Early Morning Open Thread: Are We Living in Atlas Shrugged?

Sen. Ron Johnson, fellow Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, and some other guy

Sen. Ron Johnson, fellow Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, and some other guy

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s time in the glow of media attention isn’t quite over yet. He’s still making an ass of himself without realizing it. Via Mother Jones, The Republican Senator who was humiliated by Hillary Clinton during last week’s Benghazi hearings gave an interview on January 16 to The Atlas Society, an organization who raison d’etre is the celebration of the odious Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged.

Johnson is such a huge fan of the novel that he and a friend (Tea Party leader and campaign fundraiser Ben Ganther) bought a giant statue of Atlas holding up the world and today it sits outside his friend’s contracting business in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin. Engraved on the statue’s base are the words “Fight to be free.”

atlas johnson

Johnson told interviewer Laurie Rice that he “absolutely” sees “parallels” between the U.S. today and the plot of Atlas Shrugged.

It’s a real concern. As I talk to business owners that maybe started their businesses in the ’70s and ’80s, they tell me Ron, there’s no way– with today’s regulations, today’s levels of taxation– there’s no way I could start my business today. And I’m certainly concerned a lot of the generation of baby boomers that have had successful businesses, they just might shrug. With all the regulations, with the increasing taxes, they may say I’m going to give it up.

According to Johnson, we’re headed for disaster because of the national debt and because of the New Deal programs that have been in effect since the 1930s with no ill effects, but are suddenly going to bring the country down. Does this man know that Ayn Rand took both Social Security and Medicare?

I see two tipping points– the financial tipping point, which really is, talking about the debt crisis, the point where world creditors look at the United States and say I’m not going to loan you any more money, not at that rate. And interest rates start increasing, and then our interest costs explode, crowds out all their spending. That’s the financial tipping point.

The other one I’m talking about is the cultural tipping point, where we really have developed this culture of entitlement dependency that is not what America’s all about. I mean, America– and that’s, of course, what Atlas Shrugged is about– is individuals aspiring to build things. To make their life, and as a result the world, a better place. And when we shift to a culture where people are just saying I’m happy to sit back and let the government provide me with things, that becomes a very dangerous point in time for this country.

Apparently Johnson knows better than Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who isn’t at all worried about rising interest rates or a sudden lack of interest in Treasury bonds. But Johnson’s biggest fear is…wait for it….

OBAMACARE!

I think Americans are a little bit like a bunch of frogs in that pot of water and the water’s being brought up to a boil. And I think we’re losing freedoms across the board. The reason I ran really was in reaction to the passage of the health care law, which I think is really the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime.

During the original oral arguments at the Supreme Court, I was the only Senator that attended all four days of those arguments. And prior to attending those, I was being interviewed by somebody and I had this concept that we’re all suffering collectively from the Stockholm Syndrome. That’s where people who have been kidnapped are grateful to their captors when they just show them a little bit of mercy. And collectively, we just don’t understand the freedoms we’re really losing.

So we’re going to the Supreme Court, begging them please, please allow us this one last shred of freedom. Allow us the freedom to decide what product we’re going to purchase or not purchase. And unfortunately for Americans, for our freedoms, we were denied that right.

But Johnson assures us he’ll never give up fighting for our freedom to live without health insurance.

I guess when you take a look at the book Atlas Shrugged, I think most people always like to identify with the main character– that would be John Galt. I guess I identify with Hank Rearden, the fella that just refused until the very end to give up. And I guess I’d like to think of myself more as a Hank Rearden– I’m not going to give up.

America is something far, far too precious in the span of human history. I’ll never give up hope on America. I hope everybody that’s watching this will never give up hope.

Watch the whole interview if you dare!

Via Dave Wiegel, in 2010 when he first ran for office, Johnson discussed his love for Atlas Shrugged with WaPo columnist George Will.

Before what he calls “the jaw-dropping” events of the past 19 months — TARP, the stimulus, Government Motors, the mistreatment of Chrysler’s creditors, Obamacare, etc. — the idea of running for office never crossed Ron Johnson’s mind. He was, however, dry tinder — he calls Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” his “foundational book” — and now is ablaze, in an understated, Upper Midwestern way. This 55-year-old manufacturer of plastic products from Oshkosh, Wis., is what the Tea Party looks like.

As for the novel that helped form his bizarre world view, Johnson told Will,

What Samuel Johnson said of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” — “None ever wished it longer than it is” — some readers have said of “Atlas Shrugged.” Not Johnson, who thinks it is “too short” at 1,088 pages.

Noting that Massachusetts “is requiring insurance companies to write polices at a loss,” he says, “We’re living it,” referring to the novel’s dystopian world in which society’s producers are weighed down by parasitic non-producers.

He probably takes the Bible literally too. Are there any Republicans left who don’t get all their ideas from fiction and folklore?

I’ll be back later with a midmorning reads post. Have a great morning and a fabulous Tuesday!


Reading the Tea Leaves on the Coming Ideological Battle over the Debt Ceiling

reading-tea-leaves

I’m getting a sense that the White House has a plan to deal with the GOP hostage takers in the debt ceiling fight. The plan involves eliminating every possible alternative to Congress allowing the Treasury to pay the nation’s bills, while calmly but forcefully explaining to the American people how the U.S. government works. Obama apparently understands that the media will not help him educate the American people; therefore he will work around them.

Whether this plan is going work is anyone’s guess, but it seems pretty clear that Obama plans to pin the full responsibility for action on Congress.

On Friday, the administration eliminated the most recent suggestion for a “plan B,” the so-called “trillion dollar platinum coin.” They also reiterated the decision not to use the 14th Amendment option, which Obama first announced during the 2011 debt ceiling fight.

Joe Weisenthal was “stunned.”

With this, the White House has now ruled out the two best options for preventing a default in the event that the House GOP refused to life the debt ceiling. The White House has been quite adamant that the other alternative (invoking the 14th Amendment) is not acceptable.
So now the stakes are high, as The White House has refused to negotiate with the GOP on a debt ceiling hike.

What bargaining chips does The White House hold? Unclear.

Paul Krugman was characteristically shrill.

If I’d spent the past five years living in a monastery or something, I would take the Treasury Department’s declaration that the coin option is out as a sign that there’s some other plan ready to go. Maybe 14th Amendment, maybe moral obligation coupons or some other form of scrip, something.

And maybe there is a plan.

But as we all know, the last debt ceiling confrontation crept up on the White House because Obama refused to believe that Republicans would actually threaten to provoke default. Is the WH being realistic this time, or does it still rely on the sanity of crazies? [....]

…if we didn’t have some history here I might be confident that the administration knows what it’s doing. But we do have that history, and you have to fear the worst.

On Saturday, Krugman reported that he had gotten “calls” about Friday’s post from the powers that be:

The White House insists that it is absolutely, positively not going to cave or indeed even negotiate over the debt ceiling — that it rejected the coin option as a gesture of strength, as a way to put the onus for avoiding default entirely on the GOP.

Truth or famous last words? I guess we’ll find out.

I honestly can’t blame the White House for not wanting to use the 14th amendment or “platinum coin” options. Both would undoubtedly lead to wrangling in the courts and, in the case of the 14 amendment choice, a possible Constitutional crisis. But still, was it wise to publicly eliminate the only possible leverage the White House has to force the House GOP to get over their tantrums and allow the Treasury to pay the bills that Congress has already run up? I simply don’t know.

In the President’s press conference this morning, he appeared to confirm that my sense of the “plan” is accurate. He did a good job of spelling out what the consequences will be for the nation and the world if the U.S. defaults on its debts.

The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.

These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them. So, while I’m willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up. If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed.

We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialist who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire.

It would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth, might tip us into recession. And ironically it would probably increase our deficit. So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd. As the speaker said two years ago, it would be, and I’m quoting Speaker Boehner now, “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.”

So we’ve got to pay our bills. And Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial wellbeing of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly, because time is running short.

He also took opportunities to continue patiently explaining, in response to questions from obtuse members of the press corps such as Chuck Todd and Major Garrett.

Despite the efforts of Todd and Garrett to get Obama to say he’ll have to give in to Republican demands, the president repeatedly said he isn’t going to negotiate with GOP terrorists.

Will it work? And more importantly, will Obama really refuse to cave this time? As I noted earlier, Krugman has his doubts. One reporter, Juliana Goldman, even asked the president why anyone should believe him this time when he has always caved in the past. Obama’s response:

Well, first of all, Julianna, let’s take the example of this year and the fiscal cliff. I didn’t say that I would not have any conversations at all about extending the Bush tax cuts. What I said was, we weren’t going to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And we didn’t.

Now, you can argue that during the campaign, I said — I set the criteria for wealthy at $250,000, and we ended up being at $400,000, but the fact of the matter is, millionaires, billionaires are paying significantly more in taxes, just as I said.

So from — you know, from the start, my concern was making sure that we had a tax code that was fair and that protected the middle class. And my biggest priority was making sure that middle class taxes did not go up. You know, the difference between this year and 2011 is the fact that we’ve already made $1.2 trillion in cuts. And at — at the time, I indicated that there were cuts that we could sensibly make that would not damage our economy, would not impede growth.

I said at the time, I think we should pair it up with revenue in order to have an overall balanced package, but my own budget reflected cuts in discretionary spending. My own budget reflected the cuts that needed to be made. And we’ve made those cuts. Now, the challenge going forward is that we’ve now made some big cuts. And if we’re going to do further deficit reduction, the only way to do it is in a balanced and responsible way.

It’s all very calm and reasonable-sounding; and, as I said, I think Obama did a good job in today’s press conference. He has two more high-profile opportunities to get his message out–the Inaugural Address next Monday and the State of the Union Address on February 12. He could also make campaign-style appearances around the country as he did before the “fiscal cliff” battle.

Now let’s look at what the Republicans are planning. This morning we got the inside dirt from the usual suspects at Politico, Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, and Jake Sherman. According to the Politico guys, the GOP is getting ready to go on the warpath.

The idea of allowing the country to default by refusing to increase the debt limit is getting more widespread and serious traction among House Republicans than people realize, though GOP leaders think shutting down the government is the much more likely outcome of the spending fights this winter.

“I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told us. “We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.”

Republican leadership officials, in a series of private meetings and conversations this past week, warned that the White House, much less the broader public, doesn’t understand how hard it will be to talk restive conservatives off the fiscal ledge. To the vast majority of House Republicans, it is far riskier long term to pile up new debt than it is to test the market and economic reaction of default or closing down the government.

GOP officials said more than half of their members are prepared to allow default unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes. Many more members, including some party leaders, are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner “may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,” said a top GOP leadership adviser. “We might need to do that for member-management purposes — so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting.”

Basically, the whole world is supposed to stand back and let the Tea Party wackos in the House have an extended, violent temper tantrum to “get it out of their system.” Or else.

According the Politico piece, Speaker Boehner will be meeting with GOP members most of the week to discuss strategy and then on Thursday and Friday House GOP members will meet in Williamsburg, VA. During the two-day meeting Boehner and presumably some of the saner House Republican leaders will try to explain to the Tea Party crazies why forcing the U.S. into default is not a very smart idea. I wonder if there will be visual aids?

So that’s where we are for now. At least Obama has stated his case clearly. However, at some point he is going to have to do something dramatic if the Republicans won’t budge. And why should the Republicans or anyone else believe Obama will stick to his guns this time? Only time will tell. I thought this piece by Garrett Epps at The Atlantic (published on Saturday) summed up the situation very well: Does Obama Actually Have a Debt-Ceiling Plan, or Is He Bluffing?

Moby Dick Best Sm 1

In Melville’s Moby Dick, the whaling ship Pequod crosses the equator on its quest for the White Whale, and in that instant, Captain Ahab smashes his quadrant to the deck and crushes it underfoot.

No more careful navigation. It is, we understand, Moby Dick or die.

As we hurtle toward the new debt-limit crisis, President Obama has done much the same. He says he won’t negotiate spending cuts with a gun to his head. He’s also said that he won’t invoke § 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment, with its provision that “the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned,” to give him authority to continue borrowing once the debt limit has been reached. The Senate Democratic leadership Friday urged him to prepare to raise the ceiling unilaterally; so far, he has remained mum.

Yet Obama, to all appearances, is the calmest man in this overheated capital as the doomsday clock counts down toward a first-ever U.S. default, and the almost certain global depression that would follow.

We can only wait and see what will happen, but as Epps writes, in the end, the onus will be on Obama.

The moment may be coming when wishing and faith do not suffice. Those are the moments when presidents earn their pay. If that requires reversing course on the Fourteenth Amendment, so be it; if it impels a stupid coin trick, then so it does; and if it imposes a political cost on the president, then he must pay it.

After Ahab smashes the Pequod’s quadrant, second-mate Stubb muses to himself, “Well, well; I heard Ahab mutter, ‘Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play by them, and no others.’ And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die in it!”

And that’s just the debt ceiling. Obama will also have to deal with fights over the sequester and the federal budget.


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I lived in the Quarter for five years.  I now live about 1 mile from it. I gigged there even after I moved so I know a lot of the clubs, a lot of the people, and a lot of the characters.  I could tell you about the Chicken Man, Ruthie the Duck Girl, and a number of French Quarter eccentrics.  I’ve lent a lot of gowns and girlie stuff to guys in my day.  I love the Quarter.  However, whenever we do a celebration there’s always a presence of religious folks dragging crosses, shouting hateful things through megaphones, and carrying really nasty placards.  You get to know them too even though you’re glad when they go home and crawl under their rocks.  I used to live in a back house but many of my friends had big ol’ wrought iron-laced balconies.  My friend Georgia and I used to like to water her plants on the days they drug their ugly in front of our homes on Royal.  So, I just loved reading this.  Here’s one of them–Rev. Grant Storms– who has been a big damper our big celebration of the Gay community of the South; Southern Decadence. Try to just let the irony and the hypocrisy flow all over you.

The Rev. Grant Storms, the former “Christian patriot” pastor whose marches against homosexuality at New Orleans’ Southern Decadence festival briefly put him in the national spotlight, was convicted of obscenity Wednesday, for exposing himself while masturbating at Lafreniere Park last year. In his confession, he described public masturbation as “a thrill,” but authorities debunked suspicions that he was a pedophile.

Storms, 55, who lives in Metairie, declined to comment after the conviction. Judge Ross LaDart of the 24th Judicial District Court, who presided over the daylong trial because Storms waived a jury, did not even break to deliberate. He promptly found Storms guilty of the single count of obscenity. He sentenced Storms to three years of probation, citing no evidence of a criminal history.

LaDart also ordered Storms to be evaluated, apparently psychologically. The judge noted that in Storms’ confession, he admitted that Feb. 25, 2011, the day he was arrested, was the third time that week that he masturbated in Lafreniere Park.

“Lafreniere Park is a public place,” LaDart said in announcing the verdict. “Lafreniere Park is a place that was chosen by this defendant to engage in a history of masturbation.”

Storms declined to testify. His attorneys, Brett Emmanuel and Donald Cashio, did not overtly deny their client masturbated in the park but argued he never exposed his penis. The exposure was a necessary element of the obscenity charge.

In his confession, Storms told Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kevin Balser he had taken a break from his grass cutting business to sip a beer in the park, where he said he became “horny.” He said he put his hands into his underwear, but he never exposed himself.

Oh, my.

So, one of the big questions that came out of watching the republican primary debate was how can people be so cruel?  Why would they clap at the thought of some one dying or boo a gay soldier.  Here’s an explanation from  Josh Holland at Alternet.  He explains the conservative psyche and how ordinary people can embrace Paul Ryan.

Earlier this year, Democratic operatives looking for the best way to define Mitt Romney discovered something interesting about Paul Ryan’s budget. The New York Times reported that when the details of his proposals were run past focus groups, they found that the plan is so cruel that voters simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”

In addition to phasing out the Earned Income Tax Credit that keeps millions of American families above the poverty line and cutting funding for children’s healthcare in half, Jonathan Cohn described the “America that Paul Ryan envisions” like this:

Many millions of working-age Americans would lose health insurance. Senior citizens would anguish over whether to pay their rent or their medical bills, in a way they haven’t since the 1960s. Government would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance.

Ryan’s “roadmap” may be the least serious budget plan ever to emerge in Washington, but it is reflective of how far to the right the GOP has moved in recent years. According to a recent study of public attitudes conducted by the Pew Research Center, in 1987, 62 percent of Republicans said “the government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” but that number has now dropped to just 40 percent ( PDF). That attitude was on display during a GOP primary debate last fall when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul what fate should befall a healthy person without health insurance who finds himself suddenly facing a catastrophic illness. “Congressman,” Blitzer pressed after Paul sidestepped the question, “are you saying that society should just let him die?” Before Paul had a chance to respond, the audience erupted in cheers , with some shouting, “yeah!”

Well, stimulus has worn off and the Republican war on jobs and the economy–to blame on Obama–is showing as jobs and consumer confidence start heading down.

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits climbed last week to a one-month high, showing scant progress in the labor market that’s left Americans more pessimistic about the economy.

Jobless claims rose by 4,000 for a second week to reach 372,000 in the period ended Aug. 18, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Consumer confidence dropped last week to the lowest level since January, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index.

Companies are keeping payrolls lean as a weaker global economy and lack of clarity on U.S. tax policy next year cloud the demand outlook, one reason the Federal Reserve may be closer to further monetary stimulus. Residential real estate is a source of strength for the expansion, according to a report that showed new-home sales matched a two-year high in July.

“The economy is growing, but it’s still moderate growth, and the labor market is still weak,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “We’re also getting better numbers in terms of building activity. That’s certainly adding to growth and offsetting some of the weakness we’re seeing from the consumer.”

The Party of No and Stupidity is basically playing political games with American lives and with the American economy.  There’s a huge story about it at Time Magazine this week based on the Michael Grunwald book.

TIME just published “The Party of No,” an article adapted from my new book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It reveals some of my reporting on the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) where they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular president-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.” The excerpt includes a special bonus nugget of Mitt Romney dissing the Tea Party.

But as we say in the sales world: There’s more! I’m going to be blogging some of the news and larger themes from the book here at time.com, and I’ll kick it off with more scenes from the early days of the Republican Strategy of No. Read on to hear what Joe Biden’s sources in the Senate GOP were telling him, some candid pillow talk between a Republican staffer and an Obama aide, and a top Republican admitting his party didn’t want to “play.” I’ll start with a scene I consider a turning point in the Obama era, when the new president came to the Hill to extend his hand and the GOP spurned it.

Every one here should know that I was an avid Hillary supporter once I decided she was far superior to any one running for president in 2008.  I was pretty flabbergasted when a lot of people suggested that racism played a role in the primary process. The Republican Party has been race-baiting since Richard Nixon adopted “the Southern Strategy”.  From the Bush Willy Horton ads, to the Reagan myth ofwelfare queens driving cadillacs, to the latest Romney strategy of suggesting Obama will gut the welfare program of work incentives, the Republicans have been courting the racist southern vote.  I’ve since decided that race was a bigger factor than my “give’em them benefit of the doubt” philosophy embraced.  I think we have to frame this election in terms of race because of the obvious framing of the President as “not American”, “foreign”, “dog-eating”, Muslim, Kenyan, etc.  I can’t even believe how I see white men complaining about how racist every one is treating them.  The deal is that you cannot complain about being down and out when you’re the group in power of all the major institutions in the country.  Please read this article ‘The Fear of a Black President”by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  We’ve been talking a lot about how Republicans could care less about the plight of women.  They could care even less about the plight of racial minorities in this country.  Coates juxtaposes Obama against the Trayvon Martin killing and all the other thing that remind us that we still have a long way to go with the vision that all of us are created equal.

By virtue of his background—the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in multiethnic communities around the world—Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a nation uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was “acting white.” He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism, Obama responded by calling the “ineptitude” of the response “color-blind.”

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be “twice as good.” Hence the need for a special “talk” administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police. And hence Barack Obama’s insisting that there was no racial component to Katrina’s effects; that name-calling among children somehow has the same import as one of the oldest guiding principles of American policy—white supremacy. The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes.

Obama’s first term has coincided with a strategy of massive resistance on the part of his Republican opposition in the House, and a record number of filibuster threats in the Senate. It would be nice if this were merely a reaction to Obama’s politics or his policies—if this resistance truly were, as it is generally described, merely one more sign of our growing “polarization” as a nation. But the greatest abiding challenge to Obama’s national political standing has always rested on the existential fact that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin. As a candidate, Barack Obama understood this.

“The thing is, a black man can’t be president in America, given the racial aversion and history that’s still out there,” Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Obama, told the journalist Gwen Ifill after the 2008 election. “However, an extraordinary, gifted, and talented young man who happens to be black can be president.”

Another outstanding essay in The Nation was written by Melissa  Harris-Perry who still can’t believe that Romney chose Ryan. She can’t believe what this says about Romney’s complete embrace of the right wing and its view and treatment of women.

Nowhere is this more apparent, or more important, than in Ryan’s record on reproductive rights. Romney may have flippantly suggested that he would eliminate Planned Parenthood, but Ryan has worked consistently to restrict women’s access to healthcare. It’s not just his fifty-nine votes to block or limit reproductive rights that are of concern; it’s the absolutist nature of his positions. He rejects rape and incest as mitigating circumstances for abortion. He won’t even consider the possibility that women’s moral autonomy or constitutional rights are sufficient reasons for access.

Ryan is one of sixty-four Congressional co-sponsors of HR 212, a “personhood” bill that gives legal rights to fertilized eggs. Last November a similar measure was soundly defeated by 57 percent of voters in that liberal bastion, Mississippi. (Mississippi!) Ryan co-sponsored a bill too extreme for a state that has only one abortion clinic, a state whose policies have effectively made it impossible for most doctors to perform—or for most women to access—an abortion. It may be time to update the title of Nina Simone’s iconic song from “Mississippi Goddam” to “Paul Ryan Goddam.” Ryan’s role in HR 212 isn’t just the symbolic co-sponsorship of a bill with little likelihood of passage. He explicitly articulated his case for personhood in a 2010 Heritage Foundation article, in which he parrots the familiar conservative case that America’s failure to recognize fetuses as persons is the same as our nation’s historical failure to recognize the humanity of enslaved black people. Therefore, Roe v. Wade is the twentieth-century equivalent of the 1857 Dred Scott decision.

With Ryan and women’s health, there is no middle ground; there is only his moral judgment. And despite his avowed libertarianism on economic issues, on women’s health and rights Ryan is willing to use the full force of government to limit the freedom of dissenting citizens to exercise their opposing judgments.

The Republican Party’s vision of the future is to move the country back to where we would practically have to fight the civil war all over again.  We also would have to fight for rights for women and recognition of the humanity of the GLBT community.  Oh, wait, since the Tea Party took over Congress, we’re having to do that every day.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Entitled One-Percenter Bill Keller Wants Baby Boomers to Give Up Social Security and Medicare

Smarmy former NYT editor Bill Keller

From today’s New York Times: “The Entitled Generation.”

The notion that our generation has been spoiled rotten is not a terribly new thought. A dozen years ago Paul Begala (of Bill Clinton and CNN fame) published in Esquire the classic of boomer-loathing, “The Worst Generation.” “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history,” he declared. It’s a sturdy genre. Perhaps while Googling yourself you have come across the blog Boomer Deathwatch (“Because one day, they’ll all be dead”), a checklist of famous boomers who hit their actuarial sell-by dates. Even Barack Obama, who styles himself post-boomer though he was born in 1961, complained in “The Audacity of Hope” that today’s hyperpolarized political discourse began with the “psychodrama of the baby boom generation.”

Yeah, we’re all evil just because our parents returned from WWII and proceeded to have lots and lots of babies. Supposedly not one of us ever did a decent thing in our pathetic, useless lives, right? I’m sick to death of hear this crap–and I’ve been hearing it since I was a kid.

See Keller says it’s our fault that the government isn’t rebuilding the infrastructure. He says it won’t do any good to tax super-rich guys like him–we’re going to have to take it out of the hides of old ladies who are trying to eke out a living on $1200 a month or less.

Guys like Bill Keller don’t even have to pay into Social Security on the bulk of their income, but he doesn’t even mention the possibility of changing that. So what does super-rich one-percenter Bill Keller think we should do about it besides learning to loathe ourselves and wish we’d never been born?

So the question is not whether entitlements have to be brought under control, but how. The Republican plan espoused by Mitt Romney and his fiscal lodestar Paul Ryan would cut the cost of entitlements largely by moving toward privatization: personal investment accounts for Social Security, vouchers for Medicare. And it’s not at all clear the Republicans would assign any of the savings to investing in our future.

At least the Republicans have a plan. The Democrats generally recoil from the subject of entitlements. Centrists like those at Third Way and the bipartisan authors of the Simpson-Bowles report endorse a menu of incremental cuts and reforms that would bring down costs without hitting the needy or snatching away the security blanket from those nearing retirement. They include gradually raising the retirement age to compensate for the fact that we now live, on average, 14 years longer than when F.D.R. signed Social Security into law. They include obliging those of us who can really afford it to pay a larger share. They also include technical fixes like aligning the automatic cost-of-living formula with reality.

At least now we know which candidate Keller will be voting for in November. So much for the supposedly “liberal media.” Oh, and about that “technical fix” Keller brushes off so dismissively, Matthew Yglesias explains why it isn’t a “technical fix” and “doing the switch comprehensively would constitute a de facto tax increase.” Furthermore, there was no “Simpson-Bowles report,” because the two co-chairs were unable to get a majority of members of the Catfood Commission to sign off on one.

Judith Miller with patron Bill Keller

I have a terrific idea. Let’s hold Bill Keller responsible for his choice to assign Judith Miller to help the Bush administration lie us into the Iraq War. Let Bill Keller pay back the trillions of dollars of taxpayer money those lies cost us. That ought to provide some funds to invest in infrastructure here in the U.S.

Here’s what Dean Baker had to say about Keller’s lying op-ed:

That is really brave for Mr. Keller to stand up and call for sacrifice from his age cohort. Does Keller know that the typical near retiree has total wealth of $170,000. This includes everything in their 401(k), all their other financial assets and the equity in their homes. Another way to put this is that the typical near retiree (between the ages of 55-64) could take all their wealth and pay off their mortgage. After that they would be entirely dependent on their Social Security to cover all their living costs.

Does this situation describe Mr. Keller’s finances? My guess is that it doesn’t. If that is true, how does Keller claim to speak for people who are in a hugely different financial situation than him? Is he really that ignorant of the issues that the NYT gives him a column to write about or is he dishonest? Readers will have to debate that in the months and years ahead.

Baker says the real problem we have is the increase in income inequality over the past thirty years, but he’s not holding his breath for Keller to “appeal to his fellow one-percenters….He probably doesn’t have the courage or integrity to do that.”

I saved the best review of Keller’s op-ed for last. You guessed it, it’s by Charlie Pierce: “The Things Bill Keller Doesn’t Have to Worry About.”

I defy Bill Keller to last a week living only on those benefits available to the greedy boomers, especially after the Simpson-Bowles cargo cult — to say nothing of the zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan himself — are through with them. I defy him to make it for a day. The “we” sprinkled throughout this bag of pus is probably the most noxious thing about it. Look around, Bill. You and Mitt Romney have far more in common than do you and the overwhelming majority of your “fellow” boomers. One catastrophic illness, and many of our families die on the vine. This is not hyperbole. This is how it works in the world. And, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Keller signs on with the clowns at Third Way, who assure us that the real problem is that the elderly moochers are the ones keeping us from building new bridges, or flying to the moons of Neptune. Jesus H. Christ on a Lipizzaner, we’ve had forty years of demonized government, and 40 years of quack economics, and tax-cuts until hell won’t have them, and the reason our infrastructure is falling apart is because some retired ironworker gets $1200 a month? How much of a courtier do you have to be before the taste of caviar makes you nauseous?

If we want to invest in infrastructure, which we desperately need to do, then we should just borrow money at the current historically low rates and fix the damn infrastructure…. People Got No Jobs. People Got No Money. Bill Keller never will have to worry about the last two, so I think he should shut up about the first.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d start this morning reads off with Bill Moyers who is having a good laugh at the expense of billionaires that are donating lots of money to political campaigns.  It seems they really don’t like having their names bandied about and their closets opened.  Pity the Poor Billionaires!!!

Last month, an Obama website cited eight mega-donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign as possessing “less-than-reputable records.” Among them was Frank VanderSloot, a Romney national finance co-chairman who has raised millions for the campaign. He’s a rancher – with 110,448 acres, on which he no doubt roams playing “This Land is Your Land” on his little Stradivarius — and CEO of the billion-dollar company Melaleuca, which Rolling Stone describes as “a ‘multilevel marketing’ firm based in Idaho that sells off-brand cleaning products and nutritional supplements.”

VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else — watch this — watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits. But despite protestations to the contrary, these deep-pocketed plutocrats aren’t shelling out the shekels for the love of flag, Mom and apple pie (or tarte tatin, as they call it in the swanky joints).

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney’s pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy — and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Money is rolling into Wisconsin in Tuesday’s recall election. The Hill reports that it’s the most expensive race in Wisconsin history.  The Koch Brothers are knee deep in money trying to keep their union bustin’ boy in office.  We’ll be live blogging this tomorrow night so stay tuned!

Out-of-state sources have funded both sides heavily in the contest CPI said. Barrett has received about 26 percent of his $4 million in donations from sources outside of Wisconsin, while Walker has received two-thirds of his $30.5 million haul from out-of-state. Both campaigns have been aided by strong spending by super-PACs and other outside groups.

Labor unions have spent heavily to defeat Walker. The report says that the nation’s three largest public unions, the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU),  have directed at least $2 million to anti-Walker efforts.

Walker, for his part, has been aided by conservative businessmen including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and billionaire David Koch. The Republican Governors Association received a $1 million contribution from Koch in February, according to CPI.

The economy is slowing down.  Oil prices are dropping in response.  The stock market has lost all its value.  Will we see another recession shortly?

The statistics on Friday were daunting. Only 69,000 jobs were created last month, far lower than what’s needed just to keep up with population growth. The job tallies for March and April, shabby to begin with, were revised down, for an average monthly tally of 96,000 over the past three months, versus 252,000 in the prior three months.

The weakness was not only displayed in job growth. Average weekly wages declined in May, to $805, as a measly two-cents-an-hour raise was more than clawed back by a drop to 34.4 hours in the length of the typical workweek.

Similarly, the rise in the number of people looking for work is normally considered a sign of optimism, but, on closer inspection, it appears to be simply the reversal of a drop in job-seekers in April.

Granted, it is better for jobless workers to be actively looking for work than sitting on the sidelines. But without enough jobs to go around, the inevitable result is higher official unemployment. The jobless rate ticked up from 8.1 percent in April to 8.2 percent in May, or 12.7 million people. Of those, 42.8 percent, or 5.4 million people, have been out of work for more than six months, a profound measure of personal suffering and economic decline.

There’s no sign that Washington is prepared to shoulder this responsibility. President Obama’s last big push for job creation, the $450 billion package proposed last fall, would have created an estimated 1.3 million to 1.9 million jobs by providing aid to states for teachers and other vital public employees, investments in infrastructure and tax breaks for new hiring. It was filibustered by Senate Republicans and not brought up for a vote in the Republican-dominated House, with Republican lawmakers claiming that deficit reduction was more important. Since then, they have balked at even smaller administration proposals, like modest investments in clean-energy projects.

Blocking constructive action is bad enough, but it’s not the worst of it. Recently, the House speaker, John Boehner, has ratcheted up economic uncertainty by pledging to force another showdown this year over legislation to raise the debt ceiling. A debt-ceiling debacle would come on top of the expiration at the end of 2012 of the Bush-era tax cuts and the onset of some $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts. If allowed to take effect as planned, those measures would take a huge bite out of growth, further weakening the economy.

Paul Krugman slammed the “anti-bipartisanship” in the Paul Ryan budget and in Romney’s support of obstructionist policies aimed at tanking the economy yesterday on ABC.  Krugman said that the budget Romney supports is a “fraud”.

This morning on “This Week,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget plan a “fraud” as Romney campaign senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom confirmed his candidate’s support for the plan that would trim trillions in federal spending over the next decade.

“The Ryan plan — and I guess this is what counts as a personal attack — but it isn’t.  It’s not an attack on the person; it’s an attack on the plan.  The plan’s a fraud,” said Krugman. “And so to say that — just tell the truth that there is really no plan there, neither from Ryan, nor from Governor Romney, is just the truth.  That’s not — if that’s — if that’s being harsh and partisan, gosh, then I guess the truth is anti-bipartisanship. ”

Krugman, who has been critical of the Ryan, R-Wis., plan in the past, was responding to the Fehrnstrom, who confirmed Romney’s support for the plan after ABC News’ George Will asked Fehrnstrom to clarify his candidate’s stance on the Ryan proposal.

“He’s for the Ryan plan.  He believes it goes in the right direction.  The governor has also put forward a plan to reduce spending by $500 billion by the year 2016,” said Fehrnstrom. “In fact, he’s put details on the table about how exactly he would achieve that.  So to say he doesn’t have a plan to — a plan to restrain government spending is just untrue.”

Krugman defended the president’s budget plan when asked by Fehrnstrom if he preferred it over the Ryan plan.

“I mean, the president — at least it’s — you know, I don’t approve of everything, but there are no gigantic mystery numbers in his stuff.  We do know what he’s talking about.  His numbers are — you know, all economic forecasts are wrong, but his are not — are not insane.  These are — these are just imaginary,” he said.

Molly Ball writes about the mediocre Mitt Romney Governorship of Massachusetts at the Atlantic.   Here’s my favorite quote “He believed that a PowerPoint presentation would solve all our problems.”   Here’s some other tidbits that lead up to that very funny line.

Romney campaigned on a promise to clean up Massachusetts’ notoriously cronyistic state government, painting his opponent, the sitting state treasurer, as a product of a backroom-dealing Beacon Hill culture. But his efforts once he was elected were somewhat halfhearted and largely fruitless.

One example was the state’s judiciary, a notorious hotbed of patronage. Romney’s attempts to reform it didn’t succeed, and instead, he ended up succumbing to the status quo, the Washington Post reports. His attempt to consolidate transportation agencies was shot down by the legislature, as was his push to remove from the state university system William Bulger, brother of mobster “Whitey” Bulger. (Bulger did eventually resign, in part due to Romney’s pressure.)

“A lot of governors come in offering to change the political culture,” said Cunningham. “But he wasn’t here long enough, he didn’t put enough effort into it, and he had a very formidable opponent.”

Perhaps because of his outsider mien, Romney enjoyed notably chilly relationships with legislators and local officials, who found him distant and somewhat disengaged. John Barrett, who was mayor of the city of North Adams during Romney’s governorship, described him Thursday as “a governor who just ignored us, who didn’t want our effort,” saying he never met with mayors or sought their input. “He believed that a PowerPoint presentation would solve all our problems,” Barrett said.

So, the biggest issue on my mind is the looming Debt-Ceiling fight and the horrible Agent Orange.  I pretty much believe that the House Republicans will crash all the markets and then some if they think it makes Obama less likely to be elected.  Here’s Garrett Epps at the American Prospect.  He believes–as do I–that Obama should use the Constitutional Option and tell them all to go to hell regardless.  It will be interesting to see how soon they will heat this up.

The debt limit will apparently become a crisis again sometime after the election. Boehner two weeks ago announced his plan to demand another round of cuts when the current ceiling is reached at the end of the year. (I suspect this manufactured crisis will only happen if Obama is re-elected; if Mitt Romney wins the election, Republicans will suddenly find economic recovery an important value after all.)

Obama should begin now to prepare for the predicted crisis. And if there is any way to climb down from the inane “my attorney Bernie says I can’t” comment, he should find it. I called the U.S. Department of Justice to ask whether the Office of Legal Counsel has issued, or is preparing, a formal opinion on the President’s possible power under Section Four; the DOJ’s spokesman did not return my call.

There’s an interesting analysis at TP on how the last debt ceiling debate hurt the economy.  A repeat under current conditions could be disastrous.

House Republicans last year used the imminent approach of the nation’s credit limit to force Congress into enacting a series of spending cuts. The hostage scenario led to the nation’s first ever credit downgrade, with the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s repeatedly citing the GOP’s intransigence on revenue as a key justification. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated that the GOP is ready to reenact the debt ceiling debacle the next time the nation comes close to its borrowing limit. But as economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers write, the economy was significantly setback during the last showdown, which they call “an act of economic sabotage

Follow the links to the Bloomberg analysis and you’ll see why we’re in worse position to weather that kind of anti-bipartisanship nonsense this year. So, who really killed the confidence fairy last year?

High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500 Americans daily, provide a good picture of the debt-ceiling debate’s impact (see chart). Confidence began falling right around May 11, when Boehner first announced he would not support increasing the debt limit. It went into freefall as the political stalemate worsened through July. Over the entire episode, confidence declined more than it did following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008. After July 31, when the deal to break the impasse was announced, consumer confidence stabilized and began a long, slow climb that brought it back to its starting point almost a year later. (Disclosure: We have a consulting relationship with Gallup.)

Businesses were also hurt by uncertainty, which rose to record levels as measured by the number of newspaper articles mentioning the subject. This proved far more damaging than the regulatory uncertainty on which Republican criticisms of Barack Obama’s administration have focused (more on that subject in a Bloomberg View editorial today). Employers held back on hiring, sapping momentum from a recovery that remains far too fragile.

It’s going to be a very long, hot summer.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?