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“Full Credit Or Blame On Gas Prices”: Republicans Must Be Awfully Impressed With Obama Right Now

It was just a couple of years ago that Republicans positioned gas prices one of the nation’s most important political issues. Mitt Romney, during his failed presidential bid, argued President Obama “gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch.”

The argument was always a little silly. Gas prices were extremely low when Obama first took office in early 2009 because there was a global economic crisis underway, weakening demand and pushing prices at the pump much lower. Consumers were paying more in 2012 than 2009, but that was because the economy had recovered.

But if Romney was correct, and the president deserves “full credit” for the price of gas, Republicans must be awfully impressed with Obama right now.

The average cost of filling up at the gas pump will soon be less than $3 a gallon across the U.S., according to projections from AAA on Friday.

The auto group said that the average price of gas may drop below $3 “sometime in the next couple of weeks” for the first time in four years.

About half of all U.S. gas stations are now selling gasoline for less than $3 per gallon. The most common price is $2.99 per gallon, AAA said.

This is easily a three-year low for gas prices, largely the result of weaker foreign demand.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not arguing that Obama deserves the credit for lower prices. He doesn’t. I’m arguing that it was lazy dumb for Republicans to argue that Obama deserved the blame for higher prices, and the right shouldn’t try to have it both ways.

Indeed, let’s not forget that Republicans actually spent a fair amount of time in the president’s first term arguing that Obama was deliberately trying to raise the price at the pump as part of a specific environmental agenda.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), during his vice presidential run, said in September 2012, “[T]he Obama administration’s policies are they’ve gone to great lengths to make oil and gas more expensive.”

In 2011, with gas prices rising, Republicans again insisted Obama was doing this on purpose. This odd line was pushed by Haley Barbour and the Koch brothers’ AFP, among others. When prices dropped, the argument went away. Then prices rose again, and the theory made a comeback, with prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and assorted Fox News figures insisting higher gas prices are the “conscious policy of this administration.”

By this reasoning, do Republicans believe Obama is still trying to raise gas prices, and just failing miserably in his goal?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 24, 2014

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Gas Prices, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Trouble Behind The Lines”: Sam Brownback, A Mad Scientist Whose Lab Has Blown Up

The strangest thing about the battle for the Senate going on this year is how much trouble Republicans are having in states won by Mitt Romney, and not necessarily the ones where they expected trouble. Contests in South Dakota, Kentucky and Georgia have all spent some time panicking Republicans, and none of those states has been put away by the GOP in the interim. But the biggest surprise still has to be Kansas, a profoundly Republican state with multiple struggling statewide Republican campaigns. Playing off Mark Benelli’s fine profile of events in Kansas for Rolling Stone, I discussed the plight of the GOP there at Washington Monthly today:

[Benelli’s] precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:

Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Post that December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn’t support his fiscal plans. And it’s all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state’s senior U.S. Senator. Binelli’s portrait of Pat Roberts as an “unloved Beltway mediocrity” who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive–Brownback to preside over the damage he’s done to the state’s fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in.

At a minimum, Browback’s presidential ambitions are now officially laughable, and moderate Republicans have gotten his full attention. But it would be nice to see an object lesson taught in the limits of Republican extremism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly; The Democratic Strategist, October 24, 2015

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I’m Not One Of Them, I’m You”: How Rand Paul Is Playing The GOP Base, And What It Means For 2016

Anyone who remembers the 2012 GOP presidential primaries knows that the 2016 contest will involve a lot of arguing about who’s the most conservative candidate. Any contender who has strayed from party orthodoxy on anything will have to undergo a sustained campaign of grovelling and humiliation to prove to Tea Partiers, religious conservatives, and everybody else that he will be faithful and true forevermore. This process leaves its participants battered and bruised, diminished in the eyes of general election voters.

But what if placating the right isn’t as hard as it appears? That question is right now being contemplated by Rand Paul, who is running for the White House harder than anybody.

Paul has now given a speech outlining his foreign policy vision (which every candidate is supposed to have). The speech shows just how Paul is navigating the tension between the two competing incentives that will define his candidacy. On one hand, he needs to reassure Republican voters that he’s conservative enough for them, but on the other hand, he also very much wants to be the “different kind of Republican” who will continue to receive glowing media coverage and prove appealing to moderate general election voters.

If you took out the five Reagan references and changed some words and phrases here and there, the speech Paul gave could have been delivered by Barack Obama. The difference between a Republican and a Democrat, apparently, is that the Republican says that we should always be prepared for war, but war should be a last resort, while the Democrat says that war should be a last resort, but we should always be prepared for war. Paul also added the controversial ideas that American values lead the world, and we’re stronger abroad when our economy is stronger at home. And also, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan.

The interesting thing is that, despite the similarity of Paul’s ideas to those of Obama, Paul’s speech showed that it probably isn’t all that hard to give GOP voters what they want on foreign policy. All it takes is a little dexterity to push the right buttons, as Paul does in this passage:

Although I support the call for defeating and destroying ISIS, I doubt that a decisive victory is possible in the short term, even with the participation of the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and other moderate Arab states.

In the end, only the people of the region can destroy ISIS. In the end, the long war will end only when civilized Islam steps up to defeat this barbaric aberration.

He takes a policy position many Republicans will disagree with, but leavens it with the mention of “the long war” and “civilized Islam,” giving a nod to the clash-of-civilizations sentiment so common on the right. Mission accomplished.

This is a marked contrast to the domestic realm, where there are many specific positions that are beyond negotiation. You have to support tax cuts, oppose Roe v. Wade, proclaim your hatred of Obamacare, want to Drill Baby Drill, and so on. Paul has stepped outside of conservative orthodoxy on a few domestic issues, such as with his criticism of mass incarceration. But that’s easy to do now, since crime rates have plummeted since then, the issue has receded and base conservatives won’t be angry with him for taking a contrary position. And at any rate, for some time, Paul has been slowly stepping away from the libertarian ideas on domestic issues that GOP voters would find truly objectionable, like legalizing drugs.

On foreign policy, Paul can probably have it both ways: he can say to the media and non-Republicans, “I’m different, because I don’t think we should arm Syrian rebels,” and he can say to Republicans, “I’m not different, because like you, I think Obama is screwing everything up.” It takes a little thought and planning, but it’s far from impossible.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 24, 2014

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Part Of A Very Big Problem”: Jim Crow Persists; How Ferguson Case Leaks Revive A Shameful Tradition

On those rare occasions when it makes a real effort to grapple with the raw brutality of Jim Crow, the American mainstream media usually returns to a particular set of images that, by their very nature, are jarring and extraordinary: the burning cross, the hangman’s knot, the Klansman on horseback. This isn’t a bad thing; you can’t understand Jim Crow without understanding the significance of the Klan, for example. But it’s not an entirely good one, either.

The problem with focusing so much on these potent symbols is that it can lead us to a mistaken conclusion: namely, that the only evil of Jim Crow (and U.S. white supremacy in general) was manifested in these menacing, otherworldly forms, rather than in the system’s more humdrum and everyday modes of dehumanization. The problem with the former is easily solved. Today, the burning cross, the noose and the Klansman are all enemies of polite society. But those subtler manifestations of apartheid — the interlocking social networks and political institutions that together worked to disempower black citizens and deny them their rightful place as full members of the community — have proven more difficult to shake.

The proof is all around us, but if you want a more tangible example, the news out of Ferguson, Missouri, is happy to oblige.

After briefly turning the small, hard-luck suburb into the center of the world, the media has as of late been paying much less attention to the story of Michael Brown’s killing, mostly because people on both sides of the controversy have been stuck in an anxious holding pattern, waiting to see if a county grand jury will bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson. Many observers, and seemingly most pro-Brown Ferguson protestors, expect it will not; and many are already positioning themselves to win the war for public opinion that will ensue the moment the charges (or lack thereof) come down.

That’s the tense atmosphere into which the New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently dropped two bombs, both of which cited unnamed government sources saying evidence suggests Wilson’s claim to have shot Brown only after the youth tried to nab his gun — and to have killed Brown only after the wounded and unarmed teenager decided to charge him head-on — is indeed the case, in spite of what multiple eyewitnesses have said. As more than a few people noticed, the leaks all seemed to go in a certain direction (Wilson’s). Rather unnecessarily, the Brown family’s lawyer assured the media that the leaks weren’t coming from them. More necessarily, a forensic pathologist quoted extensively in the Post-Dispatch story said her remarks were taken out of context.

At this point in the story, anyone familiar with the dynamics of American race politics would suspect that like countless racially stratified and unharmonious small-town authorities before it, the establishment in Ferguson was doing its damnedest to quash an embarrassing investigation and protect one of its own. Perhaps aware of the likely widespread nature of that view, former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch was swiftly thereafter quoted speculating that the leaks weren’t coming from Ferguson authorities, but rather were the result of the Department of Justice’s machinations. Because the feds recognize that it’s “probably very unlikely” that Wilson will be charged, Fitch said, the DOJ was selectively leaking evidence in order to “let people down slowly” before the announcement of no charges being filed came.

If that sounds a bit odd to you — Fitch’s contention that Attorney General Eric Holder had previously decided to “take over the Ferguson Police Department” is a warning sign — you’ve got some prestigious company. Barely more than a day after Fitch made news, the DOJ was quoted in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere expressing serious unhappiness over the leaks, saying they were “irresponsible and highly troubling” and describing them as “an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case.” Needless to say, Ed Magee, the spokesperson for the county prosecutor’s office, has denied responsibility entirely. “There’s really nothing to investigate,” Magee told the Times. “All we can control is people in our office and the grand jury, and it’s not coming from us or the grand jury.”

As you can probably tell, I’m highly skeptical of the idea that Eric Holder’s DOJ has all along been playing a secret shell game, pretending to enter into the Ferguson maelstrom in order to sideline local authorities it deemed biased and/or incompetent while, behind the scenes, doing everything it could to protect Wilson and discredit Brown. But even if we end up discovering that the Department of Justice was playing both sides, it would make no difference to the bigger, lingering problem Ferguson revealed — the way the legal and political institutions in much of America still treat black American citizens as if they were separate from the rest of the community, a force to be contained, coerced, managed. (In fact, if Fitch is correct, and the DOJ is trying to “let people down slowly,” it would actually strengthen the point.)

More important than these specific leaks, however, is the way that the behavior of officials throughout the power structure of Ferguson have responded to the protestors as if they were a dangerous, alien presence rather than American citizens who have full and equal rights just like the rest. Instead of trying to reach an accord with Michael Brown’s supporters, the Ferguson establishment is trying to preemptively position itself as a victim, hoping it can win the war for public opinion if and when the chaos of this summer reignites. This isn’t because the overwhelmingly white men and women in positions of authority in Ferguson are especially villainous, but rather because Ferguson, like so much of contemporary America, remains very much the town that racist social engineering built, one in which the unspoken assumption is that black people can never be equal members of their own community.

So, to return to my earlier argument about the visuals of Jim Crow, let’s indeed celebrate that the most extravagant symbols of that terrible era — the burning cross, the noose, the Klansman’s hood — are now widely considered to be ugly and taboo. For a country in which, not so long ago, the lynching of black men was considered a source of public entertainment, that’s no small thing. But let’s also keep in mind that in so far as it was a social and political system that fundamentally denied black people membership in the larger community, Jim Crow still persists.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, October 25, 2014

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Jim Crow | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Once Again, Guns”: The N.R.A.’s Vision Of The World Is Purposefully Dark And Utterly Irrational

There’s a TV ad that’s been running in Louisiana:

It’s evening and a mom is tucking in her baby. Getting a nice text from dad, who’s away on a trip. Then suddenly — dark shadow on a window. Somebody’s smashing the front door open! Next thing you know, there’s police tape around the house, blinking lights on emergency vehicles.

“It happens like that,” says a somber narrator. “The police can’t get there in time. How you defend yourself is up to you. It’s your choice. But Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights. Vote like your safety depends on it. Defend your freedom. Defeat Mary Landrieu.”

Guns are a big issue in some of the hottest elections around the country this year, but there hasn’t been much national discussion about it. Perhaps we’ve been too busy worrying whether terrorists are infecting themselves with Ebola and sneaking across the Mexican border.

But now, as usual, we’re returning to the issue because of a terrible school shooting.

The latest — a high school freshman boy with a gun in the school’s cafeteria — occurred in the state of Washington, which also happens to be ground zero for the election-year gun debate. At least that’s the way the movement against gun violence sees it. There’s a voter initiative on the ballot that would require background checks for gun sales at gun shows or online. “We need to be laser focused on getting this policy passed,” said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign.

Think about this. It’s really remarkable. Two years after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the top gun-control priority in the United States is still background checks. There is nothing controversial about the idea that people who buy guns should be screened to make sure they don’t have a criminal record or serious mental illness. Americans favor it by huge majorities. Even gun owners support it. Yet we’re still struggling with it.

The problem, of course, is the National Rifle Association, which does not actually represent gun owners nearly as ferociously as it represents gun sellers. The background check bill is on the ballot under voter initiative because the Washington State Legislature was too frightened of the N.R.A. to take it up. This in a state that managed to pass a right-to-die law, approve gay marriage and legalize the sale of marijuana.

The N.R.A. has worked hard to cultivate its reputation for terrifying implacability. Let’s return for a minute to Senator Mary Landrieu, who’s in a very tough re-election race. Last year, in the wake of Sandy Hook, she voted for a watered-down background check bill. It failed to get the requisite 60 votes in the Senate, but the N.R.A. is not forgetting.

Nor is it a fan of compromise. Landrieu has tried to straddle the middle on gun issues; she voted last year for the N.R.A.’s own top priority, a bill to create an enormous loophole in concealed weapons laws. As a reward, she got a “D” rating and the murdered-mom ad. In Colorado, the embattled Senator Mark Udall, who has a similar voting record, is getting the same treatment.

The N.R.A.’s vision of the world is purposefully dark and utterly irrational. It’s been running a series of what it regards as positive ads, which are so grim they do suggest that it’s time to grab a rifle and head for the bunker. In one, a mournful-looking woman asks whether there’s still anything worth fighting for in “a world that demands we submit, succumb, and believe in nothing.” It is, she continues, a world full of “cowards who pretend they don’t notice the elderly man fall …”

Now when was the last time you saw people ignore an elderly man who falls down? I live in what is supposed to be a hard-hearted city, but when an old person trips and hits the ground, there is a veritable stampede to get him upright.

The ad running against people like Landrieu makes no sense whatsoever. If that background-check bill had become law, the doomed mother would still have been able to buy a gun for protection unless she happened to be a convicted felon. And while we have many, many, many things to worry about these days, the prospect of an armed stranger breaking through the front door and murdering the family is not high on the list. Unless the intruder was actually a former abusive spouse or boyfriend, in which case a background check would have been extremely helpful in keeping him unarmed.

A shooting like the one in Washington State is so shocking that it seems almost improper to suggest that people respond by passing an extremely mild gun control measure. But there is a kind of moral balance. While we may not be able to stop these tragedies from happening, we can stop thinking of ourselves as a country that lets them happen and then does nothing.

Unless your worldview is as bleak as the N.R.A.’s, you have to believe we’re better than that.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 24, 2014

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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