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.


Glenn Greenwald’s Dishonest Attack on Paul Krugman

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A few days ago Paul Krugman wrote a not-very-exciting post at his blog “The Conscience of a Liberal.” The point of the post was that right wingers have not been as successful in their efforts to hype fake scandals during the Obama administration as they were in the Clinton years. Krugman writes:

When Barack Obama was elected, I was sure that it would be the Clinton years all over — that he would be subjected to an endless series of claims of “scandal”, creating the sense of a tainted administration even though all the alleged scandals would turn out to be either trivial or nonexistent. Remember, after all those years of front-page headlines and $70 million in public funds, the Whitewater investigation came up dry.

In fact, however, none of that happened during Obama’s first term. But would the second term be different? For a little while it looked as if the old scandal machinery was finally springing back to life, with Benghazi, the IRS, and more. You could almost hear the sigh of contentment from a certain part of the press corps.

Krugman’s post had nothing to do with the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald; but he made the mistake of just barely mentioning the NSA story.

But now it has all evaporated. Benghazi never made sense; it turns out that the IRS was targeting conservative as well as liberal groups. And as Chait says in the linked article, the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.

And today, Greenwald chose to sic his permanently outraged shock troops fans on Krugman based on a deliberately obtuse reading of Krugman’s referencing Chait’s characterization of the NSA issue as a “policy dispute.” Here’s Greenwald’s take on it.

Defending the Obama administration, Paul Krugman pronounced that “the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.” Really? In what conceivable sense is this not a serious scandal? If you, as an American citizen, let alone a journalist, don’t find it deeply objectionable when top national security officials systematically mislead your representatives in Congress about how the government is spying on you, and repeatedly lie publicly about resulting political controversies over that spying, what is objectionable? If having the NSA engage in secret, indiscriminate domestic spying that warps if not outright violates legal limits isn’t a “scandal”, then what is?

Of course it was really Jonathan Chait who made the distinction between “scandals” and “policy disputes.” Here’s what Chait wrote about it:

Obama’s prosecution of leaks, or use of the National Security Agency — is not a scandal at all. It’s a policy controversy. One can argue that Obama’s policy stance is wrong, or dangerous, or a threat to democracy. But when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct.

And of course it’s really Chait with whom Greenwald is enraged; because Chait had the temerity to write a somewhat humorous column in which he noted the similarities between Greenwald and Ralph Nader–one of which is that each of these men was apparently born without a sense of humor.

But instead of attacking Chait, Greenwald picks a fight with Krugman, who really doesn’t need that right now since he’s grieving the lost of his father. It’s probably a low blow for me to bring that up, but I can’t believe Greenwald didn’t know it, since he apparently reads Greenwald’s blog.

Greenwald has been running around to any media outlet who will have him announcing that he’s got an upcoming “bombshell” scoop that “will shock the world.” I wish he’d just get busy and publish it instead of spending so much time hyping his stories and lecturing everyone about how to interpret Edward Snowden’s behavior.

I think today I’ve finally had enough of St. Glenn to last me the rest of my life.


Tuesday Reads, Part II: In Other News….

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I’m back with more reads!!

Before I get started with the political news, here a very strange story from Chicago: Urooj Khan Homicide: Chicago Lottery Winner’s Death Re-Classified After Cyanide Poison Discovery

With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.

Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said Monday….

In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.

Ashur Oshana, the convenience store clerk, told The Associated Press on Monday that Khan said he had sworn off gambling after returning from the hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage, in Saudi Arabia. Khan said he wanted to lead a better life, Oshana said, but Khan bought the tickets that day and scratched off the winner in the store.

“Right away he grabbed my hand,” Oshana said. “He kissed my hand and kissed my head and gave me $100. He was really happy.”

Not long afterwards, Kahn was dead. Now police will likely exhume his body and try to find out who killed him.

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I’m sure you heard that Hillary Clinton went back to work yesterday, and her coworkers gave her a gag gift–a football helmet.

Cheers, a standing ovation and a gag gift of protective headgear greeted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she returned to work on Monday after a month-long absence caused first by a stomach virus, then a fall and a concussion and finally a brief hospitalization for a blood clot.

A crowd of about 75 State Department officials greeted Clinton with a standing ovation as she walked in to the first senior staff meeting she has convened since early December, according to those present. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, noting that life in Washington is often a “contact sport, sometimes even in your own home” then presented Clinton with a gift — a regulation white Riddell football helmet emblazoned with the State Department seal, officials said.

She was also given a blue football jersey with “Clinton” and the number 112 — the record-breaking number of countries she has visited since becoming secretary of state — printed on the back. Aides said Clinton was delighted with the gifts but did not try either of them on and the meeting turned to matters of national security and diplomacy.

“She loved it. She thought it was cool. But then being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Did you hear about GOP Connecticut State Rep. DebraLee Hovey, who attacked Gabby Giffords for visiting Newtown? From the Hartford Courant:

In content and syntax, state Rep. DebraLee Hovey embarrassed herself, the General Assembly and the state.

Ms. Hovey, a Republican who represents Newtown and Monroe, blasted the visit to Newtown on Friday by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat, who met privately with local officials and families of victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Gabby Gifford stay out of my towns!!” Ms. Hovey posted on Facebook over the weekend (misspelling the former Arizona congresswoman’s last name). In the comments thread, Rep. Hovey seemed to complain that she wasn’t invited (she was at a meeting in Florida at the time) and claimed the visit was political: “There was pure political motives [sic].”

How do these loony-tunes get elected? Hovey later offered a pathetic non-apologetic “apology.”

The remarks I made regarding Congresswoman Gifford’s visit were insensitive and if I offended anyone I truly apologize … My comments were meant to be protective of the privacy of the families and our community as we work to move on, and were in no way intended as an insult to Congresswoman Giffords personally. Our community has struggled greatly through this tragedy, and we are all very sensitive to the potential for this event to be exploited for political purposes. This is what I wish to avoid.

What a moronic asshole.
Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Reads: The Gun Lobby and Bad-Faith Negotiations

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Good Morning!!

I had a tough time sleeping last night. The past couple of days’ political events have been so surreal that it feels like there’s a disturbance in the force, so to speak. I couldn’t stop thinking about that bizarre NRA press conference yesterday and the way Wayne LaPierre talked about the need for more guns in our schools while at the same time a man in Pennsylvania was “randomly” shooting and killing people and grieving families were holding funerals for first graders and school teachers and administrators in Connecticut.

If only we had a responsible mainstream media. But that’s not going to happen either. Early this morning I heard CNN reporting on Americans who are rushing out to buy more guns because they’re afraid there will suddenly be gun control laws to stop them. A man in Georgia was who was interviewed was remarking on the high cost of AR-15’s right now, because so many people want to stock up on them. He was at the store because he had long wanted one of these and was no afraid he soon wouldn’t be able to get one. The interviewer asked if he would pay the high price, and he said, “I probably will.”

Here are some more intelligent reactions to Wayne LaPierre’s so-called press conference, at which the press couldn’t ask questions.

The New York Daily News: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre was America’s mad gunman in first comments after Newtown school massacre

A week after a gunman armed with an assault rifle murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and ever so shortly after the bells there tolled for the dead, LaPierre lashed out at everyone and everything but the weapons that were used to kill.

Still worse, in his arrogance and in his sense that terrible forces are out to get him, LaPierre was callous to the raw agony of the families of the slain. The hell with them — he made clear that he will fight to maintain the easy availability of assault weaponry of the kind that killed their kids.
He flayed the news media for supposedly perpetuating a culture of violence and ignorance.

He blamed video games and movies for murder, as if big-screen or small-screen entertainment matters more than easily obtained machines of death.

He mocked anyone with a single new idea to prevent deadly weapons from falling into the hands of those intent on mayhem.

And, exhibiting a level of insanity that qualifies people for commitment as a danger to themselves or others, he called for stationing armed cops at every school in the United States.

The Atlantic: The Most Paranoid, Fear-Mongering Lines in Wayne LaPierre’s Call to Expand the Gun Market to Schools

Anyone expecting the NRA to be chastened at all by the shooting in Newtown, Conn., was quickly disabused of that expectation as Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the gun industry and enthusiast lobbying group, delivered a blistering speech effectively arguing today for a major expansion of the market for the product his group represents.

It was an extraordinarily tone deaf performance, but it followed a well-worn script for product sales: Provoke anxiety — and pitch your product as the one and only solution to it.

Read the examples at the link.

Dan Bigman at Fortune: What The NRA’s Wayne Lapierre Gets Paid To Defend Guns

If you’re a transparency fanatic like me, you appreciate knowing what kind of skin public people have in the game during episodes like this. So what did the NRA pay Lapierre to say that the best way to stop school shootings is to have the government put every mentally ill person in the nation on a watch list and arm school personnel to defend schools like banks?

Just under a million bucks.

That’s according to the most recent NRA filings with the IRS.

The numbers are a bit out of date. The last filing of a Form 990 from the NRA was in 2010. Still, if you’re interested in the numbers behind America’s most powerful gun lobby, it makes for interesting reading.

The organization’s mission is simply stated, right at the top: “To protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.” To accomplish this, in 2010 the NRA reported that it had 781 full time employees, 125,000 volunteers and generated revenues of $22.5 million.

BTW, as Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out last night, banks don’t use armed guards anymore, because they don’t prevent bank robberies. But LaPierre is living in the past as he showed with his pop culture references to decades-old video games and movies.

Here’s O’Donnell’s rant. It’s pretty long, but well worth watching in full.

It’s not a response to the press conference, but Mark Ames posted a great piece on the history of the NRA a couple of days ago: FROM “OPERATION WETBACK” TO NEWTOWN: TRACING THE HICK FASCISM OF THE NRA. Ames is the author of Going Postal, a book on workplace and school shooters. His article can’t be easily excerpted from, but I highly recommend you go an read it at the link.

On a slightly more positive note, here’s an article in New York Magazine about a former school principal who has been studying school shootings ever since one happened at his own school: School-Shooting Specialist Bill Bond on Why Lockdowns Save Lives

Bill Bond, specialist for school safety at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has spent more than a decade speaking and consulting on school violence. Here, he tells assistant editor Eric Benson about lockdown procedures and the deadly shooting he witnessed himself.
Along with Columbine, my school is the reason lockdown procedures came into being. I was principal of Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, and we had eight shot in the lobby; three girls were killed. Back then, we had a crisis plan for the school, but what we were thinking about was a school intruder — an irate person, a mad parent, someone like that. We weren’t thinking about guns at all.
A lockdown means that all students get to the nearest classroom, regardless of whether it’s theirs or not, as quickly as possible. You lock the doors. You pull the shades. You turn the light out. You have the kids move to the back corner of the room, away from the door and windows. And you get the kids to be as quiet as possible. You want them to be quiet, because shooters react to sound and movement. If there’s someone screaming and hollering or running around, the shooter is much, much more likely to try to enter that door.

It sounds like that’s exactly what the teachers did at Sandy Hook School. Read much more at the link.

The other big story of the day is the so-called “fiscal cliff” and the way the Villagers–politicians and media–have turned this giant clusterfuck waiting to happen into an even huger and more horrible clusterfuck.

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Last night Jonathan Chait posted the perfect response to the insanity of the “negotiations” between Speaker Boehner and President Obama: Obama Waking Up From Dream of Grand Bargain

In recent weeks, Obama seems to have concluded that Republicans have come around, and that it is time to sit down and hash out a deal like reasonable people. He moved his position more than halfway toward Boehner’s. Democrats in Congress are, incredibly, discussing the option of compromising even more.

But reasonable compromise to avert the fiscal cliff is impossible. Republicans, as a whole, don’t even seem capable of linear thinking about the budget. They don’t know what they actually want on spending. They don’t understand why Obama wants more revenue or what role this would play in the broader fiscal picture. They don’t even seem capable of politically organizing in a way that maximizes their fanatic principles. The House Republican caucus is simply a teeming pit of revanchist anger.

Chait is hopeful that Obama’s latest remarks on the mess in which he outlined a smaller proposed solution to the standoff may be a sign that the president has once again let go of his fantasies of postpartisan cooperation.

Obama’s remarks today indicate an apparent acceptance of the dynamic and a desire to at least steer the process toward minimizing the economic harm that would result if the contractionary policies scheduled for next year take effect. Obama is again demanding a tax cut for income under $250,000 a year, along with canceling out some of the more punitive spending cuts. He can get that if he holds absolutely firm on his income threshold. Unfortunately, his offer to Boehner confused the matter. Obama offered to lift the tax hike level to $400,000 a year. Now, he was proposing to make up the revenue through reducing tax exemptions, so he really changed only the delivery system for higher taxes rather than the end result, but this fact has gotten confused in the reporting, and Obama needs to re-solidify it. (In his press conference, he didn’t.)

The president also needs to learn about the uselessness of the corporate media.

Roll Call had an interesting insider report on the goings on during the GOP battle over Boehner’s Plan B on Thursday night.

Even his allies admit that Boehner’s stunning failure to find the votes for his “plan B” tax legislation was a major blow to his credibility, provoking befuddlement and even outrage from fellow Republicans.

But there is also considerable anger in the GOP conference directed at the conservative lawmakers that forced Boehner’s shocking defeat.

That fractured reaction — coupled with the lack of a plausible challenger — mean Boehner is unlikely to face any significant challenge to his position as speaker in the near term.

“These are people that, they don’t have a leader amongst them, and they don’t want to be led,” said a GOP member and Boehner loyalist. “He had probably 200 people lined up for him, for his position. And those 200 are pretty dad gum loyal to the speaker and pretty angry at that group.”

Read lots more at the link.

Finally, Rob Urie, who describes himself as an “artist and political economist,” writes at Counterpunch on why Obama and other Democrats are determined to cut Social Security even though it is political suicide and Republicans will use it against them in successive elections–and why we might fight back: Democrats, Social Security and the Fiscal Cliff

Why cut Social Security? The program is currently solvent, is expected to remain solvent for decades to come, and projected shortfalls in the future could be better addressed by raising the incomes of the people who pay into the program, not by cutting payments to those who depend on them. What is to be gained by ‘solving’ a problem that isn’t?

If cutting Social Security isn’t necessary, why then is it being proposed? Barack Obama provided copious evidence in prior proposals, television interviews and speeches that doing so is his intent. Congressional democrats and labor leaders quickly acceded to his proposal to do so, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi going so far as to actively lie that proposed cuts will ‘strengthen’ the program. And given the cuts will eventually put tens of millions of Americans into dire poverty from a program they paid into for all of their working lives, what rationale could possibly justify doing so?

The reason I ask is a coalition of democrats, labor, liberals and progressives just re-elected Mr. Obama and democrats in Congress to what—cut Social Security? Mr. Obama created the ‘fiscal cliff’ to first push his stacked (in favor of cutting social insurance programs) ‘deficit commission’ to develop a plan to cut government spending and second, to force the issue to be revisited immediately after the election if no plan was agreed to. And Republican threats to refuse to raise the debt ceiling for leverage to ‘force’ spending cuts are idiotic—George W. Bush and congressional Republicans just led the largest increase in government spending in modern history. And that is not a difficult point to make. (And had it been on beneficial programs, it would have been laudable).

Ultimately the entire ‘debate’ is nonsense—the U.S. doesn’t fund spending directly from taxes. As the Federal Reserve is in the process of demonstrating with its QE (Quantitative Easing) programs, it can buy an unlimited quantity of government debt with money it ‘creates’ –the ‘debt limit’ is an arbitrary misdirection.

None of this is news to any of us who went into this with our eyes open about Mr. Obama, but it’s a very good summary of what’s happening and well worth reading in full.   And remember, George W. Bush did his darndest to privatize Social Security and failed miserably.  Perhaps Obama will succeed, but I believe can be tripped up too.  The Republican hatred of anything Obama wants will probably help–after all Social Security wasn’t even addressed in Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the politicians have left for their luxury vacations (leaving unemployed people to wonder whether they’ll have any money at all after Dec. 31); so I guess we can relax for the moment and try to enjoy some peace and quiet for the next week.

I’ve focused on only two issues in this post, so I look forward to seeing what everyone else is reading and thinking about. What’s on your list for today?


Saturday Reads: Austerity, Medicare, and Punishing the Baby Boomers

fiscal cliff fix

Good Morning!!

Following on Dakinikat’s post last night, The Austerity Plot, here are some more links about Jonathan Chait’s very very bad recommendation that Obama should cave on raising the Medicare enrollment age.

David Dayen’s reaction was immediate and shrill: Jon Chait’s Miserable Endorsement of Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age.

Let’s look at Chait’s reasoning. I would probably start with the fact that he’s not 64 or 65. My parents are, and until my dad reached Medicare in November, they were paying $2,500 a month on the private market for health insurance. So I’ll be happy to provide him with their phone number so he can tell them how it’s “tolerable” for them to spend two years more than they expected doing that.

But soft! Here are his actual reasons. One, Democrats have to accept concessions (that’s always a good strategic place from which to begin a negotiation!), and the scolds seem to like raising the eligibility age. So let’s give ‘em what they want. This is a bizarrely content-free assertion. The phrase “If Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles wanted you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it?” springs to mind. Second, he thinks that Republicans will somehow forget that this only raises $100 billion, at most, over 10 years, and will then drop any demands to hit a particular number in the negotiations….

The one thing we know will be a side effect of increasing the Medicare eligibility age is that insurance premiums will skyrocket. It will make Medicare more expensive because they lose relatively healthy 65 and 66 year-olds from their risk pool, and it will make private insurance more expensive because they add relatively sick 65 and 66 year-olds to their risk pool. Insurers hate the idea for just this reason. As a result, everyone’s premiums will rise, and cost-shifting will ensue from the government to its citizens.

The original Shrill One, was even more shrill than usual.

…why on earth would Obama be selling Medicare away to raise top tax rates when he gets a big rate rise on January 1 just by doing nothing? And no, vague promises about closing loopholes won’t do it: a rate rise is the real deal, no questions, and should not be traded away for who knows what.

So this looks crazy to me; it looks like a deal that makes no sense either substantively or in terms of the actual bargaining strength of the parties. And if it does happen, the disillusionment on the Democratic side would be huge. All that effort to reelect Obama, and the first thing he does is give away two years of Medicare? How’s that going to play in future attempts to get out the vote?

As Dakinikat wrote, Beltway Bob immediately accepted Chait’s assessment of the likely “deal,” even though he explained very clearly last night as host of the Rachel Maddow Show that doing this would be insane and counterproductive.

Ed Kilgore defended Chait:

I do think it’s kind of important that progressives allow each other a bit of liberty in discussions about big fiscal issues: after all, even the Right-Wing Noise Machine is in a bit of disarray on the subject at the moment. I know some people think resisting anything that affects Social Security or Medicare benefits is the ultimate Red Line that cannot be crossed. Personally, my own fear is that in defending that Red Line, congressional Democrats will wind up making concessions on Medicaid and other low-income programs that in my opinion are more morally compelling than keeping Medicare precisely the way it is today.

Maybe my fears are misguided, or maybe I just don’t share the obsession of some liberals in keeping Medicare pristine as a potential model for a universal single-payer health care system somewhere in the distant future, even if that means today’s poor folks have to suffer as a lower priority.

Apparently, Kilgore doesn’t understand that millions of poverty stricken elders are on Medicare and that millions of middle class Americans rely on Medicaid for nursing home care in addition to Medicare. It’s not an either/or thing.

Atrios gave Chait the Wanker of the Day Award, and yesterday evening, Chait issued an “acceptance speech” that doubled down on his recommendations for Medicare cuts in a post that I personally found offensive–but then I’m one of those loser 65-year-olds, so what do I know?

I, along with millions of other losers, committed the horrendous crime of being born after WWII ended and thus became part of the despised population bomb called the “baby boom.” Never mind that we didn’t ask to be born when we were and that public officials have known about our huge numbers ever since 1960 at least, the problem is all our fault. Supposedly, Ronald Reagan fixed the problem by having us pay more into the system so that Social Security and Medicare would be there when we got old, but now that is all forgotten because the superrich need more money to sock away in foreign tax havens.

WH_CARTOON_071029

Kenneth Baer and Jeffrey Liebman wrote about it in a NYT op-ed yesterday:

For decades we have known that the retirement of the baby boomers would be a monumental event for the economy. But now that it’s happening, many fiscal policy makers are acting as if the boomers are eternal teenagers and are turning a blind eye to how the boomers’ aging changes how we should approach economic policy. And this affects two of the central issues of the negotiations: how much the government should spend and how we can cut unemployment.

Consider the debate over spending. The Congressional Budget Office projects that if current policies continue, total federal spending will rise to 24 percent of gross domestic product in 2022. Republicans and Washington deficit hawks argue that this means spending is out of control, since over the past 40 years government spending has averaged 21 percent.

Their proposed solution is a cap on government spending as a percentage of the economy. Mitt Romney wanted to cap spending at 20 percent of G.D.P. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, has proposed a cap of 20.6 percent with Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri. Just this week, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a 2016 Republican presidential aspirant, suggested an 18 percent cap.

These plans ignore the simple fact that you cannot repeal the aging of the boomers. The main reason expenditures are rising this decade is that spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is increasing by a whopping 3.7 percent of G.D.P. as the baby boomers age and retire. This demographic fact also has been driving increases in disability insurance payments as more knees give way and backs give out.

In addition, policy-makers need to be looking at unemployment differently, according to Baer and Liebman, but are they capable of doing that? Not likely. Read more about it at the link.

rich xmas

In other “news,” on Thursday, Fox News’ Monica Crowley (did you know she has a Ph.D.?!) claimed that Americans committed “national suicide” by re-electing Obama, because now the rich will have to pay more taxes.

“From a conservative perspective, November 6 was a national suicide,” Crowley asserted. “There is a very thin, fine, red line between us and total destruction of the American idea. That thin, red line was the Republican Party. If this party also commits suicide, this will be catastrophic.”
Raw Story (http://s.tt/1wd0V)

Charlie Crist has officially become a Democrat.

Former Republican Governor Charlie Crist announced his official switch from independent to the Democratic Party with a beaming Twitter post Friday night after a Christmas event at the White House.

Posing in a photo with an unidentified woman holding the official Florida voter registration papers, Crist tweeted he was “proud and honored to join the Democratic Party in the home of President @BarackObama!”

I wonder if he’s going to get a job in the administration? Or will he run for governor against Rick Scott?

Finally, Susie Madrak has a must-read post at Crooks and Liars: Obama Cheaps Out On Sandy Recovery to Prop Up Austerity Sham. It’s a quick read, so please go read it at the link.

That’s all I have for today. Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading list?


Tuesday Reads: Presidential Debate Take Two, The Sociopath Ticket, Warren-Brown, and a Sensata Update

Good Morning!!

I have to admit that I’m a nervous wreck worrying about the debate tonight. I’ve been very anxious about it ever since I read that article by Jonathan Chait that Dakinikat linked to in the Monday morning post. Here’s the part that almost sent me into a full-blown panic attack:

Let’s first imagine that, on January 20, Romney takes the oath of office. Of the many secret post-victory plans floating around in the inner circles of the campaigns, the least secret is Romney’s intention to implement Paul Ryan’s budget. The Ryan budget has come to be almost synonymous with the Republican Party agenda, and Romney has embraced it with only slight variations. It would repeal Obamacare, cut income-tax rates, turn Medicare for people under 55 years old into subsidized private insurance, increase defense spending, and cut domestic spending, with especially large cuts for Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs targeted to the very poor.

Few voters understand just how rapidly Romney could achieve this, rewriting the American social compact in one swift stroke. Ryan’s plan has never attracted Democratic support, but it is not designed for bipartisanship. Ryan deliberately built it to circumvent a Senate filibuster, stocking the plan with budget legislation that is allowed, under Senate “budget reconciliation” procedures, to pass with a simple majority. Republicans have been planning the mechanics of the vote for many months, and Republican insiders expect Romney to use reconciliation to pass the bill. Republicans would still need to control 50 votes in the Senate (Ryan, as vice-president, would cast the tiebreaking vote), but if Romney wins the presidency, he’ll likely precipitate a partywide tail wind that would extend to the GOP’s Senate slate.

{{Shiver}} That’s scarier than a slasher movie. It could all depend on President Obama’s performance in tonight’s town hall style debate. Of course we’ll be having a live blog. The debate begins at 9PM Eastern.

There are countless journalists, bloggers, and talking heads advising President Obama what to do tonight. I’m just going to share one that I think goes pretty well with Chait’s predictions about a Romney presidency. It is offered by Jeffrey Feldman, who is somewhat of an expert on “framing.” Feldman suggests that One Word Can Win the Next Debate. The word is “restructuring,” which, according to Feldman is what Romney wants to do to the entire country.

Almost four years after it was published, his New York Times Op-Ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” is still the clearest statement of a sociopathic economic ideology that will be unleashed on the American public if Mitt Romney wins the election. President Obama would be wise to hold it up to the viewing audience multiple times in tomorrow’s presidential debate.

Published just after President Obama took office, Romney’s article takes the cavalier position that the U.S. government should not step in and help the auto industry that was at the time teetering on the brink of decline. As GM, Chrysler and Ford each fell to their knees clutching their chest, Romney was saying do not call the EMS unit, do not let anybody near them. Just let them fall to the floor, dead.

Why does Romney insist that GM, Chrysler, and Ford — three of the largest manufacturing firms in the history of the United States — be refused first aid at the very moment they fall to the floor clutching their chests? The answer lies in this Orwellian, bone-chilling phrase:

“Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself.”

I think Feldman has a great point. This would be a great way to frame Romney’s economic policies and explain how dangerous they are for those of us who don’t have offshore banking accounts in the Caymans, Switzerland, and Bermuda.

In contrast to Mitt Romney’s world of forced restructuring, the president bases his economic vision on what we already know about the destructive effects of standing back and letting the sectors of the economy on which a middle class depends go into a stratosphere free-fall.

To present this contrast with Mitt Romney’s sadistic world of forced restructuring, the president needs to do more than say he saved the auto industry or that he believes investing in the middle class is the key to economic recovery.

He needs to say that Mitt Romney looks at past suffering of working people and insists, “We need to repeat this right away” whereas Barack Obama looks at it and asks, “What can we do to make sure this never happens again?”

That would be very effective, I think. I hope President Obama has something like that up his sleeve! The White House must be confident, because they’ve arranged for Joe Biden to appear on all three network morning shows tomorrow.

Biden will appear on CBS This Morning, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, according to a network source.

The pre-booking stands in contrast to the last debate, when the Obama campaign was temporarily shell-shocked by the president’s performance. Aides waited more than 10 minutes to enter the “spin room” in Denver as they formulated a message. The following morning, aides, not high profile surrogates, took to TV.

I hope Biden calls Romney’s lies “a bunch of malarkey” and laughs his ass off!

And here’s a little bit of good news. As of yesterday late afternoon, Nate Silver’s predictive model has Obama’s electoral vote count back above 270, and his chances of reelection at 66%. It appears the Romney bump is really over. We should have a good idea tonight whether Obama will get a debate bump.

More good news, this time in the Massachusetts Senate race: Elizabeth Warren raises $12.1 million, Scott Brown $7.45 million, in latest Senate campaign quarter.

Elizabeth Warren, who has been the nation’s leading congressional fund-raiser this year, today announced raising $12.12 million during the most recent quarter for her bid to unseat Senator Scott Brown, who raised $7.45 million.

The period from July 1 through Sept. 30 was the most lucrative three-month for the Democrat since entered the Senate race last year. Warren’s previous best was the prior quarter, running from April through June, when she raised $8.6 million. Brown, the Republican incumbent, also had his best quarter, topping the $4.97 million he raised from April through June.

Brown’s best quarter and it’s far far less than Warren raised!

Overall, Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate, has raised about $36.3 million for her first bid for elective office. Brown has raised about $27.45 million so far, but was also helped by $7 million left over from his January 2010 special election.

“Tens of thousands of people across Massachusetts have joined this campaign because they know that Elizabeth will fight for them in the US Senate,” said a statement from Michael Pratt, Warren’s campaign finance director. “While Scott Brown has stood with billionaires, Big Oil, and Wall Street – and supports Republican control of the Senate – Elizabeth Warren has been there for middle-class families and small businesses. This strong support will help propel the campaign to victory in November.”

At the Boston Phoenix, David Berstein has an interesting piece on women and the GOP: “G(rand) O(ld) P(ricks).”

For years, I’ve chronicled in the Phoenix the dwindling ranks of Republican women in elected office, and suggested that their absence will ultimately hurt the GOP.
The moment of reckoning may be here. We can see it unfolding in the hotly contested US Senate race between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. The GOP’s female deficit is likely to help Warren win this election — and prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate.

It’s not a secret that women are the swing voters expected to decide the Brown-Warren race. Warren’s campaign has relentlessly attacked Brown on women’s issues, and Brown has used his mother, wife, and daughters — and tales of himself folding laundry — to counter the onslaught.

Bernstein points out that many of these women voters like Brown, especially those whose families have income of $100,000 or more.

But every time women get wind of the GOP’s latest misogynistic outrage — such as Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s assertion that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant — it pushes them a little further away from Brown.

That might not be the case if female voters saw plenty of prominent women speaking up from within the GOP — but all they see is a party of men.

Check it out. It’s well worth a read.

Paul Ryan pretends to wash pots

I know you’ve probably heard about this already, but I can’t resist including it because it’s so funny and so typical of the Romney campaign. Paul Ryan showed up at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio run by the St. Vincent De Paul Society, a Catholic charity. By the time Ryan got late Saturday morning, breakfast was over, and the homeless clients were gone and the dishes were washed. So Ryan faked washing some pots for a photo op.

The head of a northeast Ohio charity says that the Romney campaign last week “ramrodded their way” into the group’s Youngstown soup kitchen so that GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan could get his picture taken washing dishes in the dining hall.

Brian J. Antal, president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society, said that he was not contacted by the Romney campaign ahead of the Saturday morning visit by Ryan, who stopped by the soup kitchen after a town hall at Youngstown State University.

“We’re a faith-based organization; we are apolitical because the majority of our funding is from private donations,” Antal said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “It’s strictly in our bylaws not to do it. They showed up there, and they did not have permission. They got one of the volunteers to open up the doors.”

He added: “The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall.”

How typical of the sociopath ticket.

Here’s a quick update on the Bain-Sensata story. Bainport is going to have some high profile visitors soon: Bainport to host Durbin, Sharpton.

The encampment of Sensata workers at “Bainport,” now in its 35th day, will play host to several notables this week as they continue to protest the outsourcing of their jobs to China by the end of 2012….

On Tuesday, the Democratic challenger for the Illinois 17th District Congressional seat, Cheri Bustos, and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin will visit the workers at their campsite.
“Since day one of her campaign, Cheri Bustos has been standing with workers across Illinois,” said Bustos’ campaign spokesman, Arden Manning. “Bain Capital is actually afforded tax breaks to shut down the Sensata plant. … She’ll fight to end outsourcing by giving tax breaks to companies that bring jobs home.” ….

Also visiting Freeport this week will be activist Reverend Al Sharpton. He is scheduled to appear at the Sensata camp on Saturday at 4 p.m. to speak to the employees.
The appearances this week follow an active summer of rallies that saw the arrival of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond to Freeport.

Power to the people!

That’s all I’ve got for you this morning. Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today?