There has, for a long time, been a sort of split mind relationship between the Republican Party and the elderly. A huge portion of the Tea Party movement in 2010 were older Americans. A disproportionate number were men. And they were all angry.
Aside from their overt hostility toward government spending, one other factor united these angry elderly men. They were the beneficiaries of government spending.
There was some humor in the inherent contradictions. Signs were held:
Keep your government hands off my Social Security.
But the anger remains. And it has a hidden coherence that is not immediately apparent.
The most above board part of that is seen in the re-emergence of the Paul Ryan plan for doing away with Medicare as we know it. Political Correctness dictates the "as we know it" part of eliminating Medicare. The details are not yet available of Paul Ryan version 3.0, but most expect it to be a tighter version of 1.0 and 2.0 and the mini-versions that came between. It will replace Medicare "as we know it" with a voucher system.
Here are your coupons, here's a telephone book, good luck in finding a private plan that will give you enough medical coverage. The plan tends to shift increasing costs onto seniors without doing anything to reduce those costs.
Republicans have sold this approach in two ways.
First, private insurance is more efficient. After all, you wouldn't want your medical well being to be determined by the Post Office or Motor Vehicle Bureau. The only difficulty with this approach is that it is based on a documented falsehood. Medicare has proven itself to be the most efficient health care program in existence. In fact, when Republicans managed, some years ago, to wedge into Medicare a sort of sub-program of privatization called Medicare Advantage, it turned out to be phenomenally expensive with no appreciable gain in quality.
The second selling point in privatization was aimed directly at seniors and those about to become seniors. The new improved program of coupons was so good, so beneficial, so efficient, that it will not apply to you.
That was the selling point:
It's SO good, it won't apply to you. What a great deal!
An early proposed version of universal healthcare was a simple extension of Medicare to pretty much everyone. It would be cheaper, provide more benefits, and cover all God's children. But conservatives were so opposed that Democrats, still entranced by the spirit of compromise, stepped all over it and ended up with a more complex, although still workable, system we know and love as Obamacare.
There is a way to squeeze an intellectual pattern from the angry old man version of contemporary conservatism. It is the only squeeze that makes sense to this aging man. We might call it preservation of deserved positional prosperity.
We deserve our position in society. We deserve our benefits. For some of us, it is because we've worked hard all our lives and played by the rules. For others it may be because we are God's chosen elite. It's a sort of mom-always-liked-me-better-than-you syndrome. Would we be so fortunate if God didn't love us a little better than those down a few rungs?
We may as well face the truth. For some of us, the fact that so many of those a few rungs down are of a darker skin color is a valued feature of the status quo.
This sort of regard for other human beings as our inferiors affects issues from breakfast programs for hungry school kids to immigration to unemployment. At its worst, it is a sign that the malignancy of racism is with us still. Journalist and author Darrell Dawsey described it as the uncomfortable feeling that somewhere, somehow, some black person may be getting away with something.
But just as often, I suspect, what motivates "the base" is an affirmative desire to preserve our position relative to others. I believe it is implicit, hidden in plain sight, in most Republican public policy positions.
Allowing more folks in, undeserving folks, folks not like us, including those people will not detract from our well being. In fact it will put us in a better position.
A better position. But not a better comparative position.
Being well cared for feels far better if others have no care at all.
It certainly didn't look good for Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Allegations that he had provided special, very special, constituent services to a wealthy individual in exchange for very special services in return had been posted on the website of the extreme conservative group, The Daily Caller. The story quoted a written account by an underage Dominican girl alleging that she had been enticed to a sexual relationship with the Senator. The tryst had, she said, been arranged by the wealthy donor.
Most reputable organizations avoided the story. The were no sources with the exception of The Daily Caller. It could not be said to be a legitimate news story. With no evidence, it was nothing more than gossip. Still, word was getting around.
Then the Senator denied the story. It was, he said. the fictitious imaginings of a single blog, a fair description of The Daily Caller. The Senator's public statement made the story legitimate enough to begin the publishing rounds.
A lot of allegations had circulated about Senator Menendez over the years. He had started out as the anti-corruption mayor of Union City, a fair sized municipality in New Jersey. But, after his election to the Senate, word started going around that he had turned. He became the target of investigations. Most faded away, with allegations not proven or, at times, shown convincingly to be false.
In 2006, Karl Rove launched investigations against Democrats in a number of states. Several federal prosecutors were fired when they refused to take action on accusations they concluded were groundless. In Alabama, Rove got a criminal investigation started against the Democratic Governor. The governor had managed to get a campaign donor to volunteer for a non-paying charity chairmanship. The governor said he had appealed to the donor's sense of civic duty. The donor and the governor became the subjects of investigation. The Democratic governor eventually went to jail.
Menendez was the target of one such investigation, by one of the federal prosecutors who was not fired. This involved a rental deal with an organization receiving federal funds. Federal investigations are usually kept pretty quiet before elections. That is to avoid the appearance of a purely political prosecution. But news was leaked, and headlines carried the news. Menendez was re-elected, and the investigation petered out.
A few years before that, an FBI agent revealed that at least some allegations against Menendez were generated by the Cuban government. Apparently, some of Menendez' public stands against Fidel Castro had irritated the aging dictator.
So it became largely a matter of conjecture. It was possible the Senator was corrupt. It was plausible that the stories had been started by sources who had their own motives.
But this was different. This involved an underage girl. It involved an account on video. It involved a salacious story that could now be published in the mainstream press. And, finally, it involved an FBI investigation.
The original story was somewhat problematic. The Daily Caller said they had relied on a tipster. The FBI could not find that source.
Then police in the Dominican Republic came through with a break of their own. They found the underage prostitute. The woman provided testimony that she had never met the Senator. She had been paid by a lawyer to make the story up.
At this point, it would be wise to take a wait-and-see attitude. She had evidently lied at least once. Which story was true?
Except the story didn't end there. The lawyer who had hired her confessed to police. He named another lawyer who had approached him. Police are on his trail.
It does seem certain that someone broke the law in a horrible way, most probably in a different way than it first appeared.
So it looks as if the good Senator is shown to be innocent of the most licentious parts of the accusation. There are some issues concerning the relationship of Senator and donor, but they could end up being without foundation as well.
A few conservative activists tend to make us skeptical of the investigative genre to which they belong. Breitbart.com has provided enough examples of disreputable stories based on falsified, heavily edited, video productions to last for a long time. People have been fired. At least one organization, ACORN, was destroyed. Falsification has been successful.
The Daily Caller, although it is the blog Senator Menendez described, is a bit more than a typical site. It was started by Tucker Carlson the nationally known public figure, and Neil Patel, a former aide to Vice President Cheney. Their stories have grown more extreme, bordering at times on the absurd. Absurdity is not the equivalent of criminality.
The entire story will unfold in the fullness of time. Until then, we must give to Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, the conservative activists whose site pushed the charges against Senator Menendez, the benefit of the doubt.
We are constrained by human decency give to them the benefit they most eagerly chose not give to the junior Senator from New Jersey.
This isn't really about myths concerning whatever financial hostage crisis is playing out at the moment. There is something to be learned about what journalists consider to be fair.
This past week CNN and the Washington Post came out with competing articles about sequester myths. CNN's Jeanne Sahadi brings us 4 myths about the spending cuts. Not to be outdone, the Washington Post brings out Five myths about the sequester by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.
About a year and a half ago, CNN's Jeanne Sahadi raised some eyebrows with an article that went a little beyond the he-said-she-said style, truth-is-always-in-the-middle standard of journalism that prevails today. She wrote kind of about the debt ceiling crisis. It wasn't as much about the debt ceiling - whether or not the United States would pay its bills - as it was about how politicians were using the debt ceiling for other things.
Now the debt ceiling used to be a pretty routine thing. A law was passed in 1937, for reasons that remain obscure. It said that if the US borrowed money from bond holders in order to pay bills that Congress had incurred, it had to get permission from Congress again. That was a harmless redundancy for many years. You bought it. Now will you pay for it to avoid having your credit and the economy ruined?
The answer was always, well duh.
Jeanne Sahadi skipped all that. But what she skipped to was interesting. She started with this:
A lot of politicians are weighing in with demands before they'll support raising the debt ceiling.
Then she went on to document how a few of the demands were a bit goofy. Goofy was how the headline described them. One was that the National Labor Relations Board be defunded, at least to some extent. Some folks don't like anyone guarding workers against unfair labor practices. Slashing funding for kids, old folks, and the disabled were among the demands. Reducing regulations on businesses was another demand. So was a balanced budget amendment.
Sarah Palin demanded that a Democrat from Alaska vote against the debt ceiling unless environmental threats be ignored so that drilling could take place in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
All of the demands were made by Republicans. It made people pretty mad. Not the practice of making unrelated demands while the economy was held hostage. What made people mad was the article about the practice of making unrelated demands while the economy was held hostage. That was because it implied that Republicans were responsible for actions of ... well ... Republicans.
Well, once burned, twice shy, right?
This week's effort erred on the side of caution.
Here's how the first myth - Myth 1 - Obama is to blame for the spending cuts - was answered. No, she says, everybody is to blame. She documents this by pointing out that everyone eventually signed the law. Who was actually demanding spending cuts for society's vulnerable and who was defending against them were unmentioned. She wound up with this:
Since then neither party has made a serious effort to meaningfully negotiate a sequester replacement with their colleagues across the aisle.
That link goes to an article blasting, of course, both sides for the debacle. The key to the article was one sentence: "Democrats criticized Republicans for not even sticking around when the cuts start coming; Republicans, in turn, blasted Democrats for not stepping up to do more to reign in spending."
See how that worked out? Two facts are presented.
One is that Democrats accuse Republicans of adjourning Congress in the middle of the crisis. Now a lot of folks might see this as something that could be easily documented as fact.
The other is that, although Democrats have already cut spending, Republicans say they haven't done enough.
So on one side, we have an accusation that the other side should do more. On the other side we have what is considered an accusation, an easily documented fact that people won't even stay in town to attempt a resolution.
So both sides are to blame. Right?
And, of course, this cascades down to Jeanne Sahadi's article. So, according to her balanced approach, "neither party has made a serious effort". Drill down and you see that one side has left town while accusing the other side of not doing more on their own.
The premise of modern journalism is honored. Both sides are to blame.
Both sides are always to blame.
The other article, the one in the Washington Post is written by a couple of outsiders, who have already been blasted for proposing that both sides are not always to blame for everything. Together, they have, in the past, proposed looking at facts, concluding that much of Congressional gridlock is due to Republican obstructionism.
So, this past week, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, a Democratic leaning liberal and a Republican leaning conservative, also take on a series of myths, one of which happens to be the same myth: "Blame Obama — the sequester was his White House’s idea."
And they also conclude that both sides have some responsibility.
They begin with "In our view", a disclaimer that CNN might be wise to consider for non-factual pieces. They end up at the same destination as CNN, but by a different route. They take the reader on a brief tour of what actually happened. They name names, dates, events, and amounts. And they do it in sequence.
And so we have two stories that look the same but reflect very different journalistic standards.
The myth-busting story: Both sides share responsibility.
Ornstein and Mann have it as a documented conclusion.
CNN has it as an unsupported premise.
How very Ornstein and Mann.
How very, very CNN.
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, March 3, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
Jesus died for us
Nothing in our lives is more important.
There is no accomplishment as significant.
There is no kindness as meaningful.
There is no crime that can overrule,
no sin that can overcome
this single article of faith.
This is the foundation
on which our faith is based.
This is the rock on which our lives are built.
The hidden worth inside of us is affirmed.
The value of all God's children is proven.
God so loved the world, we are worth saving.
Jesus died for us.
Found on Line:
Choir Of Kings College, Cambridge
Joe Hagstrom at Mad Mike's America observes the strange episode of Bob Woodward and the White House threat cleverly disguised as a friendly apology. It actually kind of reminds me of another great man..
News Corpse also takes a look at the Woodward controversy, examining the exact nature of the threat as uttered by a mild mannered economist. Personal note: Last night was a little icy here in St. Louis. I warned my wife, as she left to run some errands, to be careful, lest she skid into danger. Oddly, she was not offended by my threat.
Max's Dad is in awe that Woodward's delicate sensibilities could detect the subtlety of such a threat. At least the little economist didn't have a lethal weapon. . . like a flyswatter.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite adds to the ongoing scandal, revealing that he was also threatened by the White House, and in a way that was eerily similar to the threat against Woodward. Is there a pattern here?
The Heathen Republican does a creditable job of educating us on judicial review, talking us from Marbury v Madison onward. It is much more interesting than it might have been in the hands of a less capable writer. Heathen includes his own reactions to a few objections by historical figures throughout history. No mention of the current inadvertent intellectual challenge to judicial competency in the person of Justice Antonin Scalia, who views the right to vote as a "racial entitlement."
Infidel 753 is mildly hopeful about the election rebuke by Italian voters against Europe's disastrous austerity policy. It happens to be the same policy urged upon the United States by misguided conservatives.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST, expresses a bit of impatience with the story behind the story of the sequester hostage crisis.
Advocates of unrestricted gunplay often propose that widespread gun ownership makes society safer. Last Of The Millenniums observes the idea in practice as a gun owner goes after a shoplifter. Lots of pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders get in the way of street justice. Fortunately, they all survive.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot finds cautionary lessons in the problems and eventual recovery during yesterday's space launch.
- PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, suggests that experimental studies in evolutionary psychology are hopelessly flawed because their subjects come from of select and unrepresentative group of the weirdest people in the world.
I was a lot younger then, visiting my parents in St. Louis.
My dad loaded the kitchen dishwasher as we talked, and was about to put it through its cycle. He took a bottle of soap to fill the container when I stopped him.
"That's not for dishwashers," I said.
He read the label. "Sure it is. It says it right here" He showed it to me. "Dishwashing Liquid" was on the label.
"You can do that if you want," I said, "but I don't think you'll like what happens."
He would tell the story for months afterward, laughing at the way I was warning him. "You can do that if you want, but I don't think you'll like what happens." The story ended with a room filling with suds as he and I retreated.
I am now about the age he was when he died. It seems unnatural that a man can be older than his father. A friend who had lost a parent once asked me how long it took me to recover after my father died. I answered him, "I'll let you know."
Occasionally some memory will come to me in otherwise ordinary conversation. I'll tell people of a phrase or incident from those often happier days. I explain to friends that, in my life, I have known perhaps five truly great figures. My dad was three of them.
I miss him terribly. One of the many things I miss is his ability to laugh at his own misadventures. Self-deprecation came from some inner self-confidence, I think.
I thought of my dad as I read about Bob Woodward's account of the discomforting threats made to him by an overbearing administration. One of Obama's minion's actually put it into print: "you will regret" making the claim that President Obama had "moved the goalposts" in budget negotiations with Republicans,insisting on revenue increases from the very wealthy, increases he had promised not to seek.
Politico.com obtained the emails to which Woodward was referring. The culprit turns out to have been Gene Sperling, an economic advisor to President Obama. Apparently, Sperling had had a heated argument with Woodward. His email was a follow up. In it, Sperling apologized for raising his voice in the heat of an argument. He acknowledged that Woodward had problems with some White House statements, but proposed that the reporter was mistaking the trees for the forest. Then came the statement:
"But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."
He then outlined why the regret would eventually come. It seems Woodward would be proven incorrect. Sperling outlined the history of the negotiations. No promise had been made to relent on taxing the wealthy. No such promise had been implied. Sperling was brief but thorough. He quoted chapter and verse, reciting events in context. "Not out to argue and argue on this latter point," he said. "Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously."
He finished by apologizing again for his earlier anger.
Woodward responded graciously. No apology was needed.
"Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob"
As threats go, it strikes me as a bit tame.
The source of Woodward's irritation with the administration seems to go a bit deeper than his forest-and-trees interpretation of Obama's attempts last year to get Republicans to back away from crashing the economy. It should seem obvious, even to Woodward, that suggesting a prior GOP demand be modified, making that proposal in response to a dire threat to the nation's well being, is hardly a voluntary instigation of the sequester.
There has to be more to it.
He outlined, I think, the true source of his impatience in a television interview. "Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying, 'Oh, by the way, I can't do this because of some budget document?'"
“It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition,” he writes. “But presidents work their will — or should work their will — on important matters of national business … Obama has not.
The principle of Presidents working their will is a hook on which to hang a more general journalistic practice of reflexively casting blame on all concerned. When there is any contention, the premise is that truth must be between. One side says 1 + 1 = 2, the other side says 1 + 1 = 8. Impartial journalists will offer the public the actual truth: 1 + 1 = 5.
In this case, Woodward implicitly acknowledges that Republicans are seeking government by tantrum. Woodward is a patriot and so is angry at everyone equally. The President is equally to blame for not "working his will."
It is a Star Wars fantasy applied to a constitutional republic. The President waves his hand and says "These are not the droids you're looking for." Tea Party Republicans, in unison, respond "These are not the sequesters we're looking for."
It is a recurrent message from Republicans, as well as mainstream journalists who value balance above facts. Conservatives have often attacked the President for not keeping his promise to bring bipartisanship to Washington. He hasn't succeeded in getting us to work with him, say Republicans. He must be a failure, because we continue to refuse his overtures.
Bob Woodward is a legend. Having Robert Redford make a movie about you is an honor even Robert Redford will never achieve. Okay, that's only if Redford never goes autobiographical on us.
The exchange of memos and Woodward's follow up accusation makes me think of my dad. I regret the serious threat I made. I had not realized my offense until now.
I honestly thought I was just warning him about the coming tsunami of soap. It took Bob Woodward to make me realize I was issuing a threat.
John Randolph, a Senator from Virginia in the early 1800s, was quite a character. He would get mad and insult people, sometimes entertainingly. Before he became a Senator he was a member of Congress where he once accused Henry Clay of "crucifying the Constitution and cheating at cards." That makes me imagine what a modern equivalent might be. O.J. Simpson is a murderer and cheats at golf? Ohio's Jon Husted conspires to deprive people of their voting rights and is also a Republican?
The story is that Clay got mad and challenged Randolph to a duel. That was a bit of a mistake. Besides insulting folks, Randolph had another hobby. He liked shooting people. And he was better at shooting than he was at insult.
So he and Clay faced each other. But before the dueling started, Randolph fumbled a bit and accidentally fired into the ground. That gave Clay a clear shot. But Clay allowed that it was a mistaken shot and both men lined up and fired. They both missed, but Clay's coat was a little worse for wear. A bullet had gone through it. They lined up to fire again. This time, Randolph raised his pistol and shot into the air. So Clay declined to shoot and they shook hands and made up.
It's hard to imagine such sportsmanlike conduct on a dueling range without contemplating how utterly dumb the entire ceremony was, even allowing for differences in custom. Were these guys entirely without any sense?
I got to thinking about John Randolph as I heard accounts of yesterday's arguments before the Supreme Court. At issue was Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That is the section that says that certain parts of the country have had a relatively recent history of depriving people of the right to vote. So any change in voting arrangements, tightening requirements, changing polling places, that sort of thing, have to be run past the Department of Justice. They have to be satisfied that changes won't be some disguised attempt to keep minorities, or anyone else, from casting a legitimate vote.
The voting rights act was not a reaction to some bit of ancient history. That history is, in fact, well within the memory of many of us. The most routine methods were simply silly. Prospective voters were made to demonstrate math skills by telling registrars how many jellybeans were in a large jar. Literacy tests were about obscure parts of the Constitution. How many witnesses are required to bring forth a charge of treason? That sort of thing. White folks were grandfathered in, allowed to bypass such obstacles because their parents or grandparents had a voting history, or because prominent citizens would sign papers on their behalf.
It wasn't all fun and games, seeing who could devise the goofiest tests. Tests were scheduled only during working days. Employers were notified that their employees were acting out by trying to register. Citizens Councils paid friendly visits to employers who did not crack down on such absenteeism. And, of course, violence was a constant.
"Strange fruit" was more than a song. It described the bodies that decorated trees. Other victims simply vanished in swamps or earthen dams, some discovered years later.
Under the Voting Rights Act, some practices calculated to impact black people or Latinos have been overturned. Restrictive photo requirements that force folks to pay multiple visits to distant offices were stopped. Voting days on weekends that working people have traditionally used to cast their ballots, were eliminated, then opened again. In some urban areas, polling times were restricted, while rural or suburban areas were to be kept open. This was also overturned in Ohio.
Some obstacles were kept in place. Time consuming practices that cause long lines in minority communities caused voters to wait in line for 5 hours or more. Hundreds of thousands of voters in Florida alone had to give up and return to families.
Those who are pushing to have voting rights legislation overturned make two arguments.
One is that times have changed. Things are far better than they once were. There is no need for such strict watchdog requirements. Let us treat minorities how we will. We can be trusted now.
The other is the argument of regional discrimination. We who are being guarded, watched for signs of voting discrimination, are not doing anything that at least some other communities are not doing to their minority voting populations. And those other places are operating their will without federal interference.
It appears the court will overturn Section 5. At least that's the way comments made during oral arguments make it appear. The leader, as is often the case, is Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia often takes positions that lesser minds might quickly abandon.
A few years back years ago he explained to an interviewer that torture by police is Constitutional. The Constitution prohibits Cruel and Unusual punishment. As long as a suspect is legally innocent, there is nothing to punish. Torture is not punishment unless there is a conviction for a crime. Only after a guilty verdict is announced, does torture become unconstitutional.
He argued to overturn a verdict against a mega-corporation for an informal policy of discrimination against women. Orders had been given that women were not to be considered for promotion. There was a written policy for show forbidding discrimination, but management was documented to be continually overriding it. Scalia cast his vote based on that written policy. His reasoning was a bit unusual. If the written policy is real, you can't sue the company for not having a policy it actually has. And if the policy is not real, then the company has no policy. You can't sue a company for a policy that does not exist. Just because a million individual decisions happen to fall the same way is no reason to suspect a pattern of discrimination:
"Here respondents wish to sue about literally millions of employment decisions at once."
He told a law school audience that discrimination against women and gays and minorities was completely constitutional. The plain language of the 14th Amendment might say otherwise, but applying it was what he called "a modern invention"
When innocent people were convicted, then exonerated in Louisiana, they sued. Evidence that would prove they were innocent had been hidden by prosecutors for years. One man was nearly executed. Scalia voted against them. His reasoning was that there was no pattern of hiding evidence of innocence because the evidence being hidden was different evidence in each case.
Yesterday, Justice Scalia brought to us another example of his intellectual brilliance. He spoke about Section 5, the section that prevents certain governments from keeping minorities from voting, if those governments have an unfortunate history. He called the provision a "perpetuation of racial entitlement."
Yup. That's what he said. His reasoning was that support for the Voting Rights Act was overwhelming. In fact, the last time it was passed, nobody in the Senate voted against it. The fact that everyone thought it was needed is strong evidence that it is not needed.
Kind of Catch 22. If it had enough opposition so it couldn't be passed, it would have meant it was needed. But most folks thought it was needed, so it isn't needed.
And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement.
What struck observers was the part of that argument that followed the since-everyone-thinks-it's-good-therefore-it's-bad logic. When the good Justice uttered one phrase, "perpetuation of racial entitlement," there was an audible, unified gasp in the room. That sort of noise is unheard of as argument are made.
So was that phrase as it is applied to the right to vote. The right that so many suffered for, that so many died for, is not a racial entitlement. It is an entitlement, period. And it ought to be protected.
Scalia's imaginative reasoning, and his startling conclusion that voting is a racial entitlement, are what reminded me of John Randolph, the Senator who loved to duel and loved to insult.
Randolph once wrote to Francis Scott Key about an opponent, Edward Livingston. He acknowledged the brilliance of Livingston's shining intellect, and compared it, poetically, to a sometime sight on fishing docks: the brilliant shine of mackerel in the moonlight. He called his target
"a man of splendid abilities."
He shines, Randolph said, "like rotten mackerel by moonlight",
"He shines and stinks."
The Democratic message on the coming sequester is simple and coherent: It is yet another conservative attack on the middle class and those struggling to make it into the middle class. It will have a devastating effect on children, the elderly, veterans, on pretty much everyone who relies on law enforcement, food safety, air traffic safety. The defense of our country is likely to suffer. You will be affected if you drive on interstate highways, if you have kids, if you care for aging parents, if you go to college, if you eat, or if you breathe. It will send us into another recession.
The Republican message is somewhat more diffuse. The sequester wasn't our idea. Democrats, for mysterious reasons, wanted to attack the poor and middle class while protecting the rich. We had nothing to do with it, except to vote for it reluctantly at the insistence of President Obama. It will be horrible for the economy, but it won't be all that bad, and it will be horrible for the economy. We should change it. We won't change it. And we are already taxing the extremely wealthy more than we ever should.
One variation has already been at play. Sequestration has, goes the story, been the President's idea all along. This story line got a bit of a boost via the legendary Bob Woodward. In an op ed piece he declared that the current sequester was the President's idea.
It is a claim that can be made very narrowly, but only with no context at all.
In fact, other carefully researched accounts by Woodward himself show a sequester, by another name, had already been demanded by Republicans. In fact, it has been a continuous demand with a narrow target: no defense cuts, no tax increases for anyone but the middle class and the very poor. All that would be cut would be programs such as law enforcement, teachers, food for little kids, meals-on-wheels, veteran's programs, and enforcement of bothersome regulations on food safety. Things that those very wealthy folks who happen to be entirely self-absorbed don't care much about, but which the rest of us either pretty much depend on for daily living, or which support people whose survival concerns us because we are ... you know ... human.
Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage. American jobs, a lot of American jobs, were threatened by Republicans for the purpose of attacking programs they had grown to hate, but which Americans had ratified with their votes. Woodward carefully documents the Obama counter-proposal: provide a workable deadline before we slash pretty much everything in a way that will be distasteful to Republicans lobbying for the wealthy, as well as Democrats working on behalf of the middle class. A compromise could be reached if there was motivation all around.
A number of observers have made a useful analogy. President Obama can be said to have proposed Sequester II only in the sense of a mugging victim explaining to the mugger that he left his wallet at home and offering his watch instead. If you have the ability to insist convincingly that making a present of the watch was the victim's idea, a number of criminals will want to hire you as defense council. Republicans cannot reasonably avoid responsibility for all versions of the sequester, including the current incarnation.
I made a similar, but far more entertaining, case just last week. Did I mention that it was entertaining? My presentation is a rebuke of sorts to those who sometimes forget that I am hilarious.
It does seem clear to some of us that the sequester carries Republican desires that go beyond a craving to reduce deficits. That craving was not expressed during the Bush administration. Evidence that health care expenses are decreasing with health industry anticipation of cost reduction incentives means little to conservatives. Those incentives that are reducing costs happen to be part of Obamacare. Republicans want to dismantle those incentives. There is strong evidence that the part of the deficit associated with the recession is fading with recovery. Means nothing.
The economic harm that will be caused by massive cuts is, to Republicans, a myth. Evidence that slashed spending during a recovery will kill that recovery, as is now happening in Europe, does not matter. My mind's made up. Don't bother me with economics.
Everything from meals-on-wheels for the disabled and the elderly to lunch programs for little kids will be affected. Public statements by a growing number of Republicans makes the conservative position increasingly transparent. Hurting those whom Republicans see as "takers" is not a bug, it's a feature.
However, there is a recognition among Republicans that some cuts will be profoundly unpopular. We have the public fury at Republicans during the GOP shutdown of government in 1995 to teach that lesson. All would work to the benefit of conservative principles if only there was some way to attack the poor and middle class, to attack national security, to attack jobs, to attack food supplies, to attack law enforcement, to attack the vulnerable, all without taking any responsibility. If Republicans could slash and burn essential services and find a way to blame Democrats, it would be a dream come true.
The dream team is hard at work.
There is a Republican move to accomplish just that.
House members are calling for a change to the coming sequester. No, they won't call it off. They won't raise revenues, either by raising taxes or by closing loopholes. Business executives will still be able to fly corporate jets tax free. What Republicans plan to change is the discretion the President can have in choosing which cuts to make.
If they simply offer a Sophie's Choice to the President, forcing him to decide which of the nation's vulnerable to hurt, which essential services to eliminate, which jobs to cut, they can have it all. They can have their cuts while blaming Democrats for the choices they force President Obama to make.
They demand that the President stand, front and center, before the blood soaked cutting board so, when voters begin to glare, fearless Republicans can hide, peeping from behind the tall, strong presence of their Commander-in-Chief.
Associated Press via KVUE in Austin, TX:
NEW YORK (AP) — Conventional wisdom holds that no one from the United States could be elected pope, that the superpower has more than enough worldly influence without an American in the seat of St. Peter.
But after Pope Benedict XVI's extraordinary abdication, church analysts are wondering whether old assumptions still apply, including whether the idea of a U.S. pontiff remains off the table.
Finding anyone whose judgment is to be considered infallible will be a heavy responsibility.
I was very proud of the fact that I didn’t get anything wrong that I said during the course of the debates. I didn’t get anything wrong and that’s a huge arena.
- Michele Bachmann on her Presidential campaign
In response to Burr Deming's John McCain and the Grieving Mother
I hope those organizations, and others who, as did I, simply accepted the story as one more example of conservative boorishness, share my reaction. I don't like breitbart tactics. I don't like smears.
I calmly contain a cold and icy fury at being misled.
- Burr Deming, February 25, 2013
First, let me say that I share with you a great distaste for anyone, regardless of political ideology, that intentionally edits dishonestly or purposely mischaracterizes what someone else said to further their own agenda – or for any other reason too.
That said, I must correct a statement that I am honestly certain you made in good faith, sir.
“A woman who had lost a son to an assault rifle during the theatre massacre in Aurora, CO, confronted Senator John McCain during a town meeting.”
No, my friend Burr, this woman did NOT lose her son to an inanimate object. She lost her son to some evil bastard that misused that inanimate object. I know lots of people that own inaccurately named “assault rifles” that are good people and have never killed anyone. Why don’t we work to make sure that felons, violent offenders, and the mentally ill don’t have access to ANY firearms and stop demagoguing the issue for political gain because some people are afraid and would rather give up their constitutional rights?
I, for one, am all for fixing the problem rather than offering politically motivated and completely useless "solutions" that even many in the anti-gun crowd acknowledge will not work. (At least those few that are intellectually honest about it, anyway.)
T. Paine, who often helps us out with opposing views, also writes for his own site, where solutions are proposed and demogoguing is kept to a minimum.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
I imagine my reaction was shared by all but the most rabid conservative ideologues on the face of the earth. A woman who had lost a son to an assault rifle during the theatre massacre in Aurora, CO, confronted Senator John McCain during a town meeting. When the shooting had begun, her son shielded his girlfriend with his body. One of the bullets then shattered his skull.
And now she wanted to know if Senator McCain would vote to ban such weapons.
I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States.
The crowd cheered McCain for telling her off.
It reminded me of the cold blooded reaction of one prominent conservative to the 9/11 families. Those who had lost loved ones in the collapsing buildings wanted answers. How had US security missed the plot? Conservatives were angry at the affront to President Bush. "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis," sneered one in print. "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
It reminded me of the cold and heartless reaction of many conservatives to Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan had been pestering President Bush for answers. She wanted to know why her son, Casey Sheehan, had died in Iraq. Why had we invaded that country?
Certainly there was room for disagreement with parents and spouses who had to have been profoundly affected by grief. Why wasn't there also room for compassion? Who among us would trade places with someone who had lost a loved one to violence?
Now, more than anything, the video of Senator McCain lecturing the grieving mother of an heroic son about "straight talk" reminds me of the late Andrew Breitbart and those who loyally carry on his work.
Breitbart, as we should recall, devoted at least part of his career as a conservative activist to publishing online heavily edited videos smearing innocent citizens for speaking to the wrong people, as did Shirley Sherrod, or speaking on the wrong topics, as did two professors here in Saint Louis. Splicing and dicing videos to make it appear that private citizens were saying the opposite of what they actually said was a mere tactic to Mr.Breitbart, just one more weapon in the good fight against the NAACP or against whatever liberal group was on his hit list. A professor or two, a teacher, a worker in the US Department of Agriculture, might be unjustly hurt. Some were fired. But that was simply the price that had to be paid for the greater good.
And the McCain incident also reminded me of an edited video of Michele Bachmann a couple of years back. Remarking on the bad weather, and how marching through rain and hail was no big deal for those marching in the service of the Lord, she yelled to a drenched crowd, "Do you like wet people?" A video was produced that showing part of her yell, with a helpful caption letting viewers know she was hollering in favor of white people.
You see, the television station that first aired the video on John McCain and his cold, icy cold, response to a grieving mother, KTVK in Phoenix, made a few editorial judgments. For the sake of time and a complete story line, they left out the beginning of McCain's answer:
Well, first of all can I say thank you and God bless … Our hearts and our prayers go out to you and your family. I just had a town hall meeting yesterday in Tucson and the people who were affected by the terrible, tragic shooting there.
I met with Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords in my office last week on this issue – as you know they are becoming, understandably, great advocates on this issue, and I will continue that conversation.
He went on to say that she would probably not be happy with what he had to say, but that he felt he owed her an honest answer. Then came what appeared on television news broadcasts across the nation. "I can tell you right now you need some straight talk."
At least one journalist I admire shrugged it off as a typical edit: "here’s the question, skip a bunch of blah-blah, here’s the answer."
Anyone can be taken in. Most news organizations will accept reports at face value to at least some extent. Rachel Maddow, in airing the video, shared a mild suspicion. She told her audience that it appeared the piece had been edited and that the edit may have been unfair to John McCain. She was the exception. Most folks just broadcast the story as it appeared.
I hope those organizations, and others who, as did I, simply accepted the story as one more example of conservative boorishness, share my reaction. I don't like breitbart tactics. I don't like smears.
I calmly contain a cold and icy fury at being misled.
Podcast: John McCain and the Grieving Mother
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, February 24, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
We worship the Creator of all that will ever be,
who created the land and the waters,
whose only son stilled those waters,
who quiets the troubled soul within each of us.
We pray to the one who can deliver us from evil:
to deliver us from the evil that dwells within,
to forgive, to heal,
to cast out sickness and shame,
to bind up the wounds of those we have hurt.
For God sees through the pretense,
through the weakness and guilt,
to what we cannot see within ourselves,
to the beauty and value
at the core of each of us.
We lift up high the cup of love,
and call upon the name of the one who loves us.
Found on Line:
The Cup of Love - based on Psalm 116
Written by Hal H. Hopson
Performed by the Arizona School for the Arts
At Palm Sunday Services, 2011
Phoenix First United Church of Christ
Unknown in January 2009 to newly elected President Barack Obama, and to everyone else, was that figures not yet compiled for the last quarter of 2008 would show an economy that had been shrinking at an annual rate of 3 percent. And not known until many months after that was that the 3 percent figure would be a mistake. As data came in, the figures were revised. The economy had actually been in a free fall of 9 percent. An economy contracting at a 9 percent rate is a very big deal. Deregulation, massive financial fraud, and a discredited economic policy were the root causes.
In the last quarter of 2012, the economy shrank again. This time the initial figures show one tenth of one percent. The trade deficit turns out to be far less than expected, so most experts think revisions will show that one tenth percent shrinkage is actually growth: very small growth, but growth. Still, the initial one tenth contraction is what was announced at the end of January, so that's what those who pay attention have noticed. The main causes of the slowdown have been a 22 percent reduction in defense spending; a massive layoff of such government workers as teachers, police officers and first responders; and a substantial reduction in business inventory.
The Heathen Republican joins, by proxy quotation, the joyful conservative glee at national economic pain. But Heathen also adds a peculiar conspiracy. It seems President Obama did not speak at all about the one tenth of a percent in his Inaugural Address, which occurred over a week before he, or anyone else, knew about the economic data which had not yet been calculated. I suppose you could call it a sort of telepathic coverup. Election loss has an unsettling effect on some minds.
Last Of The Millenniums explains one reason Republicans oppose renewing laws to protect women against violence. It's because conservatives want to protect white people against Native Americans. General Custer is unavailable.
Conservatives have been after President Obama's choice as Defense Secretary, conservative Republican Chuck Hagel. The main stated reason has been some sort of convoluted blame for Benghazi, but John McCain let slip that it was actually because Hagel had turned against the Iraq war, and criticized "his own people." His own people turn out to be Republicans, which is disappointing to those of more ecumenical disposition: shouldn't all us be his people? But that is not the only reason. Max's Dad reacts as conservatives attack Hagel for his association with a fictitious group. I suspect a conservative plot to put satirists out of business with public positions that cannot be parodied.
News Corpse also covers Hagel's ties to that fictional group, and the amazing reaction of the breitbart.com writer who broke the false story. He stands by his piece, which he also acknowledges to be phony. It's the tabloid standard: I didn't say it was true, I only said there were sources who said they talked with someone who said he heard it was true. Such is the current state of contemporary conservative thought.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite fame captures the moment as Senator McCain sternly lectures a woman whose son had the poor judgment to be among those murdered in an Aurora, Colorado, theatre. A conservative audience cheers him on. Take that, lady. Pretty much the direction of the GOP, I believe.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST, makes the case for compulsory national service. I'm not quite seeing a burgeoning movement here. On the other hand, I didn't think, at the time, that Obama had lost his first debate to Romney.
Conservative James Wigderson has more on his favorite crazy Wisconsin sheriff. Seems the sheriff was interviewed by a local wingnut, found the interview reported by a mainstream journalist and got a little irked by the coverage. James seems amused.
In addition to his hyper-talented writing, Vincent of A wayfarer's notes also has a keen eye for discovering off-the-beaten-path literary ability in others. He finds, and posts, a short piece of fiction about a train ride of an anti-Indian bigot who resents that he is, himself, a son of India.
- Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot goes poetic in his explanation of why engineering is a fun and joyful profession. It really is a beautiful piece. Warning: If you click the link, you may end up wondering how to join.
Supply Side theory was elegant in the simplicity of its logic. It was almost like a rebirth of Adam Smith in a different form. Best of all, this permutation offered what all of humanity wants: the ultimate free lunch. Under some conditions, you can cut taxes and expect an increase in tax revenue as a result.
It wasn't really a new idea. John Maynard Keynes, the very same economist that four generations of Republicans have hated, had proposed something similar over three quarters of a century ago.
But Professor Arthur Laffer is mostly credited with Supply Side. He dusted off the old idea and sketched it out over dinner for prominent Republicans in the 1970s.
The basics may be counter intuitive, but it comes together with some explanation:
If you tax income at zero, you get zero revenue from it.
If you tax income at 100%, a confiscatory tax, nobody has an incentive to work.
Duh and duh.
So you also get zero revenue.
Well, almost zero. There are some things folks do just because they like to do them:
Some writers love to write, for instance. Most bloggers blog with no compensation. Religious conservatives devote a great deal of time and effort condemning gay people, poor folks, and President Obama with very little actual income to show for it. Okay, I'm being snarky, and there are religious conservatives who do none of these things.
For the most part, people who earn an income do so because want the income. Take away the income, they would stop doing the things that create the income. Steel workers don't go to the mill for the happy experience of playing with their bessemers.
So a zero tax rate produces no income. A one hundred percent, confiscatory, tax rate produces no revenue, or very close to no revenue. That means the point at which the greatest amount of revenue will be produced is somewhere in between. Right?
Statisticians, and that includes economists, really love bell shaped curves. If there is a nice flowing line that goes higher as you go away from zero, and also goes higher as you go away from 100 percent, you would think it would be a bell shaped curve.
One problem is that there is no study that reveals such pristine data. That may be partly because there are no pristine situations that are not cluttered with other variables.
A one hundred percent tax rate occurred in slave days, since all income that slaves produced went to others. Yet slaves continued to work because non-monetary incentives were applied. Scars from those incentives can be seen in very old photographs from those times. Early Christianity was made up of societies in miniature, communes. Income went to the group. One biblical story tells of death, presumably because of guilt at holding out. So fear, force, loyalty to a group, and the promise of a better life in heaven can sort of disturb the pristine environment in which theory often must exist.
On the other side, zero percent of a lot of wealth does produce nothing. The zero turns out to be more likely than the lot of wealth that isn't taxed. Zero tax rates can be found in very few societies. Somalia comes to mind as one of those few. The anarchy that comes from a lack of any government larger than a Norquist bathtub tends to keep economic progress pretty low. Lack of police protection, no running water, minimal electricity, and lots and lots of unpaved roads tend to drive an economy downward.
There have been some attempts to research and graph something like a bell shaped curve of tax rates and revenue. So far that sort of correlation has been hard to document.
The bell shaped curve of a clean relationship remains theoretical.
Attempts to apply the supply side principle to the tax code of the United States have not met with sterling success. President Ronald Reagan convinced Congress to cut taxes on the very wealthy. The anticipation was that tax revenues would rise. They didn't. Eventually, President Reagan increased taxes on working Americans, and the lost revenue was made up.
That doesn't mean Supply Side theory is invalid. It could be that the bell shape does exist with a higher tax rate at the peak than President Reagan had imagined. That would mean that if President had raised taxes instead of lowering them on the very wealthy, tax revenues would have increased, but only up to that maximum point.
Supply Side theory, unsupported by evidence, is still an intuitive truth to economic conservatives. They have extended it beyond its original form. Instead of some high point in a bell shaped graph, we are told by at least some conservatives that the happy anticipated result of increased revenue is a universally reasonable expectation. There is no possible tax reduction that will not produce an increase in revenues.
Supply side theory, unsupported by evidence, has become theology.
The conservative response to the Reagan deficits of yesterday, and Obama deficits of today, is that they are caused by spending. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. The difficulty with that lesson is that a huge part of the Obama deficit is an obvious result, rather than a cause, of the economic catastrophe that overtook the United States near the end of the Bush Presidency.
For many of us, a government that helps those in sudden, unanticipated need, is a moral responsibility that comes with economic recovery.
There is another reason as well.
Unlike the muddy lack of documentation of Supply Side economics, the counter-intuitive theory of John Maynard Keynes from 75 years ago, has been reinforced by lots and lots of experience.
Keynes stated that if Investment exceeds Saving, there will be inflation. If Saving exceeds Investment there will be recession. One implication of this is that, in the midst of an economic depression, the correct course of action should be to encourage spending and discourage saving. This runs contrary to the prevailing wisdom, which says that thrift is required in hard times. In Keynes's words, "For the engine which drives Enterprise is not Thrift, but Profit."
- From the John Maynard Keynes website.
A switch in policies from austerity during the Hoover administration to mild stimulus under Roosevelt ended the downward direction and started a slow recovery. In 1937, a brief emphasis on austerity interrupted the recovery and brought a downturn. A massive stimulus brought about by the war effort of World War II broke the back of the Great Depression.
The Obama stimulus ended the downward spiral of the Republican recession. The last economic quarter that ended just before Obama took office showed an economic contraction of 3% a year. Nobody at the time realized that the shrinking was actually 3 times as bad. The stimulus was criticized at the time by keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman as far weaker than was needed. But it produced a continuous growth almost immediately. In the final quarter of last year, a slowdown in government spending caused a mini-recession.
But there is a more massive lesson of Keynesian economics that comes from where the opposite has been tried. In the European Union, the key word has been austerity. If we just reduce the crushing burdens of continuous deficits, the economy will recover.
At first, US conservatives pointed to Europe as the excellent example of recovery the United States ought to follow. They haven't been saying that for a while. Want to guess why?
The European experiment in cutbacks to battle recession has been derided by folks on my side of the spectrum. It is an attempt to starve the patient back to health. It is akin to a family facing hard times that cuts back on using the family car to get to and from work.
Like John Maynard Keynes, lo those generations ago, we observe that reducing deficits works during prosperous times. Recessions are cured, not caused, by increasing deficits. Cutting spending deepens recessions.
But conservative ideals prevailed in Europe. This week all that austerity brought a startling result. Britain's Financial Times carries the story.
It turns out that all the cutbacks during the recession has affected British economy. It has flattened it. But at least austerity has had an unexpectedly strong effect on Britain's deficit.
It has actually made it worse.
Yup. Austerity, all the cuts in spending, have increased Britain's deficit.
That actually was a bit of a shock. Two months ago, the Conservative government, in the person of chancellor George Osborne was crowing about reducing the deficit by a percent. That would be one percent. The economy was tanking, but if austerity was curing the deficit, surely economic recovery was just around the corner. One percent.
Turns out there was some accounting maneuvering at work in anticipation of annual revenues from corporations. Record global profits are a bit reduced in Britain as the economy continues to suffer. And the amount government gets in revenues is tanking along with the economy. So the part of government that keeps track of these things, the Office for Budget Responsibility, is projecting a worsening deficit.
Estimates by a variety of think tanks are forecasting a breathtaking 7% annual increase in deficits.
We hear pretty often from politicians that government ought to tighten its belt during hard times, just as families do. As policy, it looks like comparing government to families is - how to put this gently - stupid as all hell.
The Supply Side economic miracle of increasing tax revenue by cutting taxes never worked out. But the austerity economic miracle nobody thought was possible has materialized in Britain.
Slashing the deficit has increased the deficit.