Friday, July 25, 2014


It's been argued that shrewd Republicans -- including the shrewd and extremely politicized right-wing bloc on the Supreme Court -- don't want to overturn the Affordable Care Act at this point, because pushing millions of people off the healthcare rolls would do serious harm to the GOP at the polls. That may be true -- it may be true of the GOP leadership, and it may be true of John Roberts and his cronies.

But if it is true, then what we're seeing is another conflict between the extremely-but-not-insanely-conservative "mainstream" branch of the GOP and the just-let-it-burn crazies, led by the Koch brothers. The Kochs are not young men. They don't have much time left to fundamentally transform America into a New Gilded Age state with a tiny social safety net. They want the ACA gone now.

So they've got opposition researchers turning over every rock they can, looking for evidence that the authors of the ACA intended to provide health insurance premium subsidies only in states that set up their own insurance exchanges, as one part of the bill states (contradicting other passages in the same bill). And they've got a coup, because somebody found this in Minute 31 of an obscure 2012 talk by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who worked on the development of both Romneycare and Obamacare:
A video of the presentation, posted on YouTube, was unearthed tonight by Ryan Radia at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank which has participated in the legal challenge to the IRS rule allowing subsidies in federal exchanges. Here's what Gruber says.
What's important to remember politically about this is if you're a state and you don't set up an exchange, that means your citizens don't get their tax credits -- but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you're essentially saying [to] your citizens you're going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that's a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges. But, you know, once again the politics can get ugly around this. [emphasis added]
If that was Gruber's understanding, it contradicts what other architects of the law have said, and what he's said at other times -- but still, this is a big find, and the right-wing media is all over it.

This was found by a guy at the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute and published on the blog of the Koch-funded Reason magazine, in support of a lawsuit pushed by the partly Koch-controlled Cato Institute.

The Kochs and their bleeding-edge wingnut billionaire allies can't wait. They're out to destroy Obamacare no matter what the consequences to the GOP in 2016. They'll deal will the elections later. For now, their goal is to win this war. And it's total war.


Now, regarding what Gruber says: I've appended the video below, and you can see if you go to Minute 31 that this isn't a James O'Keefe disortion -- Gruber's words aren't being taken out of context.

On the other hand, Gruber was also the coauthor of a series of assessments of the law's impact on states, written for Gorman Actuarial, LLC, in 2011, after the law passed. I certainly haven't read every word of the 67-page Maine report (PDF), or all 56 pages of the Wisconsin report (PDF), but I see no attempt whatsoever to assess what happens to premium subsidies in these states if state exchanges aren't established -- even though both states had elected tea party governors a year earlier. (A year later, both Maine and Wisconsin would announce their refusal to set up state exchanges.)

Why would Gruber put his name on a lengthy analysis of Obamacare's impact on these states that didn't assess a scenario he thought was a serious possibility? It makes no sense.

After the Halbig decision came down, Gruber said this:
Literally every single person involved in the crafting of this law has said that it's a typo, that they had no intention of excluding the federal states. And why would they? Look, the law says that people are only subject to the mandate if they can afford insurance, if it's less than 8 percent of their income. If you get rid of these subsidies, 99 percent of the people who would get subsidies can no longer afford insurance, so you destroy the mandate. Why would Congress set up the mandate and go through all that political battle to allow it to be destroyed?
Right-wingers would tell you that Gruber was told that the Liberal Politburo said he'd become an unperson and be sent to a reeducation camp if he didn't say that now. Do you believe that? Go to the link and watch the clip I transcribed. He sounds quite sincere to me -- and extremely angry at right-wingers' attempts to destroy this law.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Fox News pollsters ask some straightforward questions and get responses that are more or less in line with what you see in other polls. (Question 1 in the current Fox poll: "Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president?" Approval 42%, disapproval 52%, which is pretty much where other polls have the president.)

But several questions in, you get this sequence of questions in this Fox poll:

Wow -- Fox's pollster usually slips in just one or two questions based on right-wing talking points (see Steve Benen's roundup of previous dubious Fox questions), but here are four, including three pushing the Obama-as-tyrant line (and one pushing exactly the opposite line: that Obama has given up on being president, presumably while also clinging tenaciously to dictatorial power).

The Foxsters got the numbers they wanted on executive orders, but on impeachment, not so much. Or maybe they did want a rejection of impeachment, which, recent history tells us, has not been good for the Republican Party.

The numbers above were released yesterday. Today, a few more numbers from the same poll were released -- and, well, there were more push-poll questions, this time about immigration:

Apparently the wingnut propaganda is working, unless these numbers are utterly fake.

I suppose that's not surprising. Fox and other right-wing media outlets put out Putin levels of propaganda. Fortunately, we still have other sources of news and opinion in America -- at least until Rupert Murdoch buys them all.

I've seen a fair number of motorcades here in Manhattan over the years, including some for presidents of the United States, and while I might question the security specifics of this one, I think what was done here is unfortunate but understandable:
Witnesses say a pregnant woman in labor was prevented by authorities from crossing a Los Angeles street to a hospital Wednesday because the road had been closed for President Barack Obama's impending motorcade.

The unidentified woman was barred from walking the few hundred feet to the hospital for at least 30 minutes as authorities waited for the president's motorcade to pass by, witness Carrie Clifford told TheBlaze early Thursday morning....
A half hour does seem like a hell of a long time. But in these circumstances, some restrictions -- yes, even this one -- seem reasonable. Sure, we haven't had a presidential assassination in half a century, but Ronald Reagan was shot, and Gerald Ford was shot at twice. It could happen again.

If we had a pregnant-woman exception to presidential motorcade security, is it completely unthinkable that a would-be assassin might take advantage of that? Is it too melodramatic to imagine a team of killers using a pregnant woman to stop a presidential motorcade and then breach security? Or that a pregnant woman might cross into the motorcade's path and make a threat to herself or others, thus putting the president at risk? Or -- even though it seems highly unlikely in L.A. in July -- isn't it possible that a female suicide bomber might dress in such a way as to disguise her bomb as a pregnancy?

Maybe you'll say that kind of thing happens only in the movies. Are you sure? You want to stake presidents' lives on that?

I don't care what the president is doing -- I think tight security is reasonable. Unless you don't care whether a president -- or whether this president -- is vulnerable to violence.

A lot of the same people who are criticizing security in this case are aghast that performance-art pranksters scaled the Brooklyn Bridge and bleached some American flags. They could have had a bomb! we were told. Yeah, and something similar could be said for this pregnant woman.

In a commentary aired last night, Bill O'Reilly endorsed the Halbig decision and characterized the Obamacare battle as "capitalism vs. socialism," in a way that made clear that the right hopes to relitigate the "47 percent" debate, which seemed to have been won by Democrats and liberals in 2012.

Here's a portion of what O'Reilly said:
Obamacare is a pure income redistribution play. That means President Obama and the Democratic Party want to put as much money into the hands of the poor and less affluent as they can. And health care subsidies are a great way to do just that. And, of course, the funds for those subsidies are taken from businesses and affluent Americans who have the cash.

Income redistribution is a hallmark of socialism, and we in America are now moving in that direction. That has angered the Republican Party and many conservative Americans, who do not believe our capitalistic system was set up to provide cradle-to-grave entitlements. But Republicans have not been able to convince the majority of Americans that income redistribution is harmful. Mitt Romney was not able to make the case that America will suffer economically if the entitlement culture expands.

And the case is simple: Businesses contract, so there are fewer jobs and the massive federal debt rises, diminishing the value of the dollar. That's what an entitlement culture and income redistribution bring. But believe me, many Americans, perhaps most, have no clue about what I just said, and enough of them want free stuff, so they continue to elect the pro-entitlement politicians.
This echoes what Cato Institute lawyer Michael Cannon, a driving force behind the Halbig suit, wrote after the ruling came down:
... a victory for the Halbig plaintiffs would not increase anyone's premiums. What it would do is prevent the IRS from shifting the burden of those premiums from enrollees to taxpayers. Premiums for federal-Exchange enrollees would not rise, but those enrollees would face the full cost of their "ObamaCare" plans.
In other words, if you accept a subidy, you're a parasite. There are two types of people: the subsidized and "taxpayers." No one, according to Cannon, is both. This is objectively untrue, but it's the right's message, and the implicit question is: Which side are you on?

Can right-wingers actually sell this argument to the public? Even O'Reilly seems to despair of the possibility that they can. But if not, these commentators are at least distributing the party line to the faithful: Your neighbors, if they believe in even a modest social safety net, and especially if they avail themselves of that safety net, are un-American leeches, and you should despise them for betraying this country's values.

(Video via Crooks and Liars.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


A press release from Ted Cruz:
Did President Obama Just Launch an Economic Boycott of Israel?

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, today questioned the Obama Administration's decision to ban flights to Israel....

He added, "The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands." ...
An economic boycott of Israel on the part of the Obama administration? Would that be the same Obama administration that's doing this, as reported by JTA ("The Global Jewish News Source")?
The Obama administration asked Congress to fast-track Israel's request for an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome anti-missile system....

"The Government of Israel has requested $225 million in additional funding for Iron Dome in order to accelerate production of Iron Dome components in Israel and maintain adequate stockpiles," Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told JTA in an email.

"The Department of Defense has reviewed and supports this urgent request," she said. "Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives."

... A day earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate asking that the money be appropriated above the $351 million Congress is considering for the system....
In fact, that $225 million for the Iron Dome has been folded into Senate Democrats' immigration bill.

You can criticize the strategy of trying to get an emergency immigration appropriation passed by including Iron Dome funding in it, but the fact remains: the Obama administration and other Democrats are seeking additional funding for Israel's defense shield while Ted Cruz is alleging an economic boycott of Israel on Obama's part.

Which is how you know that Cruz is exceeding even his usual high standard of stupidity, or spreading deliberate disinformation.


UPDATE: Wow, that was really a harsh economic boycott -- the flight ban has already been lifted. (Has Ted Cruz claimed credit for that yet?)

And during the period that U.S. and other nations' flights to and from Israel were suspended, Israel's El Al raised fares 150%, according to Haaretz. So I guess the ban actually offered some benefits to the Israeli economy, no?

This is just silly, but imagine if Democrats tried something similar -- Republicans would howl that this was a "chilling" attempt to "intimidate" a private company using the all-powerful jackboot of Big Government:
Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a frequent foe of Google, is demanding to know why the giant Internet company was fumbling the search results for Dinesh D'Souza's movie America for nearly three weeks.

Shortly after the movie opened wide on July 2, the filmmakers complained to Google that Internet users looking for showtimes and locations were sometimes misdirected to the wrong movie. On other occasions, an image of the film's poster was incorrect or a description of the movie was wrong.

Rohrabacher tells The Hollywood Reporter that he's so disturbed by Google's behavior he intends on discussing it Wednesday during the House Republican Conference, which is the party caucus for Republicans in the House of Representatives.

"This doesn't deserve to be ignored. We need to verify the statistics in some way, and I will be suggesting the appropriate committee or subcommittee have some kind of hearing on this," Rohrbacher said. "We know there were significant incidences, and that would suggest there was intent behind Google's nonperformance."

... "I'm not threatening to shut them down, but shining a spotlight on a corporation that is acting in an abusive way can have as great an impact as legislation or regulation,"Rohrabacher said. " If Google isn't informing the public about movies they disagree with, then that needs to be exposed."
Sounds as if no one's actually going to do anything, but no matter: Why is government trying to decide for Google how it generates search results? Isn't that what Republicans would say in response to a Democrat talking like this? Are there no competing search engines? Can't people who don't like Google's results go to Bing? (Oh, wait -- after Google responded to the initial complaints from D'Souza himself, its search results became more favorable to his movie, but Bing's results still directed searchers elsewhere.)

Of course, the problem is that D'Souza gave his damn movie a title that inevitably generates unrelated search results. Or as Tim Murphy of Mother Jones put it:

But this is really just Rohrabacher trying to keep D'Souza's movie in the public eye, based on the notion that what really gets D'Souza fans into the seats is sniveling and whining. Hey, whatever works -- but why is a Republican, of all people, trying to do on government time? Isn't he trying to use hard-earned tax dollars to pick movie winners and losers? Shouldn't the free market decide that, dammit?

I've argued in the last couple of posts that Republicans -- both elected officials and GOP judges -- really could be prepared to tough out the mass loss of health coverage that would result if the Supreme Court ultimately upholds the Halbig decision. Now I see from Dave Weigel that they're already hard at work on constructing a narrative: loss of coverage would be Obama's fault.
In a conference call today, while going over the meaning of the Halbig v. Burwell decision, the Cato Institute's health care freedom fighter Michael Cannon drained the national strategic chutzpah reserve. Were people blaming him and litigators for people being threatened with higher health care costs? They were fingering the wrong guy.

"If 5 million people lose subsidies, it is because the administration I think recklessly was offering them subsidies that it had no authority to offer," said Cannon. "If that causes dislocation, if that causes disruption, I think that responsibility lies with the administration." ...

"This means that the President has been misrepresenting the true costs of health coverage to millions of American families," argued Tennessee Rep. Diane Black, one of the GOP's frequent health care messengers. "Consider that over a million taxpayers could already be on the hook for improper subsidy payments due to an inability of the federal government to verify income eligibility -- now anyone who has received a subsidy at all on the federal exchange could potentially be faced with having to make back payments, all due to President Obama's recklessness."
Ted Cruz, according to Weigel, references Obama's "lawlessness." John Boehner says the Halbig decision proves that Obamacare can "never be fixed." Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine makes a snarky reference to one of the GOP's favorite distortable quotes, Nancy Pelosi's assertion in 2010 that "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." This actually meant that the media wasn't explaining the bill's benefits adequately while it was obsessing over the politics of trying to get the bill passed (see Weigel's post for the full quote in context), but the right always interprets it as an admission that supporters of the bill didn't understand the bill's contents.

Republicans are trying out a lot of different lines of attack -- and you can interpret this spin effort two ways. On the one hand, they apparently think they need to frame this decision now, even though it hasn't gone into effect and will probably be reversed on appeal, pending final Supreme Court review. That suggests that they're somewhat nervous about the ruling's implications and think they need to start shifting the blame for any negative consequences now.

On the other hand, the fact that they're getting the blame-shift under way now suggests that they're laying a lot more propaganda groundwork than Democrats are, and therefore they'll be ready to flood the spin zone if the Supreme Court guts the law. Republicans are always better at narrative-framing; they think many moves ahead. I'd say they're playing chess and Democrats are playing checkers, but it's more as if Democrats are playing EMT -- they're going to wait for something terrible to happen and then react.

The spin suggests, as I said yesterday, that the Supreme Court, if it upholds this ruling, won't declare the entire law unconstitutional -- it'll uphold the rest of the law and leave the individual mandate in place without (in most states) the subsidies that make buying coverage affordable under that mandate, leaving Obama the blame for the mess. The Supremes will cheekily throw in a passage in the decision saying that the subsidies could be restored if Congress and the president can just agree on a simple bill to restore them -- knowing full well that congressional Republicans will never agree to do that.

Republican anti-Obamacare propaganda frequently focuses on scary statistics on premium costs; it's left to supporters of the law to point out that the awful numbers ignore the subsidies available to consumers. So now, if the Halbig ruling is upheld, the subsidies actually won't be available in many cases. What Republicans have sought to portray as the "true" costs of health coverage under Obamacare will be the real costs to consumers, thanks to Republican skulduggery. And they'll say it's Obama's fault.

Jeff Greenfield points out something rather remarkable:
... the [Clarence] Thomas nomination was the last time a President of one party offered up a nomination to a Senate controlled by the other party.
That means it's been 23 years since a Senate controlled by one party approved a Supreme Court nominee from the other party's president. (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush seated two justices each before their respective parties lost Congress, and Barack Obama seated two early in his term as well, when Democrats had a larger majority than they do now.)

Is it even possible in the current climate for a Senate to approve a High Court justice across party lines? Or, more specifically, is it possible for a Republican-controlled Senate to approve a Democratic president's pick? Could that even happen in a Democratic Senate in which Republicans have access to the filibuster?

(As Greenfield notes, Republicans can't filibuster lower court nominees anymore, thanks to Harry Reid's filibuster reform, but the filibuster is still available for Supreme Court picks.)

Greenfield notes all this in order to point out that it would have been difficult -- probably impossible -- for President Obama to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg even now, if she'd chosen to retire early, and it will almost certainly be impossible after this year's midterms, even if Democrats continue to hold a small majority in Senate:
Now ask yourself a question about today's Senate: How many of the 45 Republicans now in the Senate would break with their party and vote to end a filibuster of an Obama Supreme Court appointment? How many would risk a Tea Party primary opponent, or a talk radio onslaught, and step away from a fight to stop Obama from putting a pro-choice, "living Constitution" Justice on the Court for the next generation?

And if that meant leaving the Court with only eight justices -- or seven, should a second vacancy develop -- the Republican minority would be more than happy to live with that. There's nothing that requires the Congress to fill all nine positions on the Court.... Given the zeal with which the Republican base argues that Obama is a lawless, Constitution-shredding chief executive, it is an easy step to argue that we should wait until a new chief executive is chosen in 2016.

If this analysis is correct, then what happens in November almost doesn't matter. Yes, a Republican Senate takeover would give the GOP control of the Judiciary Committee, which means that all federal judicial nominations might die a slow but certain death. But even if the Democrats hold the Senate -- even if, by some hard-to-imagine turns of events they kept their 55-seat majority -- the likeliest outcome of any Supreme Court nomination is a filibuster and a vacancy or two that will endure until the country chooses a new President.
I assume the gap will go beyond that, unless Democrats hold the Senate in 2014 and/or 2016 and the leadership eliminates the filibuster for High Court picks as well. Republicans are going to hate President Hillary Clinton as much as they hate President Obama. They're going to consider her just as radically socialist, just as lawless, just as threatening to Freedom and the American Way Of Life. They'll block her picks -- unless she capitulates and chooses a right-winger or right-centrist. (Would she do that? Would Obama?)

I've said this a lot on this blog: I think there's a fairly strong possibility that a Democratic presidential win in 2016 could mean an eight-, seven-, or even six-member Supreme Court by the end of that president's term. It's going to get uglier. And America is still in denial about the extent of Republican extremism.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Maybe I'm overly pessimistic about Obamacare's fate, but Ezra Klein believes the Supreme Court simply wouldn't use the Halbig case to gut the law, and his argument strikes me as exceedingly naive:
For Halbig to unwind Obamacare the Supreme Court would ultimately have to rule in the plaintiff's favor. And they're not going to do that. By the time SCOTUS even could rule on Halbig the law will have been in place for years. The Court simply isn't going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people due to an uncharitable interpretation of congressional grammar.

For five unelected, Republican-appointed judges to cause that much disruption and pain would put the Court at the center of national politics in 2015 and beyond. It would be a disaster for the institution. Imagine when the first articles come out recounting the story of someone who lost their insurance due to the SCOTUS ruling and then died because they couldn't afford their diabetes or cancer treatment. Imagine when every single Democrat who had any hand at all in authoring the law says the Court is completely wrong about what the law meant. Imagine when every single Democrat runs against the Court.
But Republican governors, especially from the tea party class of 2010, have been harming large numbers of people quite openly -- depriving unionized workers of collective bargaining rights, curtailing voting rights, dismantling democratically elected local governments in Michigan, curbing reproductive rights ... and, apart from Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett, they all have a shot at reelection. Voters who aren't specifically targeted by these governors sure don't seem to be displaying much empathy for those who are.

A lot of the people harmed by a Supreme Court evisceration of Obamacare will be Democratic voters who wouldn't have voted GOP anyway. Others will be the same people who were subjects of the early Obamacare scare stories -- people who had pre-Obamacare insurance and didn't have their policies renewed. If they replaced those old policies with subsidized Obamacare policies and now can't afford those policies, who are they going to blame, over and over and over again in the right-wing media? They're going to blame Obama, accusing him of tyrannically taking away their old policies in the first place and thus being the guy who left them uninsured.

Maybe the Court's Republicans are going to game this out and conclude that a ruling against the law will be too much for the GOP and conservative movement to handle. But I wouldn't bet the rent money on that.

Well, this was completely predictable:
A federal appeals court dealt a huge blow to Obamacare on Tuesday, banning the federal exchange from providing subsidies to residents of the 36 states it serves.

A divided three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the text of the Affordable Care Act restricts the provision of premium tax credits to state-run exchanges. The two Republican appointees on the panel ruled against Obamacare while the one Democratic appointee ruled for the law....
It's likely that this will be reversed on appeal, but don't be too relieved when that happens:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration will "ask for a ruling from the full DC Circuit" which could potentially reverse the result. He stressed that while the case is pending on appeal, the federal exchange will continue to provide subsidies.

The appeal to the full bench, an en banc vote, would be cast by the three judges who heard the case as well as 10 other judges on the active bench, according to the DC Circuit's rules. Such a vote may be friendlier to Obamacare as it would feature 8 Democratic appointees and 5 Republican appointees. Four of the judges on the court were appointed by President Barack Obama, three of them after Senate Democrats eliminated the 60-vote threshold for most nominations in November to overcome Republican obstruction.
But the case is going to the Supreme Court, and it's only a question of when the Court will overturn it, not whether. The case today turned on the IRS's interpretation that contradictory wording in different parts of the law should be resolved in favor of providing insurance subsidies in states that use the federal exchange as well as in states with their own exchanges. Kevin Drum heard from a lawyer friend who explains what the High Court is likely to make of that:
It's long been a fundamental principle in administrative law that an agency's interpretation of a federal statute that they are charged with enforcing is entitled to judicial deference, unless such deference is unreasonable. Conservatives would prefer that courts not defer to the government because #biggovernment. Thus, they want to weaken the deference standard and Halbig gives them basically a two-fer. Or a three-fer since the agency interpreting the statute is the IRS: Take out Obamacare, knock back the deference standard, and punch the IRS.
So insurance subsidies in states that don't have their own exchanges are doomed; the only question is when the Supremes will say that.

My first thought was that they'll wait until 2017 to do it, so their decision won't arouse liberal and moderate anger at Republicans just before the 2016 presidential election.

But I bet they won't wait that long, because voters don't like Obamacare enough to cast a presidential vote against its enemies. I bet the Supremes will rule sometime in 2016, in order to create chaos for Obamacare just as the election approaches, because they'll assume that Democrats will be blamed for that chaos. At that point, citizens in the majority of states will have their subsidies taken away (the current ruling doesn't do that, pending appeal). When the subsidies are gone, premiums will skyrocket -- and I expect the Court to say that the rest of the law must remain in effect as is unless Congress and the president agree to repeal it. That means that if the president tries to relieve citizens of the mandate to buy health care because he knows they now can't afford unsubsidized policies -- via, say, an executive order -- he'll be told that that's a tyrannical abuse of power and be slapped down by the courts.

Democrats, of course, will want to try to suspend the mandate in states without subsidies -- but Republicans in Congress won't go for that. They'll say that if Democrats want to relieve the burden on these citizens, they'll have to go along with a repeal of the entire health care law.

And that's what will happen. The only question is whether the repeal law will be signed by President Obama, President Hillary Clinton, or President Rick Perry.

The humiliation of that repeal process really will the Schoolyard Bully Party grinding the 98-Pound Weakling Party's face in the dirt and ordering it to beg for mercy. But that's the nature of our politics now, isn't it?


Kevin Drum responds to Thomas Frank's assertion that Barack Obama made it his mission as president to saving the economic elite, an effort that prevented transformative progressive change:
Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.

Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because -- duh -- the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed. Did bankers get treated too well? Oh yes indeed. Was the stimulus too small? You bet. Nevertheless, was America saved from an epic collapse? It sure was. Instead of a massive meltdown, we got a really bad recession and a weak recovery, and even that was cushioned by a safety net that, although inadequate, was more than enough to keep the pitchforks off the streets.
Is that what happened? Not exactly. The American people were screwed by the financial meltdown and its aftermath. Americans were upset -- and continue to be upset. But the people who wanted our policies to move in a leftward direction, and who hoped to see more bankers punished, thought they'd already done the work that needed to be done by electing Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress. They didn't understand that they'd need to keep fighting, against both the centrist impulses of prominent Democrats and an organized, well-funded right.

The rank-and-file right avoided a second Great Recession, too, but the right was out in the street with pitchforks anyway. The grabbing of pitchforks isn't strictly a function of the how bad things are in the country. People grab pitchforks because rabble-rousers successfully rouse them. We didn't have any such rabble-rousers. We'd elected Obama. That's all we thought we needed to do.

Drum goes on to acknowledge this; he writes the following, and I don't know if he realizes that he's contradicting the passage I've already quoted:
All of us who do what Thomas Frank does -- what I do -- have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.

But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie.
It isn't just the pundits who are to blame, of course. No activist leaders emerged -- even from Occupy Wall Street, which was pathologically averse to the idea of leadership. And, frankly, there was no money in it -- investing in the tea party seemed shrewd to certain right-wing billionaires (for good reason), and other forms of right-wing demagoguery (e.g., Wayne LaPierre's) fill organizational coffers, but people with money don't have a selfish reason to bankroll progressive change.

We could have taken the streets if we'd really been motivated to do so, but we thought we didn't need to -- and we're not goaded to do so the way right-wingers were in 2009 and 2010.

And Thomas Frank embodies the problem himself -- he thinks Barack Obama should have been able to move the country significantly to the left all by himself. It's that sort of thinking that always lulls us. Starting on Election Night 2008, we should have realized that a new war was just beginning.

(Drum link via Reality Chex.)

Monday, July 21, 2014


At Salon, Thomas Frank, imagining Barack Obama's presidential library denounces the president for being (in Frank's words) "ineffective and gutless." Frank seems to regard Obama's right wing opposition as a paper tiger that easily could have been vanquished, and he sees Obama's failure to do so as proof that Obama never wanted to accomplish much of anything except to help fat cats get fatter:
Why, the visitors to his library will wonder, did the president do so little about rising inequality, the subject on which he gave so many rousing speeches? Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn't he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?

Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn't do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn't reason with them -- their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls -- they'd gerrymandered so many states that they couldn't be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all....
And on and on in this vein. Ed Kilgore responds:
Put side, for the moment, the bizarre and ahistorical assertion that it's possible to "put the right out of business once and for all." Let's look at the claim Obama and his defenders had to inflate the power of the opposition ... to excuse the failure to vanquish it and advance a far more progressive agenda than was actually offered.

There is this institution called the U.S. Senate. Even after two big Democratic cycles in 2006 and 2008, Republicans held 40 seats, enough given absolute unity and a single Democratic defection to thwart anything the majority party attempted, under rules ripe for abuse that neither Barack Obama nor Harry Reid invented or imagined. Just a year after Obama took office, Republicans won a special Senate election and obtained the power to block absolutely any Democratic measure.
Even that understates what Obama was up against. That implies that he had a 60-vote majority in the Senate for a year. He didn't -- he had one for six months.

Recall that Al Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 by a margin of just over 300 votes; he was declared the winner after a battle that went on for eight months and, of course, included unsubstantiated Republican allegations of Democratic voter fraud. The result was that Franken wasn't sworn in until July 7, 2009 -- six months after the rest of the Senate's freshman class was sworn in.

Democrats had 60 votes for exactly 51 days because Senator Ted Kennedy died on August 26. His replacement, Paul Kirk was sworn in on September 25 and held the seat until February 4, 2010, when Republican Scott Brown officially took his place.

Total number of days with 60 votes: 184.

(And not even 184 consecutive days -- there was a month's gap in there.)

And this was a Democratic Party that included Blue Dogs such as Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, whereas the GOP imposed rigid party discipline. Frank sneeringly declares that at the Obama library "the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration's every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight" -- but no major party has acted like this in America in living memory, with no negative consequences except perhaps an inability to win future presidential elections.

The power of organized right-wing opposition is real; Obama has made plenty of mistakes, but his failure to roll over these guys is not his fault.

Thank you, Crank, Tom, and Yastreblyansky, for some great posts while I was gone. And now ... well this, from The Hill, is just silly:
The GOP can't live with Hillary Clinton running for president, but they can't live without her either.

Most Republicans see the former secretary of State as a formidable challenger, albeit a flawed one. Her sheer presence does perhaps more to excite the GOP base than any other Democratic Party figure alive today, aside from President Obama.

It's the Clinton paradox: The candidate they're most worried about beating is also the candidate they may most want to run against in 2016 to both draw out their voters and open up donors' pocketbooks....
Well, maybe now that's true, but it won't be if circumstances change -- the smear machine will fire up just as much hate and anger against Biden or Warren or Sanders or O'Malley or, hell, Amy Klobuchar or Kirsten Gillibrand, or whoever else you might see as a possible Democratic nominee, if Hillary falters or doesn't run. Elizabeth Warren as "Fauxcohontas"? Who saw that coming in 2012? That's how it's done. The opposition research never stops and the noise machine never goes silent.

To Republicans at all times, the most evil person imaginable is whatever Democrat currently has access to the most power. It was Bill Clinton in the 1990s and John Kerry in 2004 (and Howard Dean from a couple of months before that). It was Nancy Pelosi in 2007; it's Barack Obama now, and it'll be whoever emerges as the Democratic front-runner two years from now, even if it's someone who's currently a relative unknown. And if all elected Democrats are even more thoroughly cowed than usual, as they were in 2002 and 2003, it'll be the Dixie Chicks or Barbra Streisand or Sean Penn. Republicans are always primed to hate one or more enemies. They just need Fox and talk radio to tell them which people to hate and why.

So don't take this seriously. The base will be at maximum motivation no matter who tops the Democratic ticket.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What big, really really big government spending did to the American economy.

Sorry for the posting error, below. It's a computer glitch that I don't have access to fix. (Corrected now. --Steve M.) Here's what I meant to Post:

We’re approaching the 45th anniversary of Americans to be the first people to walk on the moon. The date is July 24. This seems like the perfect time to send a reminder to the nincompoops who want to slash government spending and leave economic development to the so-called “free market.” 

Here’s a partial –very partial – list of some of the profitable products they would have killed if they killed one of the biggest government spending programs in history.
  • Freeze dried food
  • Lightweight film space blankets
  • Cochlear implants
  • The dust buster you use to clean the crap off your car upholstery
  • Infrared ear thermometers – so much easier than the Tea Party temperature taking method of shoving a narrow tube of mercury-filled glass up your butt
  • New kinds of water purification systems.  (Your dentist may be using one to keep from squirting polluted gunk under your gums
  • Collision avoidance systems, soon to be applied to saving your butt when you fall asleep at the wheel
  • Better prosthetic limbs, one of the reason so many of our wondered war vets can walk, or even run, rather than hobble or spend their lives tethered to a wheel chair
  • Automatic insulin pumps, so that fat (and fat-headed) Tea Partiers can complain the gubmint has no business regulating what people put in our food while enjoying the benefits of Obamacare or Medicare

As I said, this was a very partial list.There are at least 1650 other space program spinoffs in the fields of computer technology, environment and agriculture, health and medicine, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial productivity. For more of these fascinating spinoffs of space science, go here: 

The cost of the space program? Adjusted for inflation, it came to $851,000,000,000, according to one sourceq. It was money well spent because all the spinoffs not only made life better for Americans, they made jobs, by the hundreds of thousands and pretty much paid for themselves by growing and enriching the economy over time.

It’s time to put the government back in business again, before the tax-cutting, job-killing, progress-killing, technology-hating right wingers do more damage than that they already have turning the United States of America into a banana republic. 

P.S. My pal Garth Hallberg has taken the paranoid fantasies of the right wing – the ones that insist the whole moon shot happened in a TV studio and is part of a left wing plot to uh, you know, kill freedom – and had some fun with it in a delightful book called, “Boon Juster Or The Reason For Everything.” Take it to the beach with you while there’s still some summer left. And when you read it please remember that the numbskulls actually believe this stuff.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank

Six Californias, 40 Million Lab Rats, One Oblivious Narcissist

So bitcoin-addled third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper might have enough signatures to put his Six Californias initiative on the November 2016 ballot. He claims they do, anyway; I'll believe it when and if the signatures are verified. (There are allegations of petition fraud against the company that collected signatures--a company with a long and sleazy history of decptive practices.)

A perfect storm of arrogance, narcissism, stupidity, self-interest, and more arrogance (San Francisco a part of "Silicon Valley"? Really?), it's a spectacularly bad idea that fails even on its own terms: initially touted as addressing the inequality of Wyoming having as many senators as California, it would create a situation where Jefferson (pop.: 950,000) has as many senators as West California (pop: 11 million).

And then there are, unsurprisingly, a few complications that Draper doesn't appear to have contemplated:
Water agreements, such as the Hetch Hetchy system that serves San Francisco and the Peninsula, would now be between separate states, as would the California State Water Project, which transports water south.

Prisons are not always in the areas where their inmates come from. About 37 percent of the state's prisoners, for example, were convicted in what would be West California, which would include Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties - but those counties have only 7 percent of the state's prison beds.

Fire stations, state parks, office buildings and even state vehicles and other equipment are all spread unevenly across California and would have to be considered in any split of the state.

There's no guarantee this can happen in a hurry. West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861, but it wasn't until 1915 that the dispute over who owed what to whom was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In other words, we would still be untangling things when the seventh generation of venture-capitalist Drapers is unleashing its sense of entitlement on the world earning its way through pluck, hard work, and enormous talent.

But of course Draper has a plan to deal with these things, right?
But when pressed on just how a plan that creates six smaller states with huge disparities in population, resources and income would be good for all Californians, Draper was less forthcoming.

Questions, for example, about who would run the labyrinthine network that delivers water to arid regions with millions of people, how California's multibillion-dollar pension obligations would be paid, and how the University of California and state college systems would be divided can all be worked out, Draper said. [emphasis added]
Right. He's been working on this for months and hasn't given any thought at all to how it would work out in practice.

The whole thing is an object lesson in the poverty of libertarianism. Libertarians think governing is easy. They think it's easy because they don't really care about the details, and they don't really care about the details because they think it's easy. (And of course they think it's easy because at heart they're fundamentally anti-democratic, fetishizing the dictatorial rule of all-powerful CEOs as their model for governance.)

And because they think governing is easy, because they don't care about the details, whenever by some hideous mischance one of them is given a position of responsibility, they invariably prove spectacularly inept at governing.

The Six Californias plan isn't going anywhere; the one poll taken so far shows 59% of Californians opposed. Nobody has polled Congress (which would have to approve the split), but preliminary estimates suggest upwards of 100% opposition among non-California Senators.

But the inconsequential, sideshow nature of the thing doesn't mean it should be forgotten. We should hold it up as a perpetual reminder of the kind of aggressive stupidity that that libertarians come up with as 'policy'.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Israel's Pickle

Rafah border crossing. Photo by Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Jerusalem Post.
This story, from the Jerusalem Post, with the above illustration, is grotesquely upsetting and yet in a very dark way unspeakably funny:
Terrorists in Gaza attempted to attack IDF soldiers with an explosives-laden donkey on Friday, the military said. 

IDF forces operating in the Rafah area near the Gaza-Egypt border located the donkey suspiciously approaching their position and were forced to open fire at it, causing the explosives to detonate. 

No injuries were sustained to the soldiers. 

The military expressed its regret over the "shocking" incident, and condemned terrorists in Gaza for strapping bombastic devices to innocent animals as a means of attacking Israeli forces. 

"This cruel incident is the most recent attempt by Gaza terror organizations to make such an abominable use of animals as explosives couriers," the IDF said on its website. 
It's partly because of the artlessly bad military-style writing, the way the soldiers "located" the suicide donkey rather than just seeing it, and the way it "suspiciously approached" them instead of ambling, donkey fashion, in their direction, that the picture is so vivid and movie-like: I see the IDF kids sweating and tensing, clutching their Uzis, and the donkey wholly unconcerned, but not turning back, and the kids maybe closing their eyes as they blow it away. And the hilarious misuse of "bombastic".

I'm even a little suspicious myself: How did the terrorists train a donkey to sidle up to the troops? What exactly was the military expressing "regret" over? Are you sure that donkey was armed?

But the other thing is how this story encapsulates what's wrong with the Occupation, where, after what is it, 47 years, young soldiers have to be terrified of an unescorted enemy donkey. They don't even know where they are.

They also blew up the El-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital for long-term injuries and disabilities the other day, though they knew nobody inside was armed and couldn't explain why they had done it.  Annie Robbins at Mondoweiss was arguing, convincingly to my way of thinking, that that's the reason for the invasion, because they don't know, in spite of the famously fearsome capacities of Mossad, where they're supposed to be bombing:
Israel is likely in a pickle. Its stated goal for this invasion is to stop the missile fire (and dismantle Hamas’s control of the strip). To do that it must locate Hamas’ weapons arsenal and thus far, it appears it is clueless as to where they are. Israel doesn’t know the extent of weaponry Hamas has amassed, either in quality or quantity. All the blowing up of civilian infrastructure, including homes and hospitals, won’t end the rocket fire because it’s extremely unlikely any central stash of weaponry is stored in homes, schools, hospitals or mosques. The weapons are probably underground which is why it requires a ground invasion to find them. This is what “deal with the tunnels” means when Obama says  “the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels”.
They've managed to become as ignorant of the Occupied Territories as the Blackwater goons were of Iraq. What do they think they're accomplishing? Israel has a "right to defend itself", we are constantly told. Does it have a right to kill hundreds of people, and animals, in a pure panic attack? Shouldn't it try getting some therapy instead?

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.