Browsing the blog archives for January, 2012.


David Brooks Bites

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News Media

I regret that I’ve had to be working on something else today, because David Brooks is off the Oblivious Scale today. He has reached a level of cluelessness remarkable even for Brooks.

I mentioned a few days ago that Charles Murray has a new book out to complain po’ white folks is gettin’ as lazy and shiftless as th’ colored folk, an it’s all ’cause they’s losin’ their moral compasses.

Of course, they probably had to hock their moral compasses to keep their lights turned on. That said, let’s continue.

Brooks heaps praise on Murray’s book, saying “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.” And he buys into Murray’s argument that the white underclass is losing its connection to the traditional (e.g., white) culture they are supposed to be part of, which is why they are not as productive as they used to be. And rising income inequality is the result of this, not the cause.

Brooks simply dismisses any argument that economic injustice is tearing the country apart. In fact, Brooks blames the “liberal members of the upper tribe” for stoking the resentments of the lower classes, which to Brooks is the real cause of the problem. If the white trash lower classes would just work harder, and get married, they’d be living in the Hamptons, too!

And he concludes by saying we should all go to the same summer camp to get to know each other:

We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.

Un-freakin’-believable. There hasn’t been this much upper-class-twit obliviousness concentrated in one person since Marie Antoinette.

Fortunately Charles Pierce is back in the saddle, heaping all the snarky contempt on Brooks he richly deserves. I also love this comment from Zandar:

It’s like Brooks is some sort of Sisyphean device that has one purpose: to take any possible social paradigm observation, smash it with a sledgehammer, and reconstruct the bits in order to fit his god-awful worldview of bipartisanship, even if the pieces don’t fit and had nothing to do with the original observation in the first place, and he has to repeat that until the end of time. There are people that just don’t get it, people that don’t get it on purpose as satire, and then there’s David Brooks (who should be regularly harvested for the rich oil of contempt for anyone who makes less than six figures that he drips with) who somehow manages to make “not getting it” into an exciting new field of scientific endeavor. I’ve got a fiver that says if Brooks was jammed together with any actual American middle-class salt-of-the-earth family for more than 3 hours, there would be blood all over the carport and a Garden Weasel shoved in a very uncomfortable place upon his person.

First rate snark, Zandar. I salute you.

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Florida Primary

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Mittens, n00t, Religion, Republican Party

Nate is giving Mittens a 97 percent chance of winning the Florida primary today, so it’s all over but the votin’. The establishment, faced with a choice between Mittens and Newt, have now congealed around Mittens. Barring an intervention by God, Mittens will be the nominee.

However, word is that Newt is crazy/deluded/narcissistic enough to keep campaigning. I hope so; Mittens is such a crashing bore.

Speaking of the Great Gas-Passing Orifice — Newt’s latest contribution to our nation’s political discourse is another doozy —

The transcript, via Think Progress

GINGRICH: Now, I think we need to have a government that respects our religions. I’m a little bit tired about respecting every religion on the planet. I’d like them to respect our religion.

And what religion would that be, Newt? The Church of Asshattery? But you see why I would be sooo disappointed if Newt drops out now.

Newt says President Obama and Mittens have been waging a “war against religion,” most recently for not permitting the Catholic bishops to dictate the reproductive choices of their non-Catholic employees. Apparently this violates the bishops’ “freedom” to force their beliefs on people who don’t agree with them.

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Catholic Bishops: Boo Bleepin’ Hoo

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Women's Issues

I wish I had more time to write about the fact that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have their cinctures in a twist over the Obama Administration’s recent decision about birth control — namely, that Catholic institutions that employ non-Catholics have to provide birth control coverage under the health care law. I agree entirely with Nita Chaudhary and Shaunna Thomas, and also Digby, so go read what they said.

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Destructive Austerity

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economy, Obama Administration

Paul Krugman has a column and a blog post that ought to be read together. Both are about the way deficit hawkism are prolonging and worsening the recession, here and in Europe.

In “The Austerity Debacle” he writes that Britain climbed out of the Great Depression a lot faster than it is climbing out of the Great Recession. Same thing for Italy, Spain, and a lot of other European countries. And the reason they are having such a hard time is that today’s leaders threw the lessons of the past, including the lessons of the Great Depression out the window.

Britain, in particular, was supposed to be a showcase for “expansionary austerity,” the notion that instead of increasing government spending to fight recessions, you should slash spending instead — and that this would lead to faster economic growth.

This austerity was supposed to foster confidence, which was all that was needed.

Such invocations of the confidence fairy were never plausible; researchers at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere quickly debunked the supposed evidence that spending cuts create jobs. Yet influential people on both sides of the Atlantic heaped praise on the prophets of austerity, Mr. Cameron in particular, because the doctrine of expansionary austerity dovetailed with their ideological agendas.

Thus in October 2010 David Broder, who virtually embodied conventional wisdom, praised Mr. Cameron for his boldness, and in particular for “brushing aside the warnings of economists that the sudden, severe medicine could cut short Britain’s economic recovery and throw the nation back into recession.” He then called on President Obama to “do a Cameron” and pursue “a radical rollback of the welfare state now.”

Strange to say, however, those warnings from economists proved all too accurate. And we’re quite fortunate that Mr. Obama did not, in fact, do a Cameron.

My question is, why are beltway pundits so stupid? Do they start out that way, or is there something about Foggy Bottom that kills their brain cells?

Of course, many of ‘em, and the politicians too, really just want to get rid of “entitlement” programs, and the Great Recession gave them an excuse.

The blog post “Destructive Austerity USA,” shows how budget cuts to state and local governments have been hurting the economy.

It’s hard to overstate just how wrong all this is. We have a situation in which resources are sitting idle looking for uses — massive unemployment of workers, especially construction workers, capital so bereft of good investment opportunities that it’s available to the federal government at negative real interest rates. Never mind multipliers and all that (although they exist too); this is a time when government investment should be pushed very hard. Instead, it’s being slashed.

What an utter disaster.

But, you know what they say — it’s all President Obama’s fault. “They” are idiots, of course.

Update: The utterly pathetic libertarian drones at Cafe Hayek have no argument to refute what Krugman says, so they just lie:

In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman blames Britain’s economic woes on the British government’s alleged policy of “austerity.” Yet he offers no evidence that Her Majesty’s government is actually pursuing such a policy.

Here you go, pinheads:

U.K. Government Unveils Tough Austerity Plan : NPR (October 20, 2010)

UK Government Introduces Hardline Austerity Plan (October 20, 2010)

Pain of British Fiscal Cuts Could Inform U.S. Debate (April 14, 2011)

In the United States, the debate over how to cut the long-term budget deficit is just getting under way.

But in Britain, one year into its own controversial austerity program to plug a gaping fiscal hole, the future is now. And for the moment, the early returns are less than promising.

Retail sales plunged 3.5 percent in March, the sharpest monthly downturn in Britain in 15 years. And a new report by the Center for Economic and Business Research, an independent research group based here, forecasts that real household income will fall by 2 percent this year. That would make Britain’s income squeeze the worst for two consecutive years since the 1930s.

All of which has challenged the view of Britain’s top economic official, George Osborne, that during a time of high deficits and economic weakness, the best approach is to aggressively attack the deficit first, through rapid-fire cuts aimed at the heart of Britain’s welfare state.

George Osborne will stick to austerity programme despite halting output (July 23, 2011)

Osborne’s austerity program hits the rails (November 29, 2011)

His austerity plans cut far and fast. Osborne was told this would increase unemployment and it has. Increased joblessness has led to pronounced consumer pessimism. Shops are closing, putting more people out of work. Paying several hundred thousand more people unemployment benefits is driving up debt.

UK Sticking To Austerity Plan Despite GDP Drop – NASDAQ.com (5 days ago)

Cafe Hayek’s argument that Britain hasn’t really been engaged in an austerity program is that its budget deficit is still high and has gone higher. That’s because the bleeping austerity program isn’t working, you morons. More people out of work means two things:

1. Lower tax revenue
2. Higher spending

Duh. Of course, the crew at Hayek probably thinks the out-of-work Brits ought to just be allowed to drop dead in the streets, or should start eating babies.

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Mitt Romney’s Blood Money

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Mittens, Republican Party

Here’s another Mitt Romney Bain Capital video:

I’ve been checking this story out, and it appears to be all true. Basically: In 1989, while Mittens was CEO, Bain Capital bought a medical testing company called Damon Corporation. Bain took Damon public in 1991, and Mittens sat on the board of directors. Damon was sold to Corning in 1993 for a nice profit to Bain. Mittens personally made $473,000 on the deal, according to The Real Romney by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman.

Very soon thereafter the sale it was revealed that Damon had been under federal investigation, and in 1996 Damon pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud. They’d been over-billing Medicare for unnecessary tests. Federal prosecutors say that the over-billing was going on from 1988 to 1993, during the entire time the company was owned by Bain. The feds credited Corning for helping out the fraud; no word about Bain.

Today Mittens said he didn’t know about the fraud, but when he was running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 he said that he had “blown the whistle” on Damon and had taken steps to stop the fraud. There’s no indication that Bain did anything except send some lawyers over to review Damon’s Medicare billing practices, which appears to have gone nowhere. In any event, no Bain executive, including Romney, was implicated in the fraud.

If Mittens is the nominee, I doubt this will be the last we’ll hear of the Damon Corporation and Labscam.

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The Twilight of the Newt

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n00t

Nate Silver expects Mittens to win Florida, and conventional wisdom says that will effectively be the end of the contest. If true, we have only a few more days to snark about Newt. Unfortunately I am snarked out at the moment. Even Charles Pierce is out sick, and his replacement’s efforts fall a bit short on the coffee-snorting meter.

But if any of you are in the mood to snark, be my guest.

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Taxing Issues

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Democratic Party, Obama Administration, Taxes, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The Hill reports that Democrats in Washington may go after the “carried interest” tax loophole that gives preferential tax treatment to private equity executives. Some of them are even planning to push for a “Buffett rule” that anyone making seven figures a year pay at least 30 percent in taxes.

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll says 55 percent of Americans think the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes, and 52 percent think capital gains and investment income ought to be taxed at the same rate as wages. This is fruit ripe for plucking, one might say.

For years, the dominant argument on tax reform involved lowering marginal rates and closing loopholes. But the “loopholes” most likely to be targeted, Dems realized, are credits and deductions that benefit the middle class. (Oddly, after decades of alleged loophole cutting, GM still didn’t pay taxes last year. Funny how that works.)

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, so you know this is going to become a big campaign issue. For too long Republicans have gotten away with demagoguing the tax issue. But now recent events and public opinion favor Democrats. They’re coming to bat with the bases loaded, so to speak.

From the far reaches of the Crazy Land Fringe, Grover Norquist says that if the Bush tax cuts expire, President Obama could be impeached.

NORQUIST We’re focused on the fact that there is this Damocles sword hanging over people’s head. What you don’t know is who will be in charge when all of this will happen. I think when we get through this election cycle, we’ll have a Republican majority, [though] not necessarily a strong majority in the Senate, and a majority in the House. The majority in the House will continue to be a Reagan majority, a conservative majority. Boehner never has to talk his delegation going further to the right.

If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, I’m told that they could do an early budget vote—a reconciliation vote where you extend the Bush tax cuts out for a decade or five years. You take all of those issues off the table, and then say, “What do you want to do for tax reform?”

Then, the question is: “OK, what do we do about repatriation and all of the interesting stuff?” And, if you have a Republican president to go with a Republican House and Senate, then they pass the [Paul] Ryan plan [on Medicare].

NJ What if the Democrats still have control? What’s your scenario then?

NORQUIST Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach. The last year, he’s gone into this huddle where he does everything by executive order. He’s made no effort to work with Congress.

Overlooking the technicality that the House impeaches, not the Senate — the time has come to round up all of Grover Norquist’s whackjob ideas and drown them in a bathtub. He wants to make 2012 about tax cuts? Bring it on.

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No No Newt

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Mittens, n00t, Republican Party

I didn’t watch last night’s GOP debate, but the consensus this morning is that Newtie did not impress anyone. “He sounded bad, he looked bad, and generally came across like a weasel who had finally been cornered by Animal Control,” said Ed Kilgore.

I agree with Steve M that Newt needs someone to bash, or he doesn’t know what to do with himself. And after South Carolina, the questioners have been careful not to throw him a cudgel.

Timothy Egan has an unusually frank (for the New York Times) portrait of Newt:

Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner.

Nate Silver has Mittens pulling ahead of Newt in his Florida projections. But Newt’s SuperPAC is expected to blitz the state with television ads over the weekend, so it’s possible the race will tighten again.

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Hoisted, Own Petards, Etc.

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n00t, Republican Party

The latest numbers at Nate’s place suggest Mittens might win Florida after all, although it’s currently close. And the GOP establishment is petrified. But, really, this train wreck is entirely their own fault.

Jonathan Chait writes that Newt’s campaign is being kept alive by Citizen’s United.

Money is the primary mechanism that parties use to herd voters toward the choices the elites would prefer them to make. The nomination of George W. Bush offers a classic example. Bush and his network had organized so many Republicans to donate so much money that the contest was essentially over well before a vote had been cast. …

…In 2000, the Bush network froze challenger John McCain out of party fund-raising networks. Now, the GOP is trying to do this again on behalf of Romney. … Ten years ago, this sort of edict would have suffocated Gingrich. But under the present system, Gingrich can simply have a single extremely wealthy supporter, Sheldon Adelson, write a series of $5 million checks.

The Super PACs are supposed to be independent of the campaigns, and of course that’s a charade. But once again we see the sharp teeth of unintended consequences. The Right believed that SuperPACs would be key to crushing progressivism once and for all, and so far it’s not working out that way.

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Reaction to the SOTU

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Obama Administration

Via Steve Benen, reactions to the SOTU address from a Denver focus group:

The President generated strong responses on energy, education and foreign policy, but most important, he made impressive gains on a range of economic measures. These swing voters, even the Republicans, responded enthusiastically to his call for a “Buffett Rule” that would require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. As one participant put it, “I agree with his tax reform – the 1 percent should shoulder more of the burden than the other 99 percent. He [Obama] talked about being all for one, one for all – that really resonated for me.” These dial focus groups make it very clear that defending further tax cuts for those at the top of the economic spectrum puts Republicans in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail well outside of the American mainstream.

The Republican response, by and large, has been to attack the President’s character and intentions rather than his proposals.

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