Archive for August 2011

Send in the Clowns

August 22, 2011

It’s the end game in Tripoli.

From the Guardian’s live feed on events there:

10.45pm: Libyan rebels are now within two miles of the centre of Tripoli, AP reports…

…and this:

11.04pm: Al Jazeera is reporting that two of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam and Al-Saadi, have been arrested and another son, Muhammad, has surrendered.

And so on.  All, as commenter Jenny points out in the last thread, without a single US casualty.

Which means that there are some folks who have some ‘splainin’ to do.  Republican folks.  Would-be presidents.  E.g:

Romney (to Hugh Hewitt, March 21, 2011):

America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak.

We’re following the French into Libya.

I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world. You know, the cause of liberty can endure the mistakes that are inevitable consequences of human fallibility. But liberty’s standard can’t prevail if it’s not proudly, decisively and consistently held aloft.

Bachmann, March 30, 2011:

The Minnesota Republican, who’s weighing a run for president in 2012, said had she been in the Oval Office and faced with the choice of intervening militarily in Libya, “I would not have gone in.”

Bachmann, April 16, 2011 (warning:  Politico link):

Michele Bachmann laced into President Barack Obama at a South Carolina tea party rally Saturday, saying his decision to take military action in Libya was “foolish” and that he’s “not on our side anymore.”

Pawlenty, March 29, 2011:

President Obama’s “timid” response to the crisis in Libya made it more difficult to remove Moammar Kadafi from power, former Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty charged Tuesday.

Pawlenty, who became the first top-flight Republican to form a presidential exploratory committee last week, said that he supported the U.S. airstrikes against the Libyan dictator, but would have acted sooner when rebel forces had “substantial momentum.”

“Now we’re in this position of having the president of the United States saying Kadafi must go, but we’re not going to necessarily make him go. And that’s untenable,” he said.

(I know that he’s out now — but Pawlenty was still a semi-seriously-taken candidate at the time.)

Rick Santorum (I know, I know…but just for giggles) winning the flip-flop award on March 20, 2011 (warning, another Politico link):

Flip: Santorum led the way among GOP presidential hopefuls in calling for airstrikes on Libya. He invoked Ronald Reagan’s 1986 bombing campaign against military targets in Libya, ordered as retaliation for an attack on a West Berlin nightclub that killed two American servicemen masterminded by the Libyan secret service.

“If you want to be Reaganesque, it seems the path is pretty clear,” he told an Iowa radio station earlier this month.

Flop:  But in a Sunday phone interview from his backyard in Pennsylvania, Santorum said that action made more sense 12 days ago because it looked like “a little nudge and a push” from the United States could tip the scale for the rebels. He’s upset that the U.S. has not been insistent on regime change and faulted the administration for making the comment that it was time for Qadhafi to give up power without continuing to insist on that over the weekend….

The former senator speculated that Obama might have only agreed to go along with the military option under pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“He’s not decisive,” Santorum said of Obama. “He’s being the military for the [United Nations]. The French were the first ones out there. He’s following the lead.”

Backflip:  He expressed fear that rebels inside Libya may not be friendly to the United States.

“Maybe folks have better intel, but I’m not confident I know what the makeup of the rebels are,” he said. “From everything I’ve seen reported, we don’t know that.”

Ooops: And he raised the specter that Qadhafi could survive because of Obama’s early indecisiveness, which would mean potential retaliation against the U.S.

“Under any score, I don’t know how you could play this worse than this president has,” he said…

Except, just to reprise the thought with which we began:

TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebels surged into the Libyan capital Sunday night, meeting little resistance from troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and setting off raucous street celebrations by residents hailing the end of his 42 years in power.

And so on.  All, as commenter Jenny points out in the last thread, without a single US casualty.

You can, and many have and will, argue hard about the merits of US action in Libya, or inaction in Syria.* But if you are a Republican — or an actually sane American, for that matter — who believes in both a robust and effective foreign policy, there is not a single clown seeking your vote on the GOP side who would seem to merit your trust.

That community organizer in the White House, though?  Unlike the all-hat-no-cattle types we are increasingly seeing over there, he may take his time, but he does seem to get his man.

Should make for interesting cognitive dissonance over on the dark side. Recall that Qaddafi outlasted Reagan and both Bushes.  Then consider that the chief alternative to crediting Obama’s administration for the crucial support that has enabled the Libyans to come to the point of ending that miserable reign is to praise — wait for it — the French…

…and you have what some might call a jalapeño suppository up your philosophical fundament.

Wouldn’t you say?

*That said, I’m betting Assad is getting a little nervous, just now.  Obama has finally called for his exit, and, as has been demonstrated again, this President may grind slowly, but he seems to do so with a certain…how to say it?…emphasis.

Image: Ernst Ludwig Kirshner, Two acrobats – sculpture, 1932-33.

A Stranger in a Strange Land

August 22, 2011

I’m not saying Mitt Romney won’t be the Republican nominee next year — though if I were a betting man, I’d lay a small wager (pizza scale, not rent money) that he’ll fall short.

But I do believe that planners at the DOD see Romney’s ear as the US Strategic Tin Reserve — and that can’t be good for either a potentially (faux) populist-dominated primary battle, nor for a general election against someone who has some experience in running against the clueless rich.

The latest gaffe? Romney, like McCain, has a housing fetish:

The San Diego Union-Tribunebroke the story of Romney’s California plans this weekend:

“Romney has filed an application with the city to bulldoze his 3,009-square-foot, single-story home at 311 Dunemere Dr. and replace it with a two-story, 11,062-square-foot structure. No date has been set to consider the proposed coastal development and site development permits, which must be approved by the city.”

Three years ago, Romney bought the “oceanfront manse in La Jolla” for $12 million. His campaign says the house on the property is too small for Romney’s large extended family…

Oh, and one more thing:  what’s up with a resident (and former governor of) Massachusetts plunking down hogsheads of cash to buy sand in La Jolla in the first place?  Must be that old sailor-down-to-the-sea thing:

SanDiego.com reports Romney said last year that the oceanfront property stirred up memories of his (also fabulously wealthy) childhood:

At a book signing in nearby University City last year, Romney explained why he bought the house.

“I wanted to be where I could hear the waves,” he said. “As a boy, we spent summers on Lake Huron [in his native Michigan] and I could hear the crashing waves at night. It was one of my favorite things in the world. Being near the water and the waves was something I badly wanted to experience again.'”

Ah.  The soul of a Romney.

One thing, though.  Last time I checked, Massachusetts had a pretty nice coastlineWaves too, and tides, and oysters — and even famous rich people with compounds and all.

The moral of this story: it’s not that Romney has more scratch than you and me and all our friends that makes him suspect.  It’s that he’s rootless, a citizen not of a place but of a class.  His passport is green, issued by the sovereign meta-state of Richistan.

And fine — he’s a wealthy man; it’s a truism that this fact does not as a necessary corollary render him a bad person (though it does amplify his capacity for evil if he swings that way, of course).  But there’s rich and rich, and for some, Romney clearly included, an utterly secure material condition renders the experience of most of those the former one-term governor would seek to govern simply inaccessible. And that’s not good, either for a candidate or the country.

Image:  Titian and workshop, The Vendramin Family, venerating a Relic of the True Cross, before 1576.  Bonus points to those who spot the Romney-specific family reference in the grouping.

August 4, 2011

Barney Frank has written a clear, detailed and carefully reasoned explanation of why he voted against the debt ceiling bill.  It’s long enough to send most of it below the jump, but I want to highlight on the front page what my congressman had to say about our job now:

Dear Friend,

I appreciate you taking the time to let me know of your views on the debt limit.  As I will explain later, I think part of the reason that we wound up with a very unsatisfactory bill – one that I voted against – is that there was a disproportionate volume of communications from people who take a wholly negative view of virtually all government activity.  Fortunately, now that their efforts have called some fundamental values into question, a more broadly representative sector in the American public is speaking out and I think that will have a good result. [emphases added]

That is:  keep those cards and letters coming, now, through the summer, and all the way to Christmas.

There’s a lot more, all worth reading, reminding us (me) that despite the relatively negligible damage done up front by this deal, the potential remains for much worse to come.  To get Frank’s take, keep reading. (more…)

For the Record

August 4, 2011

The White House’s version of the debt ceiling agreement.

Also, FWIW, someone I know in the moneyed world sent me this from a highly numerically literate type at another MRU on what the actual agreement entails in the here-and-now:

There are no cuts to this years federal budget. For the one that start Oct 2011 there will be a cut of $21 billion. The total budget this year is 3.4 trillion (that includes entitlements). So, if my arithmetic is correct the cut is about 0.6 of 1 percent! If one takes only discretionary spending of $1.3 trillion then the cut is 1.6%. And my guess is that this cut is not to be taken to the actual budget but to the “inflation adjusted budget” which will be up about 3%, so there is probably a net increase planned for the discretionary budget of over 2% and an increase of the entitlement budget of over 5%. So the whole thing is smoke and mirrors. All of the rest of the changes are back loaded to “later” or to “after there is a committee agreement’.. The theatre will continue.

I have not checked these numbers myself — I don’t have the arithmetic sheet from this source, only his conclusion.  But it tracks the CBO analysis (link to the CBO analysis (PDF) at the bottom of that page), and it is being incorporated into green eye shade-jaundiced  views of the economy.

 

I might go so far as to say as that Obama fellow may not be quite so dumb as he looks. Doesn’t alter the message problem, nor the inherent danger-and-tragedy of double digit unemployment (viewed from the wider perspective).  But given the hands to be dealt, it does not appear that Obama is quite the terrible poker player that some of us — myself on occasion certainly included — have believed him to be.

Image:  Edgar Degas, Arlequin danse, c. 1890

August 4, 2011

So, just to follow up last night’s post, here’s my first attempt to be heard on what might come of the Catfood Commission redux the new joint Congressional committee on debt reduction:

Dear Senator Reid,

I write to ask you to commit to appointing as members of the so-called “Super Congress” committee on debt reduction only Democrats committed to revenue raising and tax reform as an essential, non-negotiable part of the deal.

We’ve already heard from your counterparts in the GOP:  they will appoint only those who oppose any tax revenue in the final package.  That’s both bad (disastrous) policy and bad politics for any Democrat.  We need to counter with strength the other side’s scorched-earth approach to every political dispute.  Right now, that means a committee composed of people who will not give on what both our country and our party desperately needs:  powerful voices defending the idea that when our country needs help, everyone, including (especially) the richest and most fortunate among us must rise to the occasion.

Don’t treat this as business as it used to be usual, where you could sit down with your counterparts and cut a reasonably equitable deal.  If the events of the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that those days are gone.

Act accordingly, or the country and our political fortunes as Democrats in 2012 will suffer terribly.

I don’t say it’s great prose, but of course, anyone who wants to grab any of it is more than welcome.  Reid’s contact page is here.  The GOS’s piece on this, from which I got that contact, is here.

Volume counts, both in decibels and amount.  So in your copious spare time, write the notes — to your own senators (Democrats on this issue, of course), representatives, the leadership, the White House, your local newspapers and so on.

A last thought:  several commenters in the thread from last night expressed some variation on the “it-doesn’t-matter because either the two parties are functionally the same, or the Democrats must necessarily cave/lose” theme.

Maybe so, but if ever there was a self-fulfilling prediction, that is one.

Image:  Gerard von Honthorst, Solon and Croesus, 1624.

Won’t Get Fooled Again…and Again.

August 3, 2011

As readers of this blog know all too well, the debt ceiling “cuts” just passed are, for the most part, much less than meets the eye, particularly in the immediate future.  But, of course, the debt isn’t the issue and never was.*

No. Not even in a little bit.

Rather, all of the last month or so was a set up for this:

Thousands of Tea Party movement activists are expected to descend this month on town hall meetings across key battleground states as part of an intensifying campaign ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Their priority is a plan to slash Medicare costs proposed by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which could gain momentum now that a debt-limit deal between President Barack Obama and Congress has made potential Medicare cuts a centerpiece of the deficit debate.

A new congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by November 23 is expected to focus on Medicare, and the program would see automatic cuts if the committee failed to reach agreement, or if Congress did not approve its recommendations by December 23. Market values of companies that depend on Medicare spending fell more than 10 percent in a sell-off on Wall Street after the agreement.

“The August town halls are going to be, potentially, a referendum on Democrats who don’t care and Republicans who’ve dared to offer real policy solutions, particularly on things like entitlements,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the small-government advocacy group organizing the initiative.

Freedom works is, of course, this grass-roots organization.

Which means that one can readily translate the phrase, “real policy solutions” as “transfer payments from most of America to the richest few.”

But of course, these are the serious people in this discussion.  Just ask them:

“The Ryan plan is the only one out there so far, and what we need is an adult conversation with all politicians talking about the real issues,” [said Kibbe]

Yeah:  like those adult conversations that attended the discussion of health care last time around.

Also, note the big lie at the heart of this claim:  (a) that the Ryan is a “policy solution” despite the fact that it neither saves any real money on either the budget nor in health care spending society-wide  (as opposed to federal spending on health care);  (b) that it is the only plan out there; and (c) that it has anything to do with fiscal prudence.

Not exactly, as Jon Chait writes at the link above,

…this more modest deficit reduction would mask a very large redistribution of wealth–and not the kind Republicans always accuse Democrats of trying. The tax cuts, which include reductions in the top rate, would overwhelmingly benefit the rich. The spending cuts, which include a huge reduction in Medicaid spending, would primarily affect the poor.

So calling the House Republican plan a deficit reduction scheme is a very misleading description of its likely effect for the first decade. You’re better off calling it a regressive redistribution plan that happens, as a side effect, to reduce deficits by a small amount. Or you can just call it “flimflam,” like Paul Krugman did.

And, of course, that’s what has always been the goal:  to repeal the New Deal, and transfer to the kind of folks funding Greedhead Freedom Works all the wealth thus no longer wasted on the undeserving poor, the middle class, and, hell, just about everybody.

So: our job is to show up, and shout — in person, in letters to the editor, and in communication to our representatives, relevant committee chairs and the White House:  no tax cuts in any deal.  Tax reform as a 1-1 or better fix for the deficit reduction to which we are now, sadly and prematurely, committee;  and touch neither Medicare/Medicaid nor Social Security.

We need to say it over and over again:  cost controls as part of a Medicare reform package are fine (as Krugman himself argued for in the first round of Ryan nonsense).  Amazingly, that’s just what happens to be one of the major ideas within the one truly serious policy plan out there on this subject, the health care reform package already passed.  It’s why IPAB exists, for one thing, and it’s why, as David Leonhardt pointed out, President Obama and his allies constructed a health care approach that turns on taxation of the rich to cover the cost of a program vital to the middle class and the poor.**

I urge everyone who has raced to conclude that Obama is no better than the GOP alternatives to go back to that Leonhardt piece and remember why that’s simply bullsh*t.

Obama, for all his errors and his damnably frustrating inability to make the bully pulpit ring, believes in the New Deal.  He grasps the importance of economic equity not simply as a matter of justice, but as a hard pragmatic necessity if we are to create a sustainably wealthy society.  He has defended the importance of government and governance in the maintenance of truly civil society.  Your modern GOP does not accept any of that.

I remember trying and failing to talk Naderite friends out of their “the two parties are the same” nonsense in 2000.  We cannot survive doing that to ourselves in 2012.  And, just to get started, this summer we’ve got to shout down those who shout to sell out our parents, our children, our communities and ourselves to fund the mansions of the rootless rich.

*except for the truly credulous.

**BTW — one of the best pieces of media news of the last several years is that Leonhardt will take over the Washington bureau of The New York Times as of this fall.  He’s in the Village but not of it, and if he leads the Washington coverage of the Times as well as he’s performed on his own economic beat, that’s a very good thing.

Image Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Schlemihls [A Loser] in the loneliness of the room, before 1938

Oh, And Another Thing

August 2, 2011

The price tag for Teahadism on the debt (and John Boehner’s week of kabuki in the House)?

$1.7 billion in extra interest to be paid on this week’s auctioned T-bills, at rates inflated over the prior weeks due to the feral craziness of our friends on the right.

You can pick the program of choice, but to take an federal expenditure I particularly value, that sum would amount to a 25% increase in NSF funding over 2010 levels, now forever forgone.*

Thanks, clowns.

*and yes, I do understand the difference between interest over the life of a loan and a one-year appropriation; this comparison is for scale purposes only.

Image:  Francisco de Goya, The dream of reason produces monsters.  1799 (Per Becca’s suggestion here.)