Thursday Reads

Einstein reading

Good Morning!

The New York Times has added more fodder for the Republicans’ Benghazi attacks. James Risen Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt report that: U.S.-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands.

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.

Of course there’s no evidence that this had anything to do with the Benghazi attacks, but I’m sure that won’t stop Senators McNasty, Huckleberry Closetcase, and their new pal Senator Kelley Ayotte from pretending otherwise.

No evidence has emerged linking the weapons provided by the Qataris during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to the attack that killed four Americans at the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

But in the months before, the Obama administration clearly was worried about the consequences of its hidden hand in helping arm Libyan militants, concerns that have not previously been reported. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.

Also at the NYT, Jared Bernstein once again explains why politicians (and the media) in the Village need to stop obsessing on taxes and start focusing in increasing employment and, along with it, consumer demand.

WITH the budget-and-tax showdown dominating headlines, most Americans probably missed an even more ominous story: according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, America’s underlying growth rate — that is, the best the economy could do, under optimal conditions, without driving up inflation — has slowed from just under 4 percent a year in 2000 to just under 2 percent today.

Why does this matter? For one thing, the combination of a lower underlying growth rate, which you could think of as the economy’s speed limit, and a less equitable distribution of that growth was a reason middle-income households did so badly and poverty went up in the 2000s.

During the 1990s, in contrast, stronger demand for goods and services led to much faster job growth and the last real gains experienced by middle- and lower-income households. Faster growth in those years also spun off a lot more government revenues, which interacted with slightly higher tax rates to take the budget from deficit to surplus.

Read the whole thing and fantasize what we could be doing if we had smarter leadership in DC.

Back in Republican la-la land, Joel Kotkin at Forbes claims that blue states are committing suicide by supporting raising tax rates on the rich.

With their enthusiastic backing of President Obama and the Democratic Party on Election Day, the bluest parts of America may have embraced a program utterly at odds with their economic self-interest. The almost uniform support of blue states’ congressional representatives for the administration’s campaign for tax “fairness” represents a kind of bizarre economic suicide pact.

Any move to raise taxes on the rich — defined as households making over $250,000 annually — strikes directly at the economies of these states, which depend heavily on the earnings of high-income professionals, entrepreneurs and technical workers. In fact, when you examine which states, and metropolitan areas, have the highest concentrations of such people, it turns out they are overwhelmingly located in the bluest states and regions.

Really? Then how come we did so much better under the Clinton tax rates in the ’90s? After all, that’s all that is happening–except that the first $250,000 of these poor rich people’s money will still be taxed at the Bush rates. But that’s not how Kotkin sees it.

The people whose wallets will be drained in the new war on “the rich” are high-earning, but hardly plutocratic professionals like engineers, doctors, lawyers, small business owners and the like. Once seen as the bastion of the middle class, and exemplars of upward mobility, these people are emerging as the modern day “kulaks,” the affluent peasants ruthlessly targeted by Stalin in the early 1930s.

OMB!! “Wallets…drained!” “Stalin!” Let’s all freak out!

The ironic geography of the Democratic drive can be seen most clearly by examining the distribution of the classes now targeted by the coming purge. The top 10 states with the largest percentage of “rich” households under the Obama formula include true blue bastions Washington, D.C., which has the highest concentration of big earners, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, California and Hawaii. The only historic “swing state” in the top six is Virginia, due largely to the presence of the affluent suburbs of the capital. These same states, according to the Tax Foundation, would benefit the most from an extension of the much-lambasted Bush tax cuts.

Hey Joel, maybe it’s not all about taxes, even though that’s all that seems to matter to you. Maybe some blue state folks think the whole economy would benefit if more people got back to work, earned some money and spent it–as suggested by Jared Bernstein in yesterday’s NYT (see above).

As Zandar notes, Kotkin then goes on to show how Republicans can use the home mortgage deduction and other methods to punish the blue state richies for voting for Obama.

– Keep the tax rate on capital gains the same.

– Raise income taxes on the top income bracket for 2013, those making $398,350 and up (single filers, married joint filers, or head of household).

– Means-test, or eliminate entirely, the mortgage interest deduction (which benefits taxpayers in areas with the highest real estate values and mortgages – i.e., Hawaii, D.C., New York, California and Connecticut).

– Means-test or eliminate entirely the federal deduction of state and local taxes, which is disproportionately utilized by those in high-tax blue states: “In 2005, taxpayers in California and New York together made up 20 percent of those claiming the deduction and accounted for 30 percent of its value. Itemizers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California claimed on average over $12,000 per household.”

Talk about a sore loser! Kotkin must be really bitter about Romney’s failure to get those blue state dopes to vote for him.

Meanwhile all those Romney voters in the red states are dreaming about seceding from the union. But if they did, asks The Nation, “Who’d Pay for Their Massive Government Handouts?”

In the wake of Obama’s victory, citizens in several states submitted petitions to secede from the United States. It is something of an irony that the very states seeking secession from “big government”—like Louisiana and Alabama—have been among the top beneficiaries of that selfsame government. Put bluntly, the government would be far smaller without them, and they would seriously struggle far more without it. Indeed, were they to become independent, most would be failed states in need of a bailout. Only this time their benefactor would be not the federal government but the International Monetary Fund, of which the United States is the principal donor. Louisiana and Alabama would go the way of Greece and Spain.

Oh, the irony of it all! And here’s another irony for Republicans to chew on. From TPM: Why Insurers Are Wary Of Raising The Medicare Age

House Republican leaders want to avoid the fiscal cliff with a proposal that would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Democrats are broadly reluctant to cut benefits, but President Obama was willing to accept the policy last year in failed deficit reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, and top Democrats have left the door open to including that measure in a grand budget bargain.

It may seem counter-intuitive: why would an industry threatened by government insurance not want it to shrink?

The reason: hiking the Medicare eligibility age would throw seniors aged 65 and 66 off Medicare and into the private market, forcing insurers, who will soon be required to cover all consumers regardless of health status, to care for a sicker, more expensive crop of patients.

“The risk pool issue is important,” the insurance industry source said. “[I]f you add more older and sicker people to the pool, that’s definitely going to have any impact on premiums.”

The policy would save the federal government $113 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But it achieves that by raising the cost of private insurance: the Kaiser Family Foundation projected that a Medicare age of 67 would raise costs for under-65 patients by an average of $141 in 2014. (In practice it would be phased in.)

Duh!

And even more Republican stupidity: Right wing nutcases are all bent out of shape because their favorite crazy propaganda movie didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

Gerald Molan, the director of the extremely anti-Obama movie, 2016: Obama’s America , is mad that his and Dinesh D’Souza’s film [“2016”] wasn’t on the shortlist of documentaries nominated for an Academy Award.

“The action confirms my opinion that the bias against anything from a conservative point of view is dead on arrival in Hollywood circles,” he complained to the Hollywood Reporter.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the movie is based on a pack of lies and right wing conspiracy theories, could it?

To cleanse your palate of right wing and DC craziness, try watching this video from NASA that show views of the Earth from space. Here’s a still shot:

new-view-earth-at-night-usa_62009_600x450

So what are you reading and blogging about today? I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past couple of days, so I look forward to clicking on your links!


Friday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

Sandra Fluke gave a wonderful speech to the DNC on Wednesday. The young woman rose to prominence after being denied an opportunity to be the only women speaking to a Issa congressional panel on the coverage of birth control in all insurance programs.  She was savagely attacked by the right wing press then and now.  Here are some horrible tweets that show exactly how awful women in the spotlight are treated by the right.

Let’s get one thing straight first: Contrary to what Limbaugh said, just because a woman wants to have easier access to contraceptives does not make her a slut or a prostitute.

But in order to promote a radical agenda that would deny women access to something so basic as birth control, conservatives took to Twitter after Fluke’s speech to, once again, repeat the disgusting falsehood that she wants the government to “pay” for her social life and to bash her for “whining” about it on a national stage.

Here’s a sampling of tweets that Think Progress spotted:

Sandra Fluke: I am woman, hear me whine.

— Todd Kincannon (@ToddKincannon) September 6, 2012

Shorter @sandrafluke #DNC speech: Me me me me me me. Free free free free B(irth) C(ontrol).Eeeeevil GOP.

— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) September 6, 2012

Don’t lecture conservative women about empowerment while demanding that we pay for what goes on in your bedroom #DNC2012

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) September 6, 2012

I wonder if she has “Birth Control Martyr” business cards.

— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) September 6, 2012

I hope someone was passing out free condoms tonight, otherwise Sandra Fluke might be in trouble tomorrow.

— Michael Berry (@MichaelBerrySho) September 5, 2012

Sandra wants taxpayers to pay for her tanning appointments.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) September 6, 2012

So, there’s a new “fish” story from Paul Ryan out and about the web.  First, we heard that Ryan lied about his marathon running feats.  Now, we’re hearing a story about Mountain Climbing.  Lies seem to come easy to Romney and Ryan, as BB pointed out.  This one is really interesting.  How many fourteeners has Ryan really climbed?

Craig Gilbert, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote the original story, back in 2009, about Ryan’s mountain-climbing record. He has now written an update and amplification of exactly what Ryan told him then. Here are relevant parts from the original interview:

Ryan: “My mom was very outdoorsy …  We spent our summers doing backpacking trips in the (Colorado) back-country, you know, Snowmass Lake, Capital Peak, spent all our summers doing that …  went all over White River National Forest, just the whole Elk range. I mean I’ve climbed every fourteener in that range and the three around there … So I got into climbing fourteeners when I was 12, with my brother, Stan. My mom got us into that.”
Question: “How many fourteeners have you climbed? Or how many times?”

Ryan: “38. I think that’s my last count.”

Question: “Those are just climbing peaks that are 14,000 feet?”

Ryan: “I’ve done it 38 times. … I’ve done 38, but I think the number of unique peaks is something like twenty… no, no it’s like thirty or something like that. I counted it up a year or two ago.”

Question: “Most of those in Colorado?”

Ryan: “All of them are in Colorado. So I think I’ve climbed like 28 (peaks), and I’ve done it 38 times, because I’ve done a number of them a few times. So I was, you know, kind of into that stuff.”

So, now folks that are real fourteeners are weighing in on the possibility of that actually being true. According to folks that know what they are doing, it’s likely another Ryan Whopper. So, is Ryan a serial peddler of fish stories or has all that reading of Ayn Rand prevented him from processing reality?

I loved Jared Bernstein’s post on yoyo economics and politics.  It’s a theme that both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton spoke about at the DNC.  The idea of YOYO (your’re on your own) vs. We’re in This all Together is a good way to put the election this year.

Protecting the rights of individuals has always been a core American value. Yet in recent years the emphasis on individualism has been pushed to the point where, like the diners in hell, we’re starving. This political and social philosophy is hurting our nation, endangering our future and that of our children, and, paradoxically, making it harder for individuals to get a fair shot at the American dream.

This extreme individualism dominates the way we talk about the most important aspects of our economic lives, those that reside in the intersection of our living standards, our government, and the future opportunities for ourselves and our children. The message, sometimes implicit but often explicit, is, You’re on your own. Its acronym, YOYO, provides a useful shorthand to summarize this destructive approach to governing.

The concept of YOYO, as used in this book, isn’t all that complicated. It’s the prevailing vision of how our country should be governed. As such, it embodies a set of values, and at the core of the YOYO value system is hyper-individualism: the notion that whatever the challenges we face as a nation, the best way to solve them is for people to fend for themselves. Over the past few decades, this harmful vision has generated a set of policies with that hyper-individualistic gene throughout their DNA.

The YOYO crowd—the politicians, lobbyists, and economists actively promoting this vision—has stepped up its efforts to advance its policies in recent years, but hyper-individualism is not a new phenomenon. Chapter 1 documents archaeological evidence of YOYO thinking and policies from the early 1900s, along with their fingerprint: a sharp increase in the inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity. The most recent incarnation can be found in the ideas generated by the administration of George W. Bush, but the YOYO infrastructure—the personnel with a vested interest in the continued dominance of these policies—will not leave the building with Bush. Unless, that is, we recognize the damage being done and make some major changes.

One central goal of the YOYO movement is to continue and even accelerate the trend toward shifting economic risks from the government and the nation’s corporations onto individuals and their families. You can see this intention beneath the surface of almost every recent conservative initiative: Social Security privatization, personal accounts for health care (the so-called Health Savings Accounts), attacks on labor market regulations, and the perpetual crusade to slash the government’s revenue through regressive tax cuts—a strategy explicitly tagged as “starving the beast”—and block the government from playing a useful role in our economic lives. You can even see this go-it-alone principle in our stance toward our supposed international allies.

While this fast-moving reassignment of economic risk would be bad news in any period, it’s particularly harmful today. As the new century unfolds, we face prodigious economic challenges, many of which have helped to generate both greater inequalities and a higher degree of economic insecurity in our lives. But the dominant vision has failed to develop a hopeful, positive narrative about how these challenges can be met in such a way as to uplift the majority.

If you’d like to read the full text of President Obama’s acceptance speech last night it is reprinted here in full.

If you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election.

If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.

If you believe that new plants and factories can dot our landscape; that new energy can power our future; that new schools can provide ladders of opportunity to this nation of dreamers; if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.

America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now.  Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place.  Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together.  We don’t turn back.  We leave no one behind.  We pull each other up.  We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.

The election theme music is Bruce Springstein’s “We Take Care of Our Own”.  Quite a contrast to the Throw yo Momma from the Trian, isn’t it?  I love this song because it was written partially about Hurricane Katrina.

“From the shotgun shack to the Super Dome …”

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?