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


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.

Fiscal Bunny Slope Updates

73_skibunnyGood Evening!

I’m trying to get through a serious patch of the dread lazies.  All the rain and cold and glum has me in nap mode.  But, I thought I’d follow up a bit to BB’s morning post that had some more stupid congressional maneuvers on things that shouldn’t be happening with our fiscal situation.  I’m really getting tired of having Social Security tied in with deficit discussions for one since they are completely unrelated.  Second, it’s amazing to me that the Speaker of the House can be this close to letting chaos hit the markets and the economy over what is undoubtedly his concerns about holding on to the speakership.  So, here’s some this and that on the few things that are bad about the fiscal bunny slope and hooplah surrounding the rest.

The worst thing is the ending to extended unemployment benefits and the uncertainty surrounding the tax cuts for people that really need them.  My guess is that some of this will be renewed but only after the Republicans play the game of letting the rates go up so they can say the brought them down.  It’s inane, I know, but I’ve come to expect that of the party of jerks that have overtaken the Republicans.  Here’s an article from Salon by Steve Kornacki on the Tea Party Mindset and the destruction of our congressional functionality called the Triumph of the Tea Party Mind Set.

The problem, of course, is that the Tea Party’s power resides in Republican primaries, where conservative purists wreaked considerable havoc in the past two election cycles. This included, famously, McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, where the minority leader’s protégé was crushed in a 2010 GOP Senate primary by Rand Paul. Now McConnell has to worry about suffering a similar fate in two years, especially if his handling of the current fiscal impasse evokes cries of treason from the base. How could this square with claims of fading clout for the Tea Party?

Actually, there’s a way. It just depends on how you understand the Tea Party.

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

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

The twist in the Obama-era is that some of the conservative backlash has been directed inward. This is because the right needed a way to explain how a far-left anti-American ideologue like Obama could have won 53 percent of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes in 2008. What they settled on was an indictment of George W. Bush’s big government conservatism; the idea, basically, was that Bush had given their movement a bad name with his big spending and massive deficits, angering the masses and rendering them vulnerable to Obama’s deceptive charms. And the problem hadn’t just been Bush – it had been every Republican in office who’d abided his expansion of government, his deals with Democrats, his Wall Street bailout and all the rest.

Thus did the Tea Party movement represent a two-front war – one a conventional one against the Democratic president, and the other a new one against any “impure” Republicans. Besides a far-right ideology, the trait shared by most of the Tea Party candidates who have won high-profile primaries these past few years has been distance from what is perceived as the GOP establishment. Whether they identify with the Tea Party or not, conservative leaders, activists and voters have placed a real premium on ideological rigidity and outsider status; there’s no bigger sin than going to Washington and giving ground, even just an inch, to the Democrats.

These folks appear to be ready to bring down the economy and the country if they don’t get their way and frankly, I think it’s scary.  The danger in doing nothing about the slope doesn’t come immediately.  It will come from the compounding impact of doing nothing over time which is what characterizes this congress.  As an example, the IRS may not immediately change the withholding tables so the tax changes may not be felt immediately but it eventually will mean $100-200 a month to families already living on the edge.    Boehner is calling the House back into Session on Sunday.  I’m really not sure if he can actually knock some sense in to these folks or what he’s up to but I guess we’ll see.  Here’s information on that from NBC.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, notified lawmakers that the House would come to order at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday in hopes of averting the end-of-year combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that constitute the fiscal cliff.

An anonymous source had this to say:

The lawmaker on Thursday’s call told NBC News that any Senate plan Boehner puts on the House floor (of which there is no guarantee) would only receive as few as 40 Republican votes, making Democratic help necessary.

“If the Senate will not approve these bills and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House,” Boehner told Republicans Thursday, according to a source on the call. “Once this has occurred, the House will then consider whether to accept the bills as amended, or to send them back to the Senate with additional amendments. The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass — but the Senate must act.”

Democrats are using some pretty harsh metaphors to describe Republican intransigence.  Steny Hoyer compared their behavior to a hostage taker threatening to shoot a child.

Less than two weeks after one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings, the No.2 Democrat in the U.S. House, Steny Hoyer, compared Republican tactics for dealing with the nation’s debt limit to someone threatening to shoot a child hostage. “It’s somewhat like taking your child hostage and saying to somebody else, ‘I’m going to shoot my child if you don’t do what I want done.’ You don’t want to shoot your child. There’s no Republican leader that wants to default on our debt, that I’ve talked to,” Hoyer said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

Hoyer’s comments came in response to a question about the Treasury Department’s notice that the nation was approaching its debt limit. He criticized Republicans for previous resistance to raising the debt ceiling and used the gun analogy to argue that the issue should not be part of the negotiations involving the fiscal cliff.

Meanwhile, Reid called Boehner’s speakership a “dictatorship” on the floor of the senate.  His statement sent the markets down.  The Republicans have spent the last year playing the confidence fairy card so it’s really odd to find them trying to assassinate said confidence fairy right now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this morning that it “looks like” Congress will fail to come to a deal to avert the year-end fiscal cliff, blaming the failure on House Speaker John Boehner’s “dictatorship” running the lower chamber.

“It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” Reid said. “I don’t know, time-wise, how it can happen now.”

It’s not exactly a surprise — leaders left Washington last week without any imminent signs of a deal in the making. But it’s a grim warning just days before tax hikes and automatic spending cuts begin to take effect.

Markets tanked immediately in the aftermath of Reid’s floor speech, with the Dow off more than 110 shortly after noon.

Reid opened the Senate session by launching into a lengthy criticism of the House and Boehner, saying he “seems to care more about his Speakership” than making a deal on the cliff.

The House is being run “by a dictatorship of the Speaker,” Reid said. He accused Boehner of waiting until the election of the Speaker on Jan. 3 to get involved with negotiations. And he urged the lower chamber to pass the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, which the Senate narrowly passed in July. The bill made permanent all of the Bush-era tax cuts on incomes of less than $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals.

Reid also slammed the House for not being in session on Thursday. He said that instead of being in Washington, Republicans are “out watching movies.”

 Yglesias–writing at Salon–chided the media for falling for Boehner’s “process games”.  Boehner keeps asking for more details and a plan when there are at least two different offers with details out there.

This is a transparent and silly negotiating ploy. Right now, Democrats have two different offers on the table. One is a narrow bill that’s already passed the Senate that would fully extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone with an AGI under $250,000 while letting the Bush rates expire for wealthier households. House Republicans could pass that bill, thus reducing taxes on rich and middle class Americans alike relative to current law. With that done, congress and the White House could start discussing other aspects of the fiscal cliff if they care to. Alternatively, the president has put an offer on the table that involves a more tax increases than that but also a 1:1 ratio of tax increases relative to current policy and spending cuts relative to current law. If John Boehner is willing and able to deliver even a relatively small number of House Republican votes for that plan, then it will clearly pass the Senate.

But Boehner doesn’t want to do either of those things. So fair enough.

But the thing that Boehner does want to do—his “Plan B” bill to extend Bush era rates for everyone earning under $1 million—doesn’t even have the votes to pass the House of Representatives. Given that reality, if Boehner wants an alternative to the Senate Democrats offer or the White House offer the onus on him is to abandon the (pointless) quest for 218 Republican votes and try to come up with something that he’ll agree to and that will attract enough votes from House Democrats to pass over the objections of the right wing of his caucus. If he doesn’t want to pass the senate bill and he doesn’t want to pass the White House bill and he doesn’t want to try to bargain with House Democrats, then going “over the cliff” is inevitable.

That’s fine if that’s what he wants. Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said in favor of negotiating from the 2013 baseline rather than the 2012 baseline. But the holdup is Boehner and Boehner’s caucus. Anything that both the White House and John Boehner agree to can pass the senate. Everyone knows that.

Anyway, if you’re not jaded about our political process, parties, and elected officials by now, I doubt that you’ll ever be be.  Is it to much to ask Republicans to put away their purity pledges, quit feigning ignorance and denying economic reality and get on with being a minority party in a governance crisis they created?  I don’t recall it being this bad since maybe the slavery debates back in the day.  Odd to see how the parties of switched sides however.   It’s hard to see how we’re going to rid ourselves of the teabot crazies however, given the gerrymandering. This brings me to one more suggested read and it’s a wonky one by Nate Silver.  Silver inkles a hypothesis and backs it up with tons of graphs and numbers at his FiveThirtyEight Blog in a post called: As Swing Districts Dwindle, Can a Divided House Stand?

In 1992, there were 103 members of the House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts: those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. But based on an analysis of this year’s presidential returns, I estimate that there are only 35 such Congressional districts remaining, barely a third of the total 20 years ago.

Instead, the number of landslide districts — those in which the presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result — has roughly doubled. In 1992, there were 123 such districts (65 of them strongly Democratic and 58 strongly Republican). Today, there are 242 of them (of these, 117 favor Democrats and 125 Republicans).

So why is compromise so hard in the House? Some commentators, especially liberals, attribute it to what they say is the irrationality of Republican members of Congress.

But the answer could be this instead: individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives. Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.

His analysis is based on some really great numbers so be sure to check it out.  Robert Reich put this on his face book status today about the nature of the real fiscal cliff.

Robert Reich
Here’s what really worries me. We’re heading off the cliff, but I don’t mean the fiscal one. I’m talking about the family one. According to the Center for Responsible Lending’s newest report, the typical household has just $100 left each month after paying for basic expenses and debt payments. After controlling for inflation, the typical household has less annual income now than it did at the beginning of the decade. And starting next week, with the beginning of 2013 — assuming there’s no deal on the fiscal cliff, because Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes on the richest in the land — payroll taxes and income taxes increase on the typical family. In other words, the typical American family is about to go off its own financial cliff, and no one seems to be paying any attention.

I couldn’t agree more.

Meanwhile, Down Ticket …

I don’t really read Margaret Carlson much but she had some interesting down ticket tidbits on Bloomberg that made me wonder if the tea bagging madness was going to carry on for a few more elections. They keep nominating and electing candidates that behave like case studies in an abnormal psychology textbook.  Unfortunately, their primary raison d’etre appears to be gumming up the national works and saying completely insane things.

Last week, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who alerted reporters that he was visiting a Chick-fil-A the day before the election, overwhelmed Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the veteran establishment candidate, to win the nomination to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dewhurst’s sins? He was Governor Rick Perry’s right-hand man and an occasional sponsor of bipartisan legislation. The most effective ad against Dewhurst accused him of being a moderate.

Three months ago conservative Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock beat six-term incumbent Senator Richard Lugar, the compromiser who’d forgotten his roots. Nebraska State Senator (and rancher) Deb Fischer beat Attorney General Jon Bruning in Nebraska in an upset to go up against Bob Kerrey, the former governor and senator, on Election Day.

Each victor campaigned against Washington insiders who had impermissible contact with the enemy. Nominating your most conservative candidate in the primary is more satisfying than letting another weak one get in. And if these candidates do get elected, inactivity is preferable to approving legislation that even contemplates the possibility that any American could get so much as a food stamp he is not entitled to.

Take Connecticut, the Yankee bastion of village squares and town-hall meetings. In the race to replace retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, the purist wing of the Republican Party prefers entrepreneur Linda McMahon, who has never run anything but a soft-porn wrestling empire, over former Representative Chris Shays, who was close to former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Reaching across the aisle from time to time — he voted for campaign- finance reform, for instance — helped lead to Shays’s defeat in 2008.

At the time, the loss left the House without a single Republican from New England. McMahon first ran for Senate in 2010, when her primary victory over former Representative Rob Simmons, a respected moderate with two Bronze Stars, essentially ceded the race to the Democrats. Now, despite losing to Richard Blumenthal two years ago, McMahon is getting a second chance.

She won the party endorsement in May, but Shays managed to scrape together enough votes to challenge her for the nomination. The primary election is next Tuesday. It will take a miracle for Shays to defeat a self-funded candidate blanketing the state with softly lit ads that present McMahon as a job creator. Airbrushed out is the fact that she got wealthy in part by making professional wrestling even more vulgar. To the play- acting in the ring, she added storylines involving necrophilia and intrafamily violence starring her husband, Vince, and daughter, Stephanie.

Remember, these are the people that are bringing us the Muslims-in-the-State House Witch Hunts right now. I’d even argue that Michelle Bachman’s not the biggest nut in the can.  Florida’s Allen West seems to live in an alternative reality also. People like this use to wind up in sanitariums, not state houses.   (WATCH: MoJo’s video roundup of “Shit Rep. Allen West Says.”)

It’s mid-April and momentarily West, the Republican congressman from Florida’s 22nd District—an imaginatively carved Tetris piece stretching from West Palm Beach to the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale—will take the stage at the Palm Beach County Tax Day Tea Party in Wellington. He’ll call the tax on tanning salons enshrined in the Affordable Care Act “racist,” the president “an abject failure,” and, directing his assembled battalion’s attention to a small group of placard-bearing liberal protesters, ruminate on his sanity: “They say Allen West is the craziest person that ever set foot on the House floor! Let me tell you who’s the craziest person to truly ever set foot on the House floor. That’s President Barack Hussein Obama.”

For now, though, everyone wants a piece of West and his Honda VTX 1800R retro cruiser. West poses for photos at a short remove, offering a firm grip and flashing an undeniably charming, gap-toothed grin. “A true patriot,” gushes a woman in a red tank top, to no one in particular. “A true patriot!”

His vest is black leather like his boots, and it’s covered in patches—”Rolling Thunder: First Amendment Demonstration Run, Washington, DC, Inc.” across the back, “Christian” on the front. Tucked in the right breast pocket is a copy of the Constitution.

“He’s our local rock star!” says a voice in the crowd. She’s holding a copy of a book about radical Islam for which West wrote the foreword. The cover features a flaming Islamic crescent and star behind the Statue of Liberty. She grows gravely serious. “Just protect him, God. Protect him, Lord.”

So, what would a few more folks as crazy as West do in the Senate?  Would they make Rand Paul look reasonable?

Tea Party Candidates are up for US Senator in Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Missouri among other states.  NPR looked at the gains in a variety of states.

Suddenly, some are describing the Tea Party as resurgent, just months after it seemed all but irrelevant.

But political scientist Alan Abramowitz says both characterizations are inaccurate.

“In general, the Tea Party has a pretty negative image among the general public, but it remains, I think, a very potent force within the Republican Party,” he says.

Abramowitz, who teaches at Emory University, says polls peg Tea Party approval at just 25 percent among the public at large but he says, “When you have a Republican primary electorate, you have a group of voters who are quite conservative and in many cases a majority of those Republican primary voters identify with the Tea Party movement.”

But that only shakes things up when the Tea Party votes as a block. That’s what worked for Cruz and Mourdock. The Republican presidential primaries were a different story. There were simply too many candidates staking a claim to Tea Party votes.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaking in Iowa before the state’s caucuses said her conservative coalition was made up of the Tea Party movement of which “I am one.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry made a similar declaration. Others sought Tea Party support as well, but in the end the GOP’s presidential nominee will be Mitt Romney, the father of the Massachusetts health care plan that became Obamacare, and the GOP candidate the movement was least happy with.

Amy Kremer, of the Tea Party Express, says the group’s voters will turn out this fall, even if the big motivation is not support for Romney but dislike of President Obama.

“I think that you’ll see the people rise up and … work really hard to make sure that he is a one-term president,” she says.

The Tea Party can also say it made many Republican candidates, including Romney, move to the right to secure their nominations this year. After the Supreme Court’s health care decision, the GOP candidate immediately expressed his disapproval of Obama’s health care plan, saying if elected he would repeal the law.

The movement also boasts a direct connection to the other big story of 2012 — money. From its beginnings, it’s had ties to such wealthy conservative donors as the Koch brothers. It’s big institutional ties include groups such as FreedomWorks led by Dick Armey, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives.

Is this the force behind the Ryan VP candidacy? The Charlotte Observer has a good piece up on their “evolution” at the state level.

ATLANTA Tea party activists in Georgia helped kill a proposed sales tax increase that would have raised billions of dollars for transportation projects. In Pennsylvania, tea partyers pushed to have taxpayers send public school children to private schools. In Ohio, they drove a referendum to block state health insurance mandates.

These and other battles are evidence of the latest phase of the conservative movement, influencing state and local policy, perhaps more effectively than on a national level. Tea party organizers are refocusing, sometimes without the party label, to build broader support for their initiatives. The strategy has produced victories that activists say prove their staying power.

“I call it Tea Party 2.0,” said Amy Kremer, a Delta flight attendant who leads Tea Party Express. The California-based group, co-founded by GOP strategist Sal Russo, claims it’s the largest tea party political action committee.

The movement first showed its strength in Washington in 2009 as an umbrella for voters angry over President George W. Bush’s Wall Street rescue and President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and auto manufacturer bailout, as well as the health care debate.

The tea party has helped elect members of the House, but they’ve contributed to the stalemate on Capitol Hill. No single Republican presidential candidate captured tea partyers’ wholehearted support, despite angst over Mitt Romney and his moderate record while Massachusetts governor. Without a clear rival, Romney, author of the state health care overhaul that served as a model for Obama’s, emerged from a crowded field to challenge the Democratic incumbent in November. Romney gave the hard right at least a symbolic win by announcing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a tea party hero, as his running mate Saturday.

They seem to be a bunch pron to cults of personality.  Many of them also run in the religious right circles.  Most appear to be white.  They also don’t appear to be the sharpest tacks in the toolbox.  The question is can they do to the US Senate what they’ve done to the US House?  How long with this little group of crazies get their run of the Republican party before the Wall Street Crowd tires of them all?

Monday Reads

Good Morning!

Well, today I’m starting with a quote from  Robert Kuttner for The American Prospect about Larry Summers’ appearance at the INET conference.  INET is the acronym for the Institute for New Economic Thinking. It was created with a $100 million grant from George Soros and no, I wasn’t invited and I didn’t attend.  Mark Thoma and Brad De Long did. You can read their blogs if you want other views.

Larry Summers, now back at Harvard, was the after-dinner entertainment, interviewed by the prodigious Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, the world’s most respected financial journalist.

Summers was terrific, acknowledging that the stimulus of February 2009 was too small, that the idea of deflating our way to recovery is insane, that de-regulation had been excessive, and that much of the economics profession missed the developing crisis because its infatuation with self-correcting markets.

If only this man had been Obama’s chief economic adviser!

He’s referring to this:

Also worth mentioning is this op-ed by former Obama economist Christina Romer on why we have abysmal unemployment. If you read and listen to both of them, it’s going to be obvious that Obama must not have listened to either of them.  No wonder they quit so early on.  That leaves Timothy-in-the-well Geithner holding the bag for this miserable recovery, imho.  Evidently, the two of them thought  what most economists were thinking for several years now but it just wasn’t evident from policy.  I guess if I heard this austerity crap was coming down the hopper during this miserable recovery, I’d have bailed before my professional credibility went to the crapper too.  Guess Timothy always has the shadow banking industry to keep him warm.  Meanwhile, Summers continues his apology tour and Romer clarifies the unemployment situation.

Strong evidence suggests that the natural rate of unemployment actually hasn’t risen very much. Instead, the elevated unemployment rate appears to reflect mainly cyclical factors, particularly a lingering shortfall in consumer spending and business investment.

Okay. The important phrase here is “lingering shortfall in consumer spending and business investment”.  That means none of these idiotic tax cuts worked.  It also means the stimulus was woefully small and ill-directed.  It also means that it’s absolutely no time to worry about austerity unless you want yet another recession.  Frankly, I think the Republicans are secretly trying to bring one on and Obama is just not that informed about economics and more concerned about chasing the mythical bi-partisan unicorn to wake the frick up.

Since BB knows that I’m a wannabe astrophysicist (or Egyptologist depending on the day of the week), she sent me another kewl science link about a star torn apart by a blackhole! NEATO!!!

On March 28, 2011, NASA’s Swift satellite caught a flash of high-energy X-rays pouring in from deep space. Swift is designed to do this, and since its launch in 2004 has seen hundreds of such things, usually caused by stars exploding at the ends of their lives.

But this time was hardly “usual”. It didn’t see a star exploding as a supernova, it saw a star literally getting torn apart as it fell too close to a black hole!

The African Union’s been chatting up their “Brother Leader”  Whacko Ghadafo and have announced the possibility of an end to the fighting in Libya. And, raise your hand if you’d like to buy the Crescent City connection because I’m entertaining offers since the Brooklyn bridge sold so well last week.

“We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader’s delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said.

The AU mission, headed by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Mauritanian president, arrived in Tripoli on Sunday.

Besides Zuma and Abdel Aziz, the delegation includes Amadou Toumani Toure, Denis Sassou Nguessou and Yoweri Museveni – respectively the presidents of Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Gaddafi made his first appearance in front of the foreign media in weeks when he joined the AU delegation at his Bab al-Aziziyah compound.

The committee said in a statement that it had decided to go along with a road map adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, “diligent conveying of humanitarian aid” and “dialogue between the Libyan parties”.

Speaking in Tripoli, Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, said the issue of Gaddafi’s departure had come up in the talks but declined to give details.

Why is it I want to sing I wanna zooma zooma zooma zooma zoom every time I read something about South Africa these days?  Well, as long as it’s not one of those horn thingies that ruined the world cup this last time out.

More crap from Crazy Republicans via Think Progress: Cantor Sees Current Medicare and Medicaid Programs As A ‘Safety Net’ For ‘People Who Frankly Don’t Need One’

Today on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace questioned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) support for a plan in which Americans “pay more out of pocket.” Defending the proposal, Cantor argued that these programs sometimes provide a “safety net” for “people who frankly don’t need one” and that the shift of the burden from the government to the beneficiary will teach government “to do more with less”:

CANTOR: We are in a situation where we have a safety net in place in this country for people who frankly don’t need one. We have to focus on making sure we have a safety net for those who need it.

WALLACE: The Medicaid people — you’re going to cut that by $750 billion.

CANTOR: The medicaid reductions are off the baseline. so what we’re saying is allow states to have the flexibility to deal with their populations, their indigent populations and the healthcare needs the way they know how to deal with them. Not to impose some mandate from a bureaucrat in washington.

WALLACE: But you are giving them less money to do it.

CANTOR: In terms of the baseline, that is correct…What we’re saying is there is so much imposition of a mandate that doesn’t relate to the actual quality of care. We believe if you put in place the mechanism that allow for personal choice as far as Medicare is concerned, as well as the programs in Medicaid, that we can actually get to a better resolve and do what most Americans are learning how to do, which is to do more with less.

Actually, 99% of Americans are doing less with less.  One percent of Americans are doing more with the corporate and rich people’s welfare that folks like Cantor have handed them on a golden platter for the last ten years.  If you have the stomach for it, the link to the TV interview is over at TP too. Frankly, I’ve been sick enough recently and don’t need to see anything that just makes me sicker.

I don’t know about you, but watching Donald Trump–the man who lost his father’s billions and then ran through government subsidies and finally made some money as a really bad reality TV star–as a potential presidential candidate has been sort’ve a surreal trip. James Polis at Richochet says that Trump is Final Proof that the Political Class Has Failed.  Trump’s potential candidacy is like an extension of his reality show with gobs of opportunism, self-promotion and narcissism. It’s bad hair gone wild.

There are two main theories cooperating to explain the Trump phenomenon:

  1. Donald Trump is today’s best self-promoter and professional opportunist.
  2. The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.

But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what’s going on. We can’t even turn for supplemental help to subtheories that emphasize the rise of celebreality culture, the fall of Sarah Palin, or The Continuing Story of Bungling Barry. These variables all appear somewhere in the equation that has produced the Trump phenomenon. But none of them explain it.

Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it’s not that Americans ‘lack trust’ in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.

My theory is that he’s just a summer replacement, along with Michelle Bachmann, that will set the stage for fall when the blue suited, pompadour-sporting  set take over to bore us to death with talks of tax cuts and subsidies ala President Dementia.  Other Republican Presidential wannabes must be thinking we’ll be tired of self-promoting, idea-less hacks by then and that they’ll look refreshing by comparison in a few months.   Oddly enough, the P woman is keeping a low profile in all of this.  Maybe she’s finally figured out that discretion is the better part of valor for a change or it could be she just has enough money  for an excellent summer vacation and has decided to exercise her options.

Okay, so I’m going to move on to something light (weirdly, spinning light, emanating from the patterned Chinese lantern covering the naked bulb in my dorm room while a John Lennon album plays Power to the People on my old turntable … oops, wrong flashback) from New Scientist. Thought mushrooms were just for old hippies and Native American Shaman?  Think again.  Here’s the headline:  Earliest evidence for magic mushroom use in Europe.

EUROPEANS may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.

Like the objects depicted in the mural, P. hispanica has a bell-shaped cap topped with a dome, and lacks an annulus – a ring around the stalk. “Its stalks also vary from straight to sinuous, as they do in the mural,” says Akers (Economic Botany, DOI: 10.1007/s12231-011-9152-5).

This isn’t the oldest prehistoric painting thought to depict magic mushrooms, though. An Algerian mural that may show the species Psilocybe mairei is 7000 to 9000 years old.

What a long strange ride it’s been ever since.

More on Obama-style Justice for Guantanamo detainees as the Supremes decline to clarify their rights.

The Obama administration has fought all attempts by lawyers for detainees to have the Supreme Court review those rulings. And while the news was overshadowed by the administration’s concession that alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-defendants will be tried by a military commission rather than federal jury — a separate issue — the court last week turned away three detainee challenges arising from Boumediene.

One group active in representing the detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, decried what it called the court’s refusal “to defend its Boumediene decision and other precedents from the open defiance of the D.C. Circuit.”

The government told justices that there is no reason for them to believe anything other than “lower courts have properly performed the task that this court assigned them in Boumediene v. Bush.”

“Open defiance” may go a bit far in describing the D.C. Circuit’s rulings, but there is no doubt that the court’s action in Boumediene — and its inaction since — has left few happy.

While detainee advocates complain about the court’s timidity, D.C. Senior Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph has received wide attention for a speech he gave last year in which he compared the justices to characters in “The Great Gatsby,” who have created a mess they expect others to clean up.

You don’t need me to start in on the Supremes this morning since BB did such a great job last night.  Please go read her thread on just exactly how bankrupt our government has become.  Believe me, it’s not an article on the deficit either.

Here’s an important information on the Koch Brothers, grand wizards of the kleptocracy.  Alternet says they’re worse than you thought and they’re the astroturf beneathe the Tea Party’s wings.

Then look at a recent position pushed by Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch (and whose sibling organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, he chairs):

Similarly, Americans for Prosperity supports the House continuing resolution that cuts spending by $61 billion. Those cuts would reduce the budget for the CFTC by one-third. Make no mistake: Gutting the CFTC or limiting its authority would be a boon to Wall Street businesses that use complex financial instruments. But while the result is more profits for oil companies, it means everyone else pays more at the pump.

Okay, now have a look at the Kochs’ recent direct contributions to political candidates:

The Kochs donated directly to 62 of the 87 members of the House GOP freshman class…and to 12 of the new members of the U.S. Senate.

Don’t look now. It’s Atlas Shrugged, the Movie.  Bad fiction just refuses to die when it gives erections to obsessive white men. I’m just waiting for next year’s Razzies. It’s the tale of a businessman obsessed. No, not the movie …the making of the movie …

It has taken businessman John Aglialoro nearly 20 years to realize his ambition of making a movie out of “Atlas Shrugged,” the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that has sold more than 7 million copies and has as passionate a following among many political conservatives and libertarians as “Twilight” has among teen girls.

But the version of the book coming to theaters Friday is decidedly independent, low-cost and even makeshift. Shot for a modest $10 million by a first-time director with a cast of little-known actors, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” the first in an expected trilogy, will play on about 300 screens in 80 markets. It’s being marketed with the help of conservative media and “tea party” organizing groups and put into theaters by a small, Salt Lake City-based booking service.

I think I’ll pass.  I prefer those nice little British films.  I’m anxiously awaiting the redo of Upstairs, Downstairs.  I never could make it through that silly John Galt speech even when I was young and my mind was an open book.  Now, where are those lights on the ceiling when you need them?

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?