’s a good limit? If climate sensitivity measurements are lower than we thought (and they almost certainly aren’t), how much lower should we assume?

Without numbers, Douthat’s case is nothing more than vague handwaving that reads very much like he has cherry-picked a bunch of disconnected fluff to justify doing nothing. Because even if we grant all his assumptions about climate sensitivity and probable dangers of warming, it changes little about the climate hawk case, which depends critically on how fast we’re emitting carbon dioxide. Saying we can chance 3 to 4 degrees of warming and that sensitivity is much lower than previously thought might give us enough space to push CO2 concentrations up to 5-600 ppm or so. But right now we’re barreling towards 1000 ppm and beyond.

This is the major problem with how the vast majority of reform conservatives think about climate change (with a few exceptions). They neither articulate a clear view of what kind of climate goals they would prefer nor demonstrate how their favorite policies would get us there. Instead, like Douthat, the few conservatives who even talk about climate (like Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru, who he mentions) are constantly saying whatever policy is on deck at the moment is no good. It’s too inefficient; it’s too expensive; it’s trampling on democracy; we should be doing technology instead, etc, etc.

These folks may well be arguing in good faith for their best policy. But because it has become nearly impossible to legislate anything through the sucking mire of United States institutions, consistent advocacy against every single climate policy amounts to little more than putting a patina of credibility on the denialist views of the Republican majority.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, June 27, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz, House Republicans, And Their Many Secret Meetings”: House GOP Members Don’t Much Care For Their Own Leaders

It’s not too uncommon for Republican leaders from the House and Senate to occasionally meet, trade notes, and work out bicameral strategies, but as a rule, rank-and-file members tend to stick with colleagues from the same chamber. When they have ideas or grand plans, GOP lawmakers usually turn to their chamber’s leadership or committee chairs.

Which is why it’s odd to see House Republicans huddle so frequently with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Last September, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) presented a plan to avoid a government shutdown. Cruz met directly with House Republicans, urged them to ignore their own leader’s plan, and GOP House members followed his advice. The result was an embarrassing and unnecessary shutdown.

A month later, Cruz held another meeting with House Republicans, this time in a private room at a Capitol Hill restaurant. In April, the Texas senator again gathered House Republicans, this time for a private meeting in his office. Cruz’s office shared very few details with reporters, except to note that the 90-minute session “included candy bars, crackers and soda.”

And then last week, less than an hour after House Republicans elected a new leadership team, guess who had an invitation for them?

At 4 p.m., immediately following the leadership elections, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) – who has repeatedly encouraged House conservatives to defy their leaders – sent an e-mail to a large group of conservative House Republicans.

Cruz invited them to meet with him June 24 for an “off-the-record gathering” and “an evening of discussion and fellowship.”

Pizza, Cruz told them, will be served.

I’m sure it was delightful, but I can’t help but wonder about the purpose of all of these meetings.

Some of this, I suspect, is the result of an unusual leadership dynamic. Cruz can’t do much in his chamber – Senate Republicans don’t seem to like him, and Senate Democrats consider him a dangerous demagogue – so he’s reaching out to House Republicans, who at least have a majority. GOP House members, meanwhile, don’t much care for their own leaders, and they apparently find value in Cruz’s counsel.

It’s a match made in … somewhere unpleasant.

But since Congress can no longer pass meaningful legislation of any kind, what is it, exactly, that these far-right lawmakers are talking about? We can only speculate, of course, but maybe it’s ideas like these.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a resolution on Thursday calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal – and if he doesn’t do so, Cruz thinks he should be impeached.

“If attorney general Eric Holder continues to refuse to appoint a special prosecutor, he should be impeached,” Cruz said on the Senate floor.

Let’s put aside for now the fact that there is no IRS “scandal” and the idea of appointing a special prosecutor for no reason is quite dumb. Instead, let’s note that even if Senate Republicans decided they love the idea of impeaching the Attorney General, it’s not their call – impeachment proceedings must begin in the House, not the Senate.

Maybe this is what Cruz mentions over pizza and candy bars?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 27, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Incompetence Dogma”: So Much For Obamacare Not Working

Have you been following the news about Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act has receded from the front page, but information about how it’s going keeps coming in — and almost all the news is good. Indeed, health reform has been on a roll ever since March, when it became clear that enrollment would surpass expectations despite the teething problems of the federal website.

What’s interesting about this success story is that it has been accompanied at every step by cries of impending disaster. At this point, by my reckoning, the enemies of health reform are 0 for 6. That is, they made at least six distinct predictions about how Obamacare would fail — every one of which turned out to be wrong.

“To err is human,” wrote Seneca. “To persist is diabolical.” Everyone makes incorrect predictions. But to be that consistently, grossly wrong takes special effort. So what’s this all about?

Many readers won’t be surprised by the answer: It’s about politics and ideology, not analysis. But while this observation isn’t particularly startling, it’s worth pointing out just how completely ideology has trumped evidence in the health policy debate.

And I’m not just talking about the politicians; I’m talking about the wonks. It’s remarkable how many supposed experts on health care made claims about Obamacare that were clearly unsupportable. For example, remember “rate shock”? Last fall, when we got our first information about insurance premiums, conservative health care analysts raced to claim that consumers were facing a huge increase in their expenses. It was obvious, even at the time, that these claims were misleading; we now know that the great majority of Americans buying insurance through the new exchanges are getting coverage quite cheaply.

Or remember claims that young people wouldn’t sign up, so that Obamacare would experience a “death spiral” of surging costs and shrinking enrollment? It’s not happening: a new survey by Gallup finds both that a lot of people have gained insurance through the program and that the age mix of the new enrollees looks pretty good.

What was especially odd about the incessant predictions of health-reform disaster was that we already knew, or should have known, that a program along the lines of the Affordable Care Act was likely to work. Obamacare was closely modeled on Romneycare, which has been working in Massachusetts since 2006, and it bears a strong family resemblance to successful systems abroad, for example in Switzerland. Why should the system have been unworkable for America?

But a firm conviction that the government can’t do anything useful — a dogmatic belief in public-sector incompetence — is now a central part of American conservatism, and the incompetence dogma has evidently made rational analysis of policy issues impossible.

It wasn’t always thus. If you go back two decades, to the last great fight over health reform, conservatives seem to have been relatively clearheaded about the policy prospects, albeit deeply cynical. For example, William Kristol’s famous 1993 memo urging Republicans to kill the Clinton health plan warned explicitly that Clintoncare, if implemented, might well be perceived as successful, which would, in turn, “strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.” So it was crucial to make sure that reform never happened. In effect, Mr. Kristol was telling insiders that tales of government incompetence are something you peddle to voters to get them to support tax cuts and deregulation, not something you necessarily believe yourself.

But that was before conservatives had fully retreated into their own intellectual universe. Fox News didn’t exist yet; policy analysts at right-wing think tanks had often begun their careers in relatively nonpolitical jobs. It was still possible to entertain the notion that reality wasn’t what you wanted it to be.

It’s different now. It’s hard to think of anyone on the American right who even considered the possibility that Obamacare might work, or at any rate who was willing to admit that possibility in public. Instead, even the supposed experts kept peddling improbable tales of looming disaster long after their chance of actually stopping health reform was past, and they peddled these tales not just to the rubes but to each other.

And let’s be clear: While it has been funny watching the right-wing cling to its delusions about health reform, it’s also scary. After all, these people retain considerable ability to engage in policy mischief, and one of these days they may regain the White House. And you really, really don’t want people who reject facts they don’t like in that position. I mean, they might do unthinkable things, like starting a war for no good reason. Oh, wait.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 26, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Yeah, We’re Color-Blind Down South”: Republicans In Full Freakout Mode About African-Americans Voting

Here’s some unsurprising but depressing news from the Montgomery Advertiser‘s Mary Troyan:

Congress does not need to update the Voting Rights Act by restoring special federal oversight of elections in a handful of states, Sen. Jeff Sessions said today.

The Alabama Republican, who voted for the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act, said he can no longer support legislation that singles out certain states for supervision based on their history of discriminating against minority voters.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that the formula Congress used to decide which states needed to have their election procedures pre-approved by the federal government was unconstitutional because it was outdated and didn’t account for improved conditions for minority voters since the 1960s.

Congress is now debating legislation that would write a new formula, based on more recent findings of discrimination. But Sessions said that is unnecessary.

The timing of Sessions’ statement is interesting, coming right as conservatives next door in Mississippi and to some extent nationwide are in a full freakout mode about African-Americans voting in a Republican primary, even though they are “liberal Democrats” and thus are clearly selling their votes for food stamps and Obama Phones. .

It was widely surmised that Eric Cantor’s defeat might sharply reduce the odds of the House acting on a VRA fix. If Republicans retake the Senate this year, any VRA legislation is probably doomed there, too; Sessions is the third ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which also includes “constitutional conservative” leaders Ted Cruz and Mike Lee (the ranking GOP Member is the increasingly wingnutty Farmer Chuck Grassley).

Perhaps Thad Cochran, in an act of gratitude, will champion a VRA fix? Don’t count on it.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 27, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Discrimination, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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