Friday Reads: The Word for Today is “Surreality”

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Good Morning!!

I’ve been browsing around the internet this morning, and all I can find is really surreal news. The Obamacare “fumble” or “botch” or “mess” or whatever else the pundits decide to call it is still the top story today; and it looks like President Obama could be in for an even worse day than yesterday. He must be glad it’s Friday. All the usual suspects are weighing in on the “problem” and of course Republicans are gloating.

Reuters summarizes Obama’s very bad Thursday: An apologetic Obama unveils fix on health law.

President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to ease the biggest crisis of his presidency, acknowledging missteps with his signature healthcare law and announcing a plan to help those seeing their current health plans canceled because of it.

Obama, trying to limit the political damage to his presidency and fellow Democrats, said health insurers could extend by at least one year policies due to be canceled because they do not comply with new minimum requirements under the law.

With insurers complaining the fix could create new problems and lead to higher premiums, it was not clear whether Obama’s plan would actually work, or soothe his party’s concerns that the botched rollout has undercut Democrats facing tough re-election fights in 2014.

A chastened Obama said he had “fumbled” the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, his biggest domestic policy achievement, and said he would have to work to regain his credibility and the public’s trust.

Also from Reuters: Obama to meet with insurers Friday on Obamacare fix.

The meeting comes a day after the president, under fire for the botched rollout of his top domestic policy achievement, announced he would allow individuals to keep insurance policies that were being canceled under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare….

Insurers and state regulators say that Obama’s fix for policies canceled under the law will create new problems for the industry and could lead to an increase in premiums.

The change, which Obama announced under growing pressure from lawmakers from his Democratic Party, would allow policies that do not meet Obamacare’s standards to be renewed anyway.

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From WaPo’s The Fix: ‘Keep Your Health Plan Act’ spells trouble for dozens of Democrats.

Intense focus on the early troubles of the Affordable Care Act already makes this a no good, very bad week for congressional Democrats, who are torn between supporting the signature domestic achievement of the Obama administration, but eager to be seen doing something to address significant concerns with the law….

At issue is the “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” a proposal by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that supporters believe would fulfill President Obama’s now-broken promise to let people keep their current health insurance plan if they like it.

Under the Upton proposal, anyone opting to keep their current plan wouldn’t face financial penalties established by the law. And the measure would allow insurers to sell their minimal plans to new customers. The bill is expected to pass easily in the GOP-controlled House.

Most Democrats believe that the Upton bill would fundamentally gut the ACA by allowing plans not compliant with the new law to continue. They believe that the administrative fixes announced by Obama Thursday will work, or are supporting a proposal by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would let people keep their current health-care plans for the next year and require insurers to provide information on new plans that meet the law’s stricter requirements.

Chris Cillizza, also at The Fix, doesn’t think any of this is going to help Republicans much in 2014; Todd Purdum at Politico spanks Obama unmercifully, but at the end of his lengthy piece admits:

It is true that public support for many of the law’s crucial components — a ban on lifetime limits on health coverage; an end to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions; extended coverage for dependent children; improvements to Medicare — have always exceeded support for the law itself. White House officials take pains to note that those provisions are now beginning to take effect — on time, as planned.

Most state-run insurance exchanges are working far better than the federal website — which the administration was forced to make as big as it is only because some three dozen states with recalcitrant Republican governors declined to create their own exchanges as envisioned. And lest anyone forget, the old health insurance system was not so hot.

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Of course Chuck Todd is thrilled, and he went on Morning Joe this morning to dance on Obama’s grave. From Mediaite:

NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that the problematic roll-out of the Affordable Care Act represents an all-time political low for President Barack Obama. He said that the president’s press conference on Thursday was aimed more at Democrats in an attempt to keep them from abandoning him or his signature achievement.

“It seemed like he was trying to offer his party – the Democratic Party – and, basically, all the panicked Democrats on Capitol Hill a pound of flesh so that they don’t vote for these other bills,” Todd said of the bills circulating in the House and Senate that would allow those who have lost their health plans to keep them indefinitely….

“I talked to one of the old guard in Obama-land who said they’ve never seen that in private from him,” Todd added. “This is a moment that he hasn’t experienced in national politics before, is the impression that I was being given.”

“This clearly is the low of his presidency politically right now,” the NBC News reporter continues. “We obviously see it in the polls, but just the way he feels, his ability to lead the party, or, frankly, hope that the party doesn’t abandon him right now in this moment.”

You can just imagine how happy Karl Rove and The Wall Street Journal are about the Obamacare troubles.

I’ll spare you excerpts from those columns and refer you to Jonthan Chait: Conservatives Confident America Rejecting Obamacare, Ready for Every-Man-for-Himself Care.

The keep-your-plan fiasco, in addition to flummoxing Democrats, has not only held out to Republicans the tantalizing prospect that they can discredit and defeat Obamacare, but also drawn into sympathetic focus their own alternative vision.

Here is the basic ideological division. Obama wants the health-care system to do more to pool risk — which is to say, to shift the burden of covering the sick onto the healthy. Republicans want it to do less to pool risk, so that healthy people can be free of the burden of subsidizing the costs of those less medically fortunate.

The small portion of the populace that lies outside of either employer-based or direct government coverage provides the closest existing model for the health-care system conservatives favor. The minority within this market who have insurance, and are losing their plans as a result of regulations preventing insurers from excluding the sick, have dominated public attention and formed what conservatives imagine will be a constituency for their own brand of counter-reform: a deregulated market where healthy people can buy cheap, bare-bones plans, and sicker people have to pay large out-of-pocket costs. Obamacare’s torturous birth pangs have convinced giddy conservatives that they are on the cusp of a great ideological victory.

Read the rest at the New York Magazine link above.

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I’ll wrap up this section of my post with the most surreal Obamacare story I could find: Michele Bachmann: I lost my insurance:

Rep. Michele Bachmann says she is one of the people who lost their health insurance because of Obamacare and she won’t go shopping on a health exchange until it’s fixed.

“Are you kidding? I’m not going to waste an hour on that thing,” the Minnesota Republican said when Wolf Blitzer asked her on CNN on Thursday if she’d signed up on the exchange website. “I lost my health insurance under Obamacare. And so now I’m forced to go into the D.C. health exchange. I’m waiting until they fix this thing. I’m not going to sit there and frustrate myself for hours and hours.”

Don’t members of House have their own insurance plan? Did the rest of the House get their plans cancelled too?

Bachmann did not explain what about Obamacare caused her to lose her health insurance. The health law technically requires congressional staff go on the D.C. exchange, but it’s up to the individual congressional office to determine who qualifies as “official office” staff, so many Republicans have placed their aides on the exchange while Democrats have been split.

At the Daily Banter, Bob Cesca explains to Bachmann how to sign up for health insurance at the DC exchange, which is running quite smoothly, thank you very much.

I’ve run on way too long about the Obamacare story, but I haven’t been paying close attention to it and I needed to bring myself up to speed. I hope I didn’t bore the rest of you!

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Now let’s look at someone who really has a health care problem. Gawker reports on a woman with stage 4 breast cancer and the vile treatment she has been getting from her daughter’s school because of it (emphasis added).

An Albuquerque mother says her daughter’s elementary school principal banned her from school grounds for the way she smells. Kerri Mascareno was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in August, and while she’s undergoing chemotherapy to shrink her tumor, she’s also struggling with the administration at Tierra Antigua Elementary.

According to Mascareno, the school’s principal, Robert Abney, told her last week that she could no longer visit the school:

“He just said he knows this is going to hurt my feelings and he understands where I’m coming from because his mother had breast cancer and she had the same exact smell and I can no longer be in the school and that with me being in the school that I made his employees ill,” she said.

She claims that when she moved outside, the principal went to his window and told her to move farther away. “He just said that he would have to ask me to sit in my car because he could smell me through the window,” Mascareno said.

Calling Dr. Freud! Robert Abney needs psychological treatment STAT! Men with Oedipal complexes should not be in charge of running schools. I hope Kerri Mascareno sues and gets a million-dollar payday so she can leave the money to her children.

Yesterday I wrote about two Secret Service agents who have been removed from President Obama’s security detail. Today the WaPo reports that there have been complaints about misconduct by Secret Service agents in 17 countries!

Secret Service agents and managers have engaged in sexual misconduct and other improprieties across a span of 17 countries in recent years, according to accounts given by whistleblowers to the Senate committee that oversees the department.

Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), ranking Republican on a Homeland Security subcommittee, said Thursday that the accounts directly contradict repeated assertions by Secret Service leaders that the elite agency does not foster or tolerate sexually improper behavior.

And get this:

Johnson said that one of those disciplined supervisors, Ignacio Zamora Jr., had helped lead the internal investigation into the April 2012 incident in Cartagena, where more than a dozen agents engaged in a night of heavy drinking and carousing with prostitutes ahead of a presidential visit.

One person involved in security in Cartagena said Zamora was chosen for the review because he served as the “second supervisor” on the trip, and was among the managers responsible for the security effort in advance of Obama’s arrival for an international summit.

Zamora is the agent who was disciplined for trying to break into a woman’s hotel room to retrieve a bullet he had left there.

Finally, once again I want to call your attention to a McClatchy article that RalphB linked to yesterday: Questions about ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi story go beyond Dylan Davies interview; CBS conducting ‘journalistic review’. It’s long, but it is a must read. The writer, Nancy A. Youseff, goes through Lara Logan’s “60 Minutes” report line by line and finds numerous outright lies and distortions. Logan and anyone else involved with the story should be fired immediately and Logan should apply for a job at Fox News.

So . . . what are you reading and blogging about today? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread.


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

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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.


The Press finally Fact Checks, Right Wing Propaganda Outlets get Mad

We’ve been moaning around here about  how so many right wingers get to go on the Fox Right Wing Propaganda Network and spew lies with impunity.  In fact, the hosts themselves spew things that just aren’t factual.  CNN’s Soledad O’Brien is being attacked by Rush Limbaugh and other angry righties for calling shenanigans on John Sununu .  It’s a continuing saga now with Limbaugh stirring up the angry racist and sexist mob.  O’Brien has now responded to his attacks that she might as well wear an Obama Campaign sticker on her forehead because she chose not to accept his taking a CBO report sentence completely out of context. O’Brien shot back with a video that documented her statements and questions using the research of  independent fact check groups.

CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien struck back at critics who objected to her reading from a document printed from what they called a liberal website — yet not citing her source — while interviewing an operative for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the topic of Medicare.

Conservative Media Beating Up on CNN’s Soledad O’Brien (Video)

O’Brien was substitute-hosting on Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday when she was seen flipping through a story from the website Talking Points Memo during a segment with Romney campaign adviser Barbara Comstock. Conservative media, most notably Rush Limbaugh, mocked the news anchor for what they perceived to be a journalistic transgression.

“She never cited it. She just used its contents,” Limbaugh fumed Tuesday. “When she talks to a Democrat, she has no pieces of paper, she needs no guidance.”

O’Brien didn’t deny referring to a TPM document during the show but said she only did so in order to read a quote from Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a perfectly benign journalistic practice. She also gets information from conservative sources, like RedState.com, she said.

“Editorially, I was not reading off the Talking Points Memo,” she told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “The memo had an accurate, verbatim quote of what Sen. Wyden said, and when I was talking to Ms. Comstock, she was saying something that was patently untrue.”

O’Brien also answered critics who complain about what they perceive to be a left-wing bias in her reporting.

“I don’t think I show bias in my TV show. I think I am aggressive with people about trying to find the facts behind what they say,” O’Brien said. “Am I a liberal or conservative? I’m neither. Like most Americans, I find politics very frustrating. Like most Americans, I’d like to hear from politicians the facts. That is what drives me.”

You can watch O’Brien’s video at her site.

Yesterday on “Starting Point”, former New Hampshire Governor and senior Romney Campaign advisor John Sununu said this: “When Obama gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it…It’s a reduction in services a reduction in support for Medicare Advantage. That is taking money from the program.”

He added his voice to a growing chorus of Romney supporters, and the candidate himself, making similar claims against President Obama on Medicare.

* RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on “Meet the Press” last Sunday says President Obama “stole $700 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare. If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare, it’s Barack Obama. He is the one that’s destroying Medicare.”

* On AC36, Senior Romney adviser Barbara Comstock says “We are not stealing the $719 billion that Barack Obama took away from Medicare, from current seniors, from my parents who are retired.”

* And yesterday, Governor Romney says “He cuts the payments that go to Medicare by $700 billion and he uses that to pay for Obamacare.”

But where is this idea that the president’s health care plan guts billions of dollars from Medicare coming from?

A Congressional Budget Office report says “If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, “[s]pending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over that 2013-2022 period.”

But that same CBO report says keeping “Obamacare” would not mean a $716 billion decrease in Medicare funding. The cost of Medicare would continue to rise, just not as rapidly. The CBO says this money – Democrats call it savings, Republicans call it cuts – would be achieved mostly through cutbacks in payments to providers and by changes to payment rates in private Medicare plans.

The Romney campaign argues all of this will ultimately lead to reduced access to health care.

“The fact is that he reduces services to Medicare beneficiaries currently on the package,” Gov. Sununu claims in my interview with him yesterday on “Starting Point.”

Independent fact checker Factcheck.org says that’s not true. The site says:

“The law stipulates that guaranteed Medicare benefits won’t be reduced, and it adds some new benefits, such as improved coverage for pharmaceuticals.”

Senior citizen advocacy group AARP, which generally opposes any policies that would negatively affect seniors, tells its members this:

“The health care law strengthens Medicare by protecting and improving your guaranteed benefits and cracking down on waste, fraud and inefficiency. “

And we have the health care law itself, which clearly states this:

“Nothing in the provisions of, or amendments made by, this Act shall result in a reduction of guaranteed benefits under title XVIII of the Social Security Act.”

Chuck Todd also caught the Romney Camp in another lie on so-called cuts to welfare to work provisions.  This time it’s Iowa Governor Terry Branstad doing the lying.

MSNBC host Chuck Todd and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) butted heads on Wednesday after Branstad accused President Barack Obama of undermining welfare reform.

“The biggest problem I think a lot of people have is the massive expansion of the food stamp program,” Branstad said. “We have more people on food stamps than ever before. They’ve liberalized the rules and a lot of people think they need to tighten that up — just like we reformed welfare in the 1990s, now the Obama administration is trying to undo the work requirement. We think that we need to, instead of trying to put more people on –”

“Well, wait a minute,” Todd interrupted. “Gov. Branstad, I can’t let that go. They haven’t done that. They haven’t undone the work requirements… Where did you get your information?”

But Branstad insisted it was “absolutely true” that the Obama administration had waived the work requirement in the Temporary Assistant for Needy Families (TANF) program. He said liberals and President Barack Obama had “always hated” the work requirement in the law.

“Every charge that has been leveled about this welfare reform order that this President signed — every accusation that has been leveled by some Republicans have been proven to be not true,” Todd said.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last month encouraged states to experiment with better ways to administer the TANF program, informing state officials that the department was willing to grant waivers to states that wished to opt-out of provisions of the welfare law.

Romney and other Republicans have claimed that the waivers were an attempt to undermine the welfare program’s work requirement. But PolitiFact rated those claims “Pants on Fire,” noting that the waivers were actually “designed to improve employment outcomes.”

Dave Johnson at Alternet suggests that the Romney Campaign actually has a strategy of lying that relies on the press just letting them say what they want to. Read: “Romney’s Campaign Strategy: Lie, Lie, and Lie Some More — Can Democracy Survive with 0% Media Accountability?”.

 The Romney campaign has turned to a strategy of swamping the public with flat-out, blatant lies, one after another, again and again, endlessly and lavishly repeated. They do this because they are making a calculation that it will work! So what is going on? And can democracy survive this assault?The Growing List Of Lies

This week’s lie is the “Obama gutted welfare reform” nonsense. See Bill Scher’s must-read response,  Romney’s Welfare Lie: A Betrayal Of Conservatism . The reporting conveys the Romney message, like this:  Romney accuses Obama of dismantling welfare reform . The lie is driven home by a massive $$-driven carpet bombing of ads.

The next-most recent lies was  the “Obama is trying to keep military families from voting” lie . This lie, repeated over and over, coordinated with outside groups, reinforces the “Democrats are anti-military” narrative.

Before that was  the “You didn’t build that” lie , where the Romney campaign doctored audio  to make it sound as though President Obama said something he didn’t say. (And  got away with it .) This lie, repeated over and over, reinforces the “Democrats are anti-business” narrative.

This one on welfare reinforces the “Democrats take your money and give it to black people” narrative. “We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good, hard work,”  said Romney , promising to make them work good and hard.

Rachel Maddow’s blog has been keeping track of the Romney lies , and it is a loooooong list.

They’ve gone less after Todd however since the race-baiting and misogyny strategy is clearly enhanced through picking on woman and minority O’Brien.  That’s why Limbaugh is having a total hate-filled hey day with what’s clearly a distortion and lie on Sununu’s part. They love hating on the gay and well educated Rachel Maddow.

Ryan Cooper–writing at Washington Monthly--takes note of Romney’s lies and the press response.

On the one hand, the political media has been remarkably susceptible to bullying from the right. Ginned-up hysteria and a gullible, cowardly, lazy press has gotten enormous mileage from the right.

But as I was saying this morning, the Romney camp has been caught somewhat flatfooted already by the newly minted power of the left to influence the discourse. Watch Anderson Cooper pin down Newt Gingrich on this Romney ad. Gingrich does the usual squirming, subject changing, and putting forth a squid-ink fog of misdirection, but when Cooper just keeps bearing down on the fact that the ad is blatantly lying, even Newt is forced to say that the ad is okay because, as Paul says, “Barack Obama and those who work for him are, in Newt’s opinion, the kind of people who would gut work requirements if they could, so therefore it’s OK to say that they are actually doing it, even though they aren’t.” Gingrich ends up sounding like a snake.

In politics, moral arguments are powerful, and true moral arguments even more so. The left will be at their strongest handed this sort of red meat on a platter. And Romney’s straight-up bald-faced lying pushes the Republican ability to strong-arm mainstream journalists to the very limit. It’s a slap in the face whose arrogant contempt couldn’t be more obvious. Romney is saying to the press, “You’re stupid, and gullible, and I dare you to call a spade a spade.”

Now, someone betting on journalistic integrity in this country would lose a lot of money. But a lot of people watch Anderson Cooper. Even Brian Williams couldn’t stomach the ad which edited out the part where Obama was quoting a McCain staffer.

Seems to me that we have a decent shot of getting these lies covered for what they are. Worth a shot, anyway.

I’m going to hit a lecture at a USF just to review  the traditional idea that the media should function as a Fourth Estate.

Access to information is essential to the health of democracy for at least two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them.

In the United States, the media is often called the fourth branch of government (or “fourth estate”). That’s because it monitors the political process in order to ensure that political players don’t abuse the democratic process.

Others call the media the fourth branch of government because it plays such an important role in the fortunes of political candidates and issues. This is where the role of the media can become controversial.

Here’s a chapter from a Harvard Text called “Driving Democracy”.

In particular, Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The positive relationship between the growth of the free press and the process of democratization is thought to be reciprocal. The core claim is that, in the first stage, the initial transition from autocracy opens up the state control of the media to private ownership, diffuses access, and reduces official censorship and government control of information. The public thereby receives greater exposure to a wider variety of cultural products and ideas through access to multiple radio and TV channels, as well as the diffusion of new technologies such as the Internet and mobile telephones. Once media liberalization has commenced, in the second stage democratic consolidation is strengthened where journalists in
independent newspapers, radio and television stations facilitate greater transparency and accountability in governance, by serving in their watch-dog roles to deter corruption and malfeasance, as well as providing a civic forum for multiple voices.

In other words, O’Brien, Todd, and Maddow are all doing their jobs which is basically the function of a healthy democracy.  The tools of right wing propaganda can spew whatever they want and have the right to do so.  However, it is the roll of a journalist in democracy to call a misstatement of fact what it is; a lie in servitude to a growing and dangerous plutocracy.