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“Coaching Sessions Have A Long Way To Go”: Rick Perry; ‘Running For The Presidency’s Not An IQ Test’

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is wrapping up his 14-year tenure as his state’s chief executive – the longest such tenure in Lone Star State history – and as he gets ready to launch a second national campaign, the governor is talking more to the national media. The goal, in all likelihood, is to help reintroduce Perry in the wake of his failed 2012 presidential bid.

It’s off to a curious start.

The recently indicted Texas Republican talked with the Washington Post earlier this week, for example, “for a wide-ranging 90-minute interview.” It was a reminder that Perry hasn’t quite shaken off some of his bad habits.

Last week, Perry studied income inequality and economic mobility with experts Scott Winship, Erin Currier and Aparna Mathur. In the Post interview, he was asked about the growing gap between rich and poor in Texas, which has had strong job growth over the past decade but also has lagged in services for the underprivileged.

“Biblically, the poor are always going to be with us in some form or fashion,” he said.

I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I can find no Scriptural references to the notion that that the poor “are always going to be with us.” [Update: see below]

Perry acknowledged that the richest Texans have experienced the greatest amount of earnings growth, but dismissed the notion that income inequality is a problem in the state, saying, “We don’t grapple with that here.”

I suppose that’s true – in order to “grapple with” a problem, policymakers have to at least try to address it – though the fact remains that income inequality has gotten much worse in Texas in recent years, and a 2012 analysis of income trends published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Texas was the nation’s seventh-worst state when it comes to the gap between rich and poor.

The governor’s new interview with msnbc’s Kasie Hunt was arguably even more informative about Perry’s progress as a national candidate.

For example, Hunt asked the governor, quite candidly, “Are you smart enough to be president of the United States?” He replied:

“Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test,” he said. “It is a test of an individual’s resolve. It’s a test of an individual’s philosophy. It’s a test of an individual’s life experiences. And I think Americans are really ready for a leader that will give them a great hope about the future.”

I’m a little surprised the governor didn’t reply with a more direct, “of course I’m smart enough” answer.

As part of the same interview, which was conducted Tuesday, Hunt asked Perry about the torture report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The governor’s answers didn’t quite bring his position into focus. For example, Perry sounded like he opposes torture:

“I agree that what happened to John McCain was abhorrent. It is inhumane. And the United States Government should never ever condone that type of activity. America has a record, going all the way back to George Washington when George Washington said that those British soldiers need to be treated with respect.”

And Perry also sounded like he understands Bush-era torture.

“But in the fog a war, you think back to 2001, and George W. Bush standing on that pile a rubble after he had talked to mothers and fathers and wives, loved ones of Americans who’d been killed by these soulless terrorist – you think back to Abraham Lincoln, suspending habeas corpus – you know, in retrospect, you know, sometimes decisions made in the fog a war, we can criticize ‘em, some years later.

And then Perry switched back, sounding like he opposes torture.

“But I think more importantly here is that the message that America is not going to be– like ISIS and cut the throat of innocent children– that we’re not going to– commit heinous acts, is clearly a message that Americans want to hear…. I respect [John McCain] for standing up and saying America will not be involved in torture. ‘No one in this country will ever do to any combatant what they did to me.’ And I totally agree with that.”

And then asked whether waterboarding is torture, Perry changed the subject.

“One of the most important things, though, that we need to do as a country, is that when the leader of the United States says, ‘Here’s a red line,’ that that’s what it means. Words matter. And hollow words hurt us as a country. They hurt us as an ally. And the words that come out of the president of the United States need to mean something.”

By all accounts, the Texas governor is meeting regularly with advisers who are helping him shape his agenda and vision. The coaching sessions apparently have a long way to go.

* Update: Several alert readers have brought Matthew 26:11 to my attention, which, depending on the translation, actually says, “The poor you will always have with you.” I stand corrected.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 11, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Perry | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘Cromnibus’ Isn’t Without An Upside”: Funding Certainty And A Better Deal Than Could Be Extracted In Next Congress

The so-called Cromnibus is an ugly piece of work. On balance, I’m glad — no, make that relieved — it passed the House.

The Cromnibus is the giant $1.1 trillion spending bill that will keep the government functioning — no, make that open — through the end of the fiscal year in September.

The nickname stems from its dual function as “continuing resolution” and “omnibus” spending bill, but I like the term for its echoes of cronut, the calorie-laden combination of croissant and doughnut. Like the cronut, the Cromnibus is stuffed with some things that aren’t necessarily good for you.

Such as a toxic change in the campaign finance laws that helps usher back the bad old days of multimillion-dollar “soft money” donations to national political parties from wealthy individuals.

Without notice, without the legislative fig leaf of debate, the Cromnibus raised the limit tenfold for individual donations to the national party committees.

With the change, an individual could contribute $1.5 million during a two-year election cycle. A married couple — call them Mr. and Mrs. Plutocrat — could contribute $3 million. That’s enough money to get the Republicans’, or Democrats’, attention. This is bipartisanship in the service of self-interest.

There is a reasonable argument against tight caps on giving to political parties in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision and other developments that enhanced the power of super PACs and even less-transparent outside groups. With the cacophony of outside voices, the parties lose control of their message and their candidates, and the voters lose the ability to know what interests are financing the elections. The playing field could use some leveling.

Yes, but there remains a difference between the corrupting influence of money that flows straight to political parties and money that goes to outside groups. There was a reason Congress, just a dozen years ago, banned unlimited soft money donations from wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions.

With this move, what comes next? And by what undemocratic, last-minute sleight of hand?

A similar case could be made against the stealth dismantling of part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, passed in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse. As the White House said in not threatening to veto the spending bill, the Citigroup-authored change would “weaken a critical component of financial system reform aimed at reducing taxpayer risk.”

That provision, known as Section 716, required banks and other institutions to move certain risky financial instruments into separate entities in order to limit the exposure of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve — i.e., taxpayers — from having to bail the financial institutions out if the deals should go south. Banks remained able to trade in nearly all derivatives, just not the more exotic ones.

Again, there are some reasonable arguments for undoing the remaining restriction. The change doesn’t unravel Dodd-Frank’s regulation of derivative instruments. Section 716 was controversial from the start, with some bank regulators arguing it would increase systemic risk, not reduce it. The impact of the change is debatable; after all, according to FDIC Vice Chairman Tom Hoenig, who opposes undoing the provision, it would not affect 95 percent of derivatives.

Of course, changes like these should be made in the ordinary course of legislative business, not stuffed into a Cromnibus. So why would I express relief about the Cromnibus’s passage?

Because, to some extent, my reference to the ordinary course of legislative business is civics textbook hooey. In practice, it has long been true that special-interest goodies are tucked into must-pass bills. Real-world legislating requires a horrific amount of nose-holding.

The reason is simple: The imperative for horse-trading and compromising is an immutable fact of political life. And so the question, for lawmakers and the Obama administration, is not whether the measure is perfect — it’s whether the trade-offs are acceptable. This is a judgment call; reasonable people, even reasonable Democrats, can differ.

In the case of the Cromnibus, the upside is a year of funding certainty and a better deal than could be extracted in the next Congress. Democrats avoid being blamed for causing a shutdown but, post-floor fight, reap the benefit of having fired a shot across the bow of Republicans and the White House as their caucus revolted.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had a legitimate point in contending that House Democrats were being “blackmailed” to vote for the spending bill. Still, there is something worse than legislative sausage-making in Washington. That is the inability to produce any sausage at all.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Columnist, The Washington Post, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Campaign Financing, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress, Deal-Making, And How The Sausage Gets Made”: If You Want Bipartisan Cooperation, This Is What It Looks Like

The closer one looks at the $1.1 trillion spending package that barely cleared the House last night, the easier it is to notice its flaws. The so-called “CRomnibus” is filled with giveaways, rollbacks, and handouts that almost certainly don’t belong there.

Kevin Drum made a compelling case yesterday that many critics have overlooked an important, big-picture detail: if you want bipartisan cooperation, this is what it looks like.

This is one of those things that demonstrates the chasm between political activists and analysts on the one side, and working politicians on the other. If you take a look at the bill, it does indeed have a bunch of objectionable features. People like me, with nothing really at stake, can bitch and moan about them endlessly. But you know what? For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and it’s petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.

That’s politics. The fact that it’s happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.

I think that’s largely correct. The old line about no one wanting to see how the sausage gets made applies to lawmaking for a reason – neither process is pretty. For many Americans – including plenty of Beltway pundits – there’s a sense that Democrats and Republicans can get stuff done if they just sit in a room and agree to work out a deal.

And here we have an excellent example of what happens when the parties do exactly that.

But I think there’s one other relevant detail to this that I’d add to the mix.

While it’s never pretty when these bipartisan, bicameral talks produce a thrown-together solution, what’s a little different about 2014 is that Congress, by historical standards, really is broken to an unusual degree. The legislative branch still exists, of course, but its capacity for governing has atrophied to a level with no modern precedent.

That’s relevant in this context for one simple reason: lawmakers realized that this spending bill was an extremely rare opportunity to advance their policy goals. Some of those goals had merit, and some were ridiculous, but in either case, members of Congress saw something unusual: a shortcut.

We all know that the usual legislative process is long and arduous. It involves a series of choke points – hearings, committees, amendments, chambers, etc. – all of which make failure easy. Apply that to the contemporary Congress, which struggles to complete even routine tasks, and members understand that their proposals are almost certain to die, regardless of popularity or merit.

But if a lawmaker can get that proposal squeezed into a spending package like this, all of a sudden, the choke points disappear. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the “CRomnibus” is, in legislative terms, the shortest distance between drafting and law.

To be sure, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, but my point is, the need to take advantage of these rare opportunities is more acute when the usual legislative process has broken down to such a farcical degree.

This was members’ only chance to advance their ideas. Are we surprised they exploited it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will We Torture Again?”: The Willingness To Face An Ugly Truth And Say ‘Never Again’

Can we now say with confidence that our government will not use torture again and that Americans in the future will rise up to prevent it from doing so? In light of the reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, I fear that we can’t.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein persisted in releasing the document in the face of opposition from the CIA and attacks by some of her colleagues because she felt a moral calling. The 81-year-old California Democrat believed she had an obligation to leave behind a sturdy ethical roadblock to the use of extreme brutality in pursuit of information — even information seen as potentially saving American lives.

“There are those who will seize upon the report and say ‘see what the Americans did,’ and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence,” she said on the Senate floor. “We can’t prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.’”

Yet what might have been a moment of national reflection immediately turned into what everything becomes these days: a carnival of partisanship. Making the truth public, Feinstein’s critics argued, could endanger our nation.

“She will have to live with the consequences,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who becomes chair of the Intelligence Committee next year, said darkly.

A moving exception was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has denounced torture in season and out. His biography as a prisoner of war has been a standing rebuke to those who choose to play down the consequences of these techniques for our own men and women in uniform. He dismissed the idea that the report itself would be responsible for new attacks on Americans. “Violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world,” he said. Terrorism should be blamed on terrorists, not Feinstein.

The real objection to the release of the report, McCain argued, was that it calls into question the claims by defenders of these techniques that they produced vital information. “We gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer,” he said. “Too much.”

One would like to think that this is now a consensual view, and it is the formal position of our government. But the pushback against Feinstein makes clear that many involved in “the program,” as they so delicately call this departure from our own norms, would do it all over again. John McLaughlin, former CIA acting director and deputy director, took to the pages of The Washington Post to list the intelligence breakthroughs of the interrogators. McLaughlin also joined with five other former CIA directors and deputy directors in a Wall Street Journal piece that denounced the Senate report as “a poorly done and partisan attack.”

But condemning the report as “partisan” is a way of evading its implications. If the issue is partisan, why did President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, defend the agency by declaring that “EITs” — that would be enhanced interrogation techniques — “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives”? What’s striking here is the bipartisan unity among intelligence officials.

My friend and Washington Post colleague Michael Gerson saw partisanship in the committee’s focus on the CIA interrogations that took place under President George W. Bush, but not on the drone program, which Obama has embraced and expanded. Gerson is right to note that many who oppose torture are also concerned about the extensiveness of the drone program and I, for one, would have no objection to Congress investigating the ethical and practical problems it raises.

But legitimate questions about drones do not discredit either this legitimate inquiry into the use of torture or the obligation that Feinstein and her fellow committee Democrats felt to bear witness.

Defenders of the CIA make a point that should unsettle all of us because it’s true: In the wake of 9/11, the country was so scared that it tolerated or at least entertained a variety of extreme steps to protect our security, including torture. By November of 2001, there was already a public debate about the legitimacy of torture, even if brave voices (the blogger Andrew Sullivan has been admirably persistent) pushed back in those dark times.

Feinstein, McCain and their allies are hoping they can draw a line now that can strengthen such voices in the future. I wish that the response to their efforts inspired more certainty that their line will hold.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; Published in The National Memo, December 11, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Diane Feinstein, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Day For Liberals”: What We Learned In The Epic Clash Over The Spending Bill

The House passage of the omnibus spending act is on its face a defeat for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that fought to block it. In the end, though, risking a government shutdown over the bill’s ugliest provisions – restoring government protection to risky bank maneuvers and raising the cap on party contributions, astronomically – was probably too much to expect. According to Greg Sargent, Dem sources say that while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fought it ferociously, in the end she signaled that members could vote their conscience.

And what did that vote tell us about the Democratic Party? Most of the departing Blue Dogs who lost their seats voted for the bill, predictably. In a break with President Obama, who lobbied for it, most of the Congressional Black Caucus did not. The remaining House Democrats are going to be more reliably critical of Wall Street, and less inclined to bow to the White House. 2015 is going to be interesting.

I admit, for a few hours on Thursday I thought Democrats might be able to win the public relations battle if they blocked the bill. Why should taxpayers protect risk-taking banks? The story of how Citigroup wrote the provision, and Wall Street’s friends snuck it in, is so outrageous I thought it had a chance to carry the day. So Republicans wouldn’t pass a spending bill without this giveaway to Wall Street? That would make them responsible for a government shutdown. But Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies may have thought the same thing about their message when they shut down the government last year.

We’ll never know if Democrats could have mustered populist outrage over Washington catering to Wall Street in the event of a new shutdown. But what else did we learn from the battle?

We now know that Nancy Pelosi is through guaranteeing the votes for ugly messes liberals hate (like the debt ceiling and sequester deals) but that House Speaker John Boehner can’t pass alone. In a new Congress where many Blue Dogs lost their seats, this sets the stage for House Democrats to block elements of the GOP agenda, especially when there can be left-right alliances.  Tea Party defenders say it was partly inspired by outrage at the 2008 Wall Street bailout and corporate-government cronyism; it would be nice if House adherents remembered those roots.

We also know that Elizabeth Warren wasn’t tamed by her ascent into Senate Democratic leadership; she was emboldened. While her star turn may increase the pressure on her to run for president, I’m with Elias Isquith here: I still hope she doesn’t. A President Warren would lack a Sen. Warren protecting her left flank. Giving Warren more progressive Senate allies would be more politically productive than elevating her to the White House.

We’re also seeing a more clearly defined bloc of Wall Street critics emerge in the Democratic Party, just in time for 2016. The Warren-led battle over Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss is also heating up – and both fights pit the popular progressive against President Obama.

Many news accounts have depicted the spending bill battle as Warren vs. Obama, setting up an ongoing clash between the two Democratic leaders. But I think the Warren vs. Obama story line can be overblown. It’s probably too much to expect the president to veto the spending bill and effectively shut down the government – clearly he doesn’t share my optimism that Democrats could win that P.R. battle.  But if the noxious measures hidden in the bill came to him as individual pieces of legislation, he’d be under a new level of pressure from congressional Democrats to veto them, and I expect he would. Obama made clear that while he wanted Democrats to support the spending bill he shared their opposition to both provisions.

In fact, the next two years will be a test of who the president really is: the change agent who inspired progressives, or the guardian of Wall Street power that his left-wing detractors claim he is. Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel makes the case that Warren, rather than being an Obama opponent, could be the best protector of his legacy that the president has. We’ll see.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Big Banks, Democrats, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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