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“The Dystopian Nightmare That Only Republicans Can See”: Incoming! Quick, Everybody Hide Under The Table

It was unexpectedly convenient to have the State of the Union address and a Republican presidential debate occur in the same week, scheduled just 48 hours apart. The bookends offered the public an opportunity, not just to hear two competing visions, but also to confront two entirely different versions of reality.

Because anyone who listened to President Obama on Tuesday night, and then the GOP presidential candidates on Thursday night, might find it hard to believe they all live in the same country at the same time.

The president made an impassioned case that Americans have reason to stand tall. We have the strongest economy on the planet, the strongest military in the history of the planet, and an unrivaled position as a global superpower. Job growth is strong, our enemies are on the run, our civil rights are a model for the world, and our insured rate is the best it’s ever been.

Obama has heard the naysayers, but he believes we’d be wise to ignore their campaign to exploit anxiety to advance their own partisan or ideological goals. We can aim higher – we can even cure cancer! – and make the future our own.

That was Tuesday night. Just two days later, the Republican Party’s national candidates were simply flabbergasted, baffled by the president’s optimism. Jeb Bush, apparently unaware of the state of the nation when his brother left the White House, insisted, “[T]he idea that somehow we’re better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe.”

And in a way, there’s some truth to that: the president and the Republican presidential field don’t seem to occupy the same place on the space-time continuum. Obama thinks the American dream is alive and well; the GOP thinks it’s dead. The president wants the public to feel hopeful; Republicans want Americans to feel existential dread. “Alternative universes” isn’t a bad summary, all things considered.

The trouble is, Obama’s the one who seems to live in the same reality as the rest of the public.

Mother JonesKevin Drum noted this morning that it’s “remarkable just how apocalyptic Republicans are this year.” As a public service, he collected the “most ominous” statements from each of the GOP candidates from last night’s debate. The list is worth checking out in its entirety, but some of my personal favorites:

Donald Trump: Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show…. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people.

Marco Rubio: This president is undermining the constitutional basis of this government. This president is undermining our military. He is undermining our standing in the world…. The damage he has done to America is extraordinary. Let me tell you, if we don’t get this election right, there may be no turning back for America.

Chris Christie: When I think about the folks who are out there at home tonight watching….They know that this country is not respected around the world anymore. They know that this country is pushing the middle class, the hardworking taxpayers, backwards, and they saw a president who doesn’t understand their pain, and doesn’t have any plan for getting away from it.

Can’t you just feel the sunny, Reagan-esque optimism?

It’s worth emphasizing that nearly every word of these assessments is plainly wrong, and that matters, but the broader point is that Americans saw seven candidates last night who were effectively encouraging us to hide under a table.

I suppose the natural response is to highlight the underlying circumstances: we’re talking about the GOP field running to replace a Democratic president in his eighth year. Of course they’re going to spend time making the case that the status quo is unacceptable. It’s not like they have an electoral incentive to promise more of the same.

The point, however, is how they choose to make this case. Eight years ago at this time, Barack Obama was facing the same situation in reverse – a Democratic candidate running to replace a Republican president in his eighth year – but his message was rooted entirely in optimism. Obama’s entire campaign message was ultimately summarized in one, four-letter word: Hope.

It’s not because Democratic voters were satisfied about the state of the nation in 2008 – they really weren’t – but rather, it was because Obama saw value in being a positive, hopeful, confident candidate.

Eight years later, Republicans’ collectively are pushing a message that also can ultimately be summarized in one, four-letter word: Doom.

Politico’s Michael Grunwald wrote last week, “America is already great, and it’s getting greater. Not everything is awesome, but in general, things are even more awesome than they were a year ago. The rest of the world can only wish it had our problems.”

It’s the kind of uplifting, can-do message that would have been roundly booed in Charleston last night.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Politics Of The Deficit Are Utterly Backward”: Ignore The Rending Of Garments From Deficit Paranoiacs

One of the most frustrating things about being a lefty during the depths of the Great Recession was watching giant policy errors build on the horizon like some sewage tsunami, and being powerless to stop them. And in 2010 the biggest and sewage-iest of the errors was the turn to austerity — the combination of budget hikes and spending increases that has slowed economic recovery across the developed world.

Five years later, as the deficit has fallen dramatically and so has interest in its supposed danger, it provides an interesting window into the politics of deficit paranoia — and how it is 180 degrees from reality.

Let me quickly review the story up to the present. A recession means the economy is suffering a shortage of aggregate demand. People are losing their jobs, meaning companies have fewer sales, so they fire employees or go out of business — rinse and repeat. The standard response to this is economic stimulus, both monetary and fiscal. For the former, the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates, making loans easier to get and thus stoking the economy; for the latter, the government borrows and spends directly, mechanically jacking up total spending.

Like the Great Depression, fiscal stimulus was particularly important during the Great Recession, because by late 2008, the Fed had cut interest rates all the way to zero — pushing its economic accelerator all the way to the floor — and it didn’t halt or even much slow down the recession.

Initially, with big Democratic Party majorities in both the House and Senate, the government did the right thing. Right after President Obama took office, it passed the Recovery Act, a fairly sizable piece of fiscal stimulus. But as trusted center-left commentators like Paul Krugman pointed out, it wasn’t nearly big enough to fill the economic hole visible at the time — and later measurements would show the hole to be vastly larger than the initial estimates.

So after that first round of stimulus, the deficit was very large due to all the borrowing. However, its inadequacy was also obvious, as unemployment plateaued at nearly 10 percent — then stayed there for an entire year. During and immediately after the crisis, the centrist establishment was too shocked to respond, but they eventually regrouped and began demanding immediate cuts to balance the budget — effectively aligning themselves with resurgent conservatives, who as usual demanded all social insurance programs be torched.

After the 2010 election, the centrists and conservatives got much of what they supposedly wanted: tons of austerity, most of it in cuts to government spending (particularly when compared to previous presidencies). The effects were obvious: a recovery that was grindingly slow and weak. It still shows no sign of returning to the previous trend.

In other words, austerians were successful in cutting the short-term deficit at the worst imaginable time. But what about now, as the economy is returning to at least a modicum of health? According to the standard economic script, government deficits aren’t always good. When recovery has been reached, then it’s time to cut back. “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury,” as John Maynard Keynes said (though adherents of Modern Monetary Theory would quibble with this).

What are the centrist austerians doing? Why, they’ve gone almost totally silent, of course. Ron Fournier, the avatar of D.C. centrism and a fanatical austerian, has barely mentioned the subject over the last year. More broadly, as Andrew Flowers documents for FiveThirtyEight, mentions of “deficit” and “debt” by Republican presidential candidates have fallen by about two-thirds since 2012. Mentions in Congress have fallen even further.

This demonstrates that the conventional politics around deficits and debt are fundamentally disconnected from any sort of rational understanding as to why they might be a problem. And due to those same actual mechanics, the political salience of austerity moves in inverse proportion to its real importance — insane overreaction when the deficit should be very high, bland disinterest when it ought to be coming down again.

It’s maddening, but at least predictable. The next time a liberal administration is in charge during a recession, it may safely ignore the rending of garments from deficit paranoiacs. As soon as the immediate crisis is over, they’ll quickly forget all about it.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Austerity, Deficits, Great Recession | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“An Unhealthy Dose Of Politics”: Gov Matt Bevin Is Letting His Dislike For The President Blind Him To The Success Of Kynect

The New York Times reports that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has informed the Obama administration that he intends to shut down his state’s health insurance exchange. The move will mean that Kentuckians will have to seek health insurance from the federal exchange. The newly-elected Republican governor may also make changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion program. Both moves would fulfill promises that Bevin made on the campaign trail last year.

Health insurance exchanges were established by the Affordable Care Act to serve as a marketplace for individuals who are not covered by the employer-based market. While the law envisioned that these exchanges would be run entirely by the states, in practice there are only 13 state-based exchanges, including the one in Washington, D.C. The rest of the states rely, either in part or entirely, on the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov.

Of the states that chose to run their own exchanges, Kentucky was doing well. The state’s exchange, known as Kynect, has in fact been lauded as one of Obamacare’s best success stories. The Washington Post reports that since it launched, Kynect has cut Kentucky’s uninsured rate in half. While some other states have struggled in their efforts to establish their own state-based exchange, Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, told the New York Times that “Kynect is working perfectly, and it’s been good for Kentucky.”

If the exchange had not been successful in reducing the state’s uninsured, Bevin’s plan would be justified. However, given Kynect’s effectiveness, Bevin’s plan to dismantle it makes little sense. His decision is driven purely by political motives and not with the welfare of his constituents in mind. Although the Obama administration has promised a “seamless” transition to Healthcare.gov for those who receive coverage through Kynect, there are still bound to be disruptions in coverage. For some, that disruption in coverage could be devastating.

Taking Kynect apart will also cost the state money. According to the Times, the previous governor’s administration estimated it will cost “at least $23 million” to shut it down. There’s also the question of unused grant money, approximately $57 million, which Kentucky might have to repay to the federal government. In contrast, leaving the exchange in place would provide consistency and predictability for its customers and allow the state to continue building on Kynect’s success, perhaps even lowering the state’s uninsured numbers further.

Unfortunately, Bevin is letting his dislike for the president blind him to the success of Kynect and its benefit to his constituents. Kynect has worked well for Kentucky, and the new governor should keep it in place.

 

By: Cary Gibson, Thomas Jefferson Street Blig, U. S. News and World Report, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, KyNect, Matt Bevin | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Is He Is, Or Is He Ain’t”: Will A Birther Lawsuit Derail Ted Cruz?

The “birther” claims against Sen. Ted Cruz are heading to court.

Houston attorney Newton Boris Schwartz, Sr. filed a suit in federal court Thursday seeking a judgement about whether Cruz is eligible to become president. Although Cruz’s mother is an American citizen by birth, Cruz was born in Canada.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Schwartz said he believes he has legal standing to bring the suit as a registered voter in Texas and hopes to [ADD- see] the matter settled before voting begins.

“Why have the uncertainty? Why go through an election or even a primary or a convention if someone’s not eligible?” Schwartz said. “I used to tutor football athletes when they had to forfeit the entire season if they weren’t eligible. The American presidency is a hell of a lot more important than some football team and you want to make sure your players are eligible. All I’m asking the court to do is decide either he is or he is not eligible. That’s the end of it. It’s very simple.”

Specifically, Schwartz has requested a declaratory judgement about Cruz’s eligibility under Article II, Section I, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the language that requires that the president be a “natural born citizen of the United States.”

Several legal scholars have argued recently that Cruz’s birth in Canada, rather than on American soil, could make him a naturalized citizen, rather than a natural born citizen, as the constitution requires. For example, Mary Brigid McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener University Delaware Law School, recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that Cruz is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States. Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law, who is a former professor of Cruz’s, made a similar argument in the Boston Globe.

Schwartz himself graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1954 and has since been a trial lawyer in Houston. He currently heads a three-lawyer law firm. He said that he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, but voted against Cruz for Senate in 2012, and voted for President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. He said he had never met Cruz and never faced off against him in court.

Cruz himself has dismissed questions about his eligibility for the presidency, including Trump’s questions, as sour grapes as Cruz closed in on Trump in national polls and took the lead in Iowa. “The law is clear and straight forward,” Cruz has said.

A suit similar to Schwartz’s suit was recently filed against Marco Rubio in Florida, which Rubio’s lawyers responded to in detail this week, pointing out that Rubio was born in the United States and therefore is a natural-born U.S. citizen even though his parents were not citizens at the time. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has said he would file his own suit against Cruz if he were to become the Republican nominee.

The Texas case has been assigned to Judge Gray H. Miller in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas, but Schwartz said he expects it to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, an outcome he thinks would help Cruz, no matter how it is decided.

“Cruz should welcome this suit,” Schwartz said. “He should have filed it himself.”

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Birthers, Natural Born Citizens, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“Prophet’s Of Doom”: The GOP Debate Was A Master Class In The Republicans’ Apocalyptic Vision

Every presidential campaign is a choice not just between two paths forward, but also two visions of where the country is right now. If things are going well, the incumbent party says, “You’ve never had it so good!” and the opposition says, “Things could be a whole lot better!” If things aren’t going so well, the opposition says “Everything’s terrible,” and the incumbent party says, “Things could be a lot worse, and they will be if those knuckleheads win!” But it’s hard to recall a campaign where the two parties painted such a starkly different picture of the country’s status than this one.

Earlier this week, Barack Obama offered the Democratic version in his State of the Union address. “The United States of America,” he said, “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.” And it isn’t just the economy: “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.” Even if you can argue that those facts are only part of reality, or that they obscure some deeper problems, you can’t say they aren’t facts.

Or maybe you can.

The Republican candidates hoping to replace Obama met for another debate last night (they’ll have one more before the voting starts in Iowa in two weeks), and they described a nation not just in decline, but one whose decline was already complete. They agreed not only that Obama has been a failure and that Hillary Clinton would be a disaster, but that America right now is the lowest of the low, suffering at home and mocked abroad, a dark pit of misery and shame. Here’s just a taste of what they said:

“Our military is a disaster.” — Donald Trump

“We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.” — Chris Christie

“The idea that somehow we’re better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe. The simple fact is that the world has been torn asunder.” — Jeb Bush

“In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted, in this administration, the force levels are going down to a level where we can’t even project force.” — Jeb Bush

“We have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exoatmosphere and destroy our electric grid. I mean, just think about a scenario like that. They explode the bomb, we have an electromagnetic pulse. They hit us with a cyberattack simultaneously and dirty bombs. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point? He needs to recognize that those kinds of things are in fact an existential threat to us.” — Ben Carson

“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. ObamaCare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry.” — Trump

“Let me tell you, if we don’t get this election right, there may be no turning back for America.” — Marco Rubio

“This country is not respected around the world anymore.” — Christie

“You know, we have to stop this because, you know, if we manage to damage ourselves, and we lose the next election, and a progressive gets in there and they get two or three Supreme Court picks, this nation is over as we know it.” — Carson

“This country is changing. It feels different. We feel like we’re being left behind and left out.” — Rubio

“There’s something going on and it’s bad. And I’m saying we have to get to the bottom of it. That’s all I’m saying.” — Trump

Add it all up, and you have the prism through which the Republican candidates will view any event or development that comes along. Job creation looks excellent? Obama must be cooking the books, because everybody knows the economy stinks. Millions of people have gained health coverage? Nope, it’s a disaster. We still spend over $600 billion a year on the military? Nuh-uh, we couldn’t invade the Bahamas if we wanted to.

Consider the incident in the Persian Gulf this week, where a small Navy boat lost power and drifted with a second boat into Iranian waters. What could have been a dangerous international incident was instead resolved in a matter of hours, with the American sailors and their vessels returned to us. But to the Republicans, the fact that the sailors put their hands on their heads when boarded by the Iranians — to repeat, in Iranian waters — meant that not only wasn’t the whole episode a triumph of diplomacy, it was a disaster, a humiliation, a defeat so catastrophic that it might literally have been worth bombing Iran over. As Ted Cruz intoned with every ounce of steely resolve he could muster, “any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.” If only there had been some more force and fury!

There’s always an incentive for the opposition party to paint the current president’s record in the worst possible light. You can’t convince voters to make a change if they don’t agree that there are problems that require fixing. But Republicans have taken that natural impulse and, like so many things in this campaign, turned it up to 11. It isn’t enough to say you’ll increase military spending; you have to say that “our military is a disaster.” It isn’t enough to say we face serious foreign policy challenges; you have to say “the world has been torn asunder.” It isn’t enough to say that electing the other party’s candidate would be bad; you have to say that if we do, “there may be no turning back for America.”

Perhaps the Republican candidates have hit on the right formula, and whichever prophet of doom wins the nomination will ride this apocalyptic vision all the way to the White House. But they shouldn’t be surprised if the voters end up saying, “Gee, things don’t seem quite that bad.”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, GOP Primary Debates, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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