Shining Asylum on the Hill

Well, it’s FC (Fiscal Cliff) day. Howard Fineman says the rest of the world thinks we’re crazy.

Yeah, pretty much.

My impression from reading some rightie blogs is that they see any concession whatsoever as a fail.Joshua Green writes at Business Week that Republicans are blowing a great deal and that Democrats ought to be furious at the President for what he has offered so far. I suspect the President realizes he’s not going to get anything sensible out of the Republicans, and his strategy isto at least seem responsible and rational, in contrast to the GOP whackjobs.

Countdown to the Cliff

Two posts on why what we don’t need is a compromise:

Jamelle Bouie:

What’s striking about McConnell’s rhetoric — and the calls for compromise writ large — is the extent to which they seem to operate in a vacuum. Neither McConnell, nor Boehner, nor Schultz (or similar-minded people at organizations such as Fix the Debt) have acknowledged one key fact about the current situation: That it comes just a month after a presidential election, where the incumbent won a solid victory after campaigning for a stronger safety net, tax increases on the rich and a “balanced” solution to deficit reduction.

“Both sides” don’t need to compromise. Rather, Republicans need to reconcile themselves to the fact that the public voted decisively against their policies, both in the presidential election and in congressional elections around the country, where Democrats won most open Senate seats and came away from House elections with a larger share of votes (which, due to redistricting and population movement, didn’t translate to a large gain in the chamber itself). The fiscal cliff shouldn’t be used to circumvent the clear preferences of the electorate.

Ezra Klein:

See also Michael Tomasky:

So this all falls entirely on the shoulders of McConnell and Boehner. Obama, if The New York Times scoop was right yesterday about the new terms he put on the table, has done plenty of compromising, especially for the guy who won the election. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are behind him. So the Democrats are ready to play ball.

The only thing the Republicans are ready to play, as usual, is roulette, with the cocked gun against the country’s temple, unfortunately, and not their own. It’s worth taking a moment in this context to consider: Never have the priorities for survival and success of a major party’s Washington politicians been so utterly at odds with the priorities required for the country’s survival and success. These Washington Republicans represent the one-third of the country that hates government, despises Obama, and considers obstruction victory.

The check on that sort of behavior is blame. If Republicans are being intransigent and the American people want compromise, then, in theory, the Republicans will get blamed. And that does seem to be happening: The GOP polls terribly, and they lost the 2012 election.

But at the elite level — which encompasses everyone from CEOs to media professionals — there’s a desire to keep up good relations on both sides of the aisle. And so it’s safer, when things are going wrong, to offer an anodyne criticism that offends nobody — “both sides should come together!” — then to actually blame one side or the other. It’s a way to be angry about Washington’s failure without alienating anyone powerful. That goes doubly for commercial actors, like Starbucks, that need to sell coffee to both Republicans and Democrats.

That breaks the system. It hurts the basic mechanism of accountability, which is the public’s ability to apportion blame. If one side’s intransigence will lead to both sides getting blamed, then it makes perfect sense to be intransigent: You’ll get all the benefits and only half the blame.

The two parties are not equivalent right now. The two sides are not the same. If you want Washington to come together, you need to make it painful for those who are breaking it apart. Telling both sides to come together when it’s predominantly one side breaking the negotiations apart actually makes it easier on those who’re refusing to compromise.

Boehner and the Baggers

There are still four days of meetings scheduled, but the big stumbling blocks to a fiscal cliff deal are John Boehner the teabagger bitter enders in the House. Boehner has said he won’t bring any bill to the House unless he can get a majority of the Republican caucus to support it. But the baggers are all about destruction and chaos and monkey wrenches, so there’s no hope for a yes vote unless Boehner is persuaded to introduce a bill that will get all the Dem and a minority of Republican votes.

Boehner and the Baggers — sounds a bit like an early 1960s rock band. I’m thinking surf/bagpipe fusion.

Joan Walsh says the President is holding all the cards. It could be an interesting weekend.

Why the Tea Party Is to Government What Cancer Is to a Body

Yesterday Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner added to the fiscal cliff fiasco by announcing the debt ceiling will be reached by Monday or so, and needs to be raised.

And along with the taxes and budget cuts thing is the little detail that the “doc fix” hasn’t been fixed. The “doc fix” is a legacy of the 1997 Congress that ties physician Medicare reimbursement rates to growth (or not) in the GNP. Since 2003 Congress has voted every year to defer changes, meaning cuts, to physician reimbursement rates. The 2012 fix, which was agreed to in the waning days of 2011, will expire at the end of the year, and when that happens physician Medicare reimbursement will be cut by 27 percent.

There’s also a dairy farm subsidy bill that needs extending to keep the price of milk from going up to $6 a gallon.

All of these things — the farm bill, the debt ceiling, the doc fix — used to be passed pretty much without a burp out of Congress, because most of the lawmakers had the sense to know they really didn’t have a choice about it.

But now we’ve got the Tea Party, and all bets are off. The baggers want to hold every bit of legislation they can hostage so that they can further destroy the government they hate. And there’s enough of them in Congress that Congress is now pretty much dysfunctional.

Steve Kornacki writes that the Tea Party really isn’t much of a movement any more as much as it is a mindset.

Defined as a literal movement, with an active membership pressing a specific set of demands, the Tea Party absolutely is in decline. Tea Party events have become less crowded, less visible, and less relevant to the national political conversation. As the Times story notes, the movement’s die-hards are embracing increasingly niche pet issues. The term “Tea Party” has come to feel very 2010.

But if you think of the Tea Party less as a movement and more as a mindset, it’s as strong and relevant as ever. As I wrote back in ’10, the Tea Party essentially gave a name to a phenomenon we’ve seen before in American politics – fierce, over-the-top resentment of and resistance to Democratic presidents by the right. It happened when Bill Clinton was president, it happened when Lyndon Johnson was president, it happened when John F. Kennedy was president. When a Democrat claims the White House, conservatives invariably convince themselves that he is a dangerous radical intent on destroying the country they know and love and mobilize to thwart him.

And if they destroy the rest of the country along with the Obama Administration, so be it.

The truth is, the baggers are just the latest incarnation of the group Richard Hofstadter called “pseudo-conservatives” back in the 1950s and 1960s. Hofstadter wrote,

The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference in nuance, but of fundamental substance.

Hofstadter continued, quoting Theodore W. Adorno:

“The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

And finally,

Writing in 1954, at the peak of the McCarthyist period, I suggested that the American right wing could best be understood not as a neo-fascist movement girding itself for the conquest of power but as a persistent and effective minority whose main threat was in its power to create “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

Now there are enough of them in Congress that nothing rational can be accomplished without the baggers stepping in to screw it up. As Kornacki says, their influence over the GOP lies in their ability to win primaries. Even big shots like Mitch McConnell are afraid of them.

And, truly, this goes deeper than just undermining Democratic presidents. They really do want to drown the federal government in a bathtub. They’ve got it in their heads that just about everything the federal government does, with the exception of the military, violates some sacred principle established somewhere in the mythic past that lives in their heads and which they mistake for history. And they will continue to eat away at everything workable and functional in government until it is destroyed.

They’ve somehow simultaneously staked claims on both “love it or leave it” super-nationalism and “hate the Gubmint” anarchism. If you don’t want to either destroy the government or secede, you can’t be a true patriot.

And of course, the reason these misfits have so much influence is that they are being financed by deep pocket special interests and industries that can manipulate the crazies into opposing taxes and regulations the hyper-wealthy find inconvenient.

We’re doomed.

AFP: Avarice on Steroids

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is warning Congress against spending money on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

Earlier this week, AFP, which is chaired by [David] Koch and believed to be financed by several other plutocrats from the New York City region, released a letter warning members of Congress not to vote for the proposed federal aid package for victims of the storm that swept New Jersey, New York City and much of the surrounding area in October. An announcement on the group’s website says that the vote next week for the Sandy aid package will be a “key vote”—meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election. Already, opposition to the bill is growing, although it passed one procedural hurdle last night. …

… Koch’s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a “disgrace.” “This is not a federal government responsibility,” Lonegan told reporters. “We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.”

As was asked in a famous joke — Who do you mean by “we,” Kemo Sabe? This is especially rich considering all the Koch Brothers/oil industry money that has gone into discrediting climate science. The AFP website, btw, is screaming about the looming “fiscal cliff” tax increase that would, if Dems get their way, only affect the upper 2 percent.

Call Us All Crazy

So yesterday Wayne LaPierre said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” Actually, I don’t think the idea is “crazy” as much as it is “stupid.” One, there’s no money to pay for that many trained professionals (using unpaid volunteers would be crazy). And two, the presence of armed security in schools and elsewhere hasn’t stopped mass shootings in the past.

In fact, there was an armed sheriff’s deputy at Columbine High School the day of the shooting. There was an armed citizen in the Clackamas Mall in Oregon during a shooting earlier this month. There was an armed citizen at the Gabby Giffords shooting – and he almost shot the unarmed hero who tackled shooter Jared Loughner. Virtually every university in the county already has its own police force. Virginia Tech had its own SWAT-like team. As James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary cum gun control advocate, often notes, he was shot along with the president, despite the fact that they were surrounded by dozens of heavily armed and well-trained Secret Service agents and police.

Regarding the Clackamas Mall shooting, the armed citizen mentioned above was a guy who was legally carrying a concealed firearm, and who saw the shooter. But the armed citizen realized he didn’t have a clean shot and did not fire, but instead took cover in a store. After the armed citizen stood down, the gunman shot and killed himself.

Even so, the gun nutters always include Clackamas Mall on their lists of shooters stopped by an armed citizen, because according to the Right-Wing Legend of Clackamas Mall the sight of someone with a concealed weapon so unnerved the gunman that he shot himself. And then with the next breath they will tell you that mass shootings only happen in “gun-free zones.” Well, somebody’s crazy.

But if you want to talk crazy, what’s crazy is a country in which a corrupt crackpot like LaPierre gets interviewed on national television. What’s crazy is letting gun nuts write gun laws. Wayne LaPierre, on the other hand, is paid very well for what he does. It’s not crazy to appreciate how your bread gets buttered.

A correspondent for The Economist points out that in Sanity World, “strict gun laws” means no guns. He also says,

I would also say, to stick my neck out a bit further, that I find many of the arguments advanced for private gun ownership in America a bit unconvincing, and tinged with a blend of excessive self-confidence and faulty risk perception.

This is a polite way of saying that the guys (and it’s nearly always guys) who sincerely believe they could have stopped some mass shooter if they’d only been there with their guns generally have less sense than a head of lettuce.


Nowadays, however, there are four states that require no permit at all to carry a gun, and 35 states have permissive “shall issue” or “right-to-carry” laws that effectively take the decision of who should carry a weapon out of law enforcement’s hands. These laws say that if an applicant meets minimal criteria — one is not having been convicted of a felony, and another is not having a severe mental illness — officials have no choice about whether to issue a permit.

Some states go even further by expressly allowing guns where they should not be. Nine states now have “carry laws” that permit guns on campuses; eight permit them in bars; five permit them in places of worship. In Utah, holders of permits can now carry concealed guns in elementary schools.

Among the arguments advanced for these irresponsible statutes is the claim that “shall issue” laws have played a major role in reducing violent crime. But the National Research Council has thoroughly discredited this argument for analytical errors. In fact, the legal scholar John Donohue III and others have found that from 1977 to 2006, “shall issue” laws increased aggravated assaults by “roughly 3 to 5 percent each year.”