Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dow 13,000!




 
Stock values are back to where they were in the spring of 2008, before the great crash in the fall. I don't want to hear any naysayers looking for bad news on the horizon. I don't want to hear about how it's bad for the rest of us if they are making money on Wall Street. What I would respond is that the only thing worse than seeing people on Wall Street making money would be watching them lose money. That's what we saw at the beginning of this recession, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Having the Dow back at 13,000 is something for everyone to celebrate.

UAW speech

Eyes are on Michigan tonight for the results of the Republican primary. But I've got news. The Republicans have already lost Michigan. So how important is the Michigan Republican primary really? Answer: it's not, but it gives the cable news personalities something to talk about tonight.





(Transcript)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Artist

I knew somebody would figure out a way to tie the Oscars to politics. On the Chris Matthews show, they proved that Mitt Romney is the perfect presidential candidate . . . until he opens his mouth. I wonder if this image will stick.





Congratulations to The Artist for its well-deserved Best Picture win. (Another tidbit: Even though it might not be attracting as large of an audience as it should because Americans shy away from what they think is a silent film, or even worse, a foreign film, remember that The Artist was the only one of the best picture nominees filmed entirely in Los Angeles.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friends of Syria

from the State Department official blog:

Intervention at the Friends of Syrian People Meeting


Remarks

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
As Prepared
Tunis, Tunisia
February 24, 2012


I want to thank Tunisia for hosting this meeting today and I salute the Arab League for its leadership throughout this crisis. I want to particularly applaud the selection of Kofi Annan as a special envoy for both the UN and the Arab League. He will seek to advance the consensus reflected in the Arab League transition plan and the UN General Assembly’s resolution, and I look forward to working with him.

Now, we are all here because the Assad regime’s escalating violence in Syria is an affront to the international community, a threat to regional security, and a grave violation of universal human rights.

The Assad regime has ignored every warning, squandered every opportunity, and broken every agreement.

Faced with determined protesters demanding their rights and their dignity, the regime is creating an appalling humanitarian disaster. Tanks, mortars and heavy artillery continue to target civilians in residential areas, including women and children. Security forces have cut off electricity and communications, sabotaged water supplies, invaded hospitals, and forced thousands of Syrians to flee their homes. The UN has found crimes against humanity. And now there are reports of troops massing for even more deadly assaults.

Here in Tunis, the international community is speaking with one voice, as we did in the UN General Assembly last week that the Assad regime’s brutal assault must stop and a democratic transition must begin. The people of Syria are looking to us in their hour of need. We cannot let them down. Let’s begin by reaffirming the core principles we’ve agreed on today:

We strongly echo the Arab League’s demand that the Syrian Government immediately halt all attacks against civilians; guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations; release all arbitrarily detained citizens; return its military and security forces to their barracks; and allow full and unhindered access for monitors, humanitarian workers, and journalists.

We call for a negotiated political solution to this crisis and an inclusive democratic transition to address the legitimate aspirations of Syria’s people in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation, and extremism.

And we are firmly committed to the sovereignty, independence, national unity, and territorial integrity of Syria.

In support of these principles, this group should take concrete action along three lines: provide emergency humanitarian relief, ratchet up pressure on the regime, and prepare for a democratic transition.

First, humanitarian relief. Conditions in Syria are dire and getting worse. Emergency assistance is desperately needed, but the regime is doing everything it can to prevent aid from reaching those who need it. It is going after aid workers, doctors, and journalists reporting on the suffering.

We cannot wait for this crisis to become an even greater catastrophe. Today I am announcing that the United States is providing $10 million to quickly scale up humanitarian efforts, including support for refugees. These funds will help support makeshift medical facilities, train emergency medical staff, and get clean water, food, blankets, heaters, and hygiene kits to Syrian civilians in need. This is not the end. The United States will provide more humanitarian support in coming days.

Trusted humanitarian organizations have prepositioned humanitarian supplies at hubs in the region and they are already on the ground poised to distribute this aid if safe access can be arranged. To that end, we fully support the efforts of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator to secure immediate and safe access for humanitarian workers and supplies.

If the Assad regime refuses to allow this life-saving aid to reach civilians, it will have even more blood on its hands. So too will those nations that continue to protect and arm the regime. We call on those states that are supplying weapons to kill civilians to halt immediately.

And that brings us to our second line of action: increasing the pressure on the Assad regime, deepening its isolation, and sending a clear message: You will pay a heavy cost for ignoring the will of the international community and violating the human rights of your people.

We all need to look hard at what more we can do. It’s time for everyone here to place travel bans on senior members of the regime – as the Arab League has done -- freeze their assets, boycott Syrian oil, suspend new investments, and consider closing embassies and consulates. For nations that have already imposed sanctions, we must vigorously enforce them.

There should be no mistaking our resolve: These crimes against the Syrian people must stop and there must be accountability for senior figures of the regime.

Nor should there be any doubt that the Assad’s rule is unsustainable. As we heard directly today, citizens inside and outside Syria have already begun planning for a democratic transition, from the leaders of the Syrian National Council to the grassroots local councils across the country who are organizing under the most dangerous and difficult circumstances. Supporting this process should be our third line of action.

Assad is tearing the fabric of Syrian society and seeking to pit community against community. To repair that damage and build a sustainable democracy, all Syrians will have to work together – Alawis and Christians, Sunnis and Druze, Arabs and Kurds – to ensure that the new Syria is governed by the rule of law and respects and protects the universal rights of every citizen, regardless of ethnicity, sect, or gender.

We view the Syrian National Council as a leading legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change and as an effective representative for the Syrian people with governments and international organization.

As we heard today, the SNC is articulating a plan for the future, starting with an effective transition. In the coming days and weeks, we urge the full range of opposition groups and individuals in Syria, including representatives of all ethnic and religious minorities, to come together around that common vision.

Only a genuine democratic transition will solve this crisis. As the Arab League has said, the goal should be the formation of a national unity government followed by transparent and free elections under Arab and international supervision. Assad’s departure must be part of this.

Now I recognize that some inside Syria, especially members of its minority communities, are worried about what comes after Assad. We know that they have much more to fear from his continued rule, but their concerns are understandable. So I urge this gathering to send a strong message that the world will not tolerate the replacement of one form of tyranny with another. We will resolutely oppose acts of vengeance and retribution. And we will support a managed transition that leads to a new Syria where the rights of every citizen are respected and protected, not to chaos.

To those Syrians who still support Assad, especially members of the Syrian military: understand that this regime has no future. The longer you carry out its campaign of violence, the more it will stain your honor. But if you refuse to take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen will hail you as heroes.

Syria is a proud country of 23 million people, with a rich history and ancient culture. The end of Assad can mark a new beginning for Syria. It is a chance to rebuild and strengthen the foundations of the state. If Syrians come together, and especially if the leaders of Syria’s business community, military, and other institutions recognize that their futures lie with a reformed Syrian state and not the regime, then Syria may yet emerge as a strong and unified country – a respected and responsible leader in the region.

That should be a goal we all share. And as we move forward today, I hope we stay focused on taking concrete steps to end the violence and support the courageous people of Syria in their aspirations.

Thank you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Indoctrination

Once again Rick Santorum has his finger on the pulse of America's problems. Problems we didn't even know we had. In an interview with Glenn Beck this week (of which I still can't locate a transcript or video) Santorum reportedly worried about whether too many students are going to college.
 “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”
 Does he mean that when college students study too much biology and physics, they start to wonder whether the Bible is meant to be taken literally? Or perhaps that when students are exposed to the writings of Karl Marx or John Stuart Mill, they start to vote Republican less reliably? Would Rick Santorum be so worried about indoctrination if college kids were required to study Christian theology? Or is it just exposure to secular ideas that concerns him?

I have to wonder how this message will resonate with voters. Do a lot of people really think that the American economy will be more competitive in the future if we start discouraging young people from pursuing higher education? Are there a lot of voters who believe their children would be better off uneducated if the alternative might lead them to question their traditional beliefs? Does Rick Santorum actually think that such voters could form a majority? If so, I have to wonder whether he himself studied enough math in school.

Millions of parents would dearly love for their children to have the opportunity to study at the finest universities they are able to attend, because they know that would open up many doors for them. It seems cruel for a presidential candidate to denigrate that opportunity, or discourage people from pursuing that dream. It seems awfully mean-spirited to criticize the president for trying to open up more educational opportunities for young people. While we might have legitimate disagreements about how to achieve that end, the goal itself should not be controversial. Rick Santorum himself obtained an MBA and a law degree from distinguished universities. (the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State) Why would he want to deny others the opportunities that were given to him?

(photo of students being indoctrinated from Beacon College website)

UPDATE (2/25): TPM has dug up from the archived website for Rick Santorum's 2006 Senate re-election campaign, the statement that Santorum "is equally committed to ensuring the every Pennsylvanian has access to higher education. Rick Santorum has supported legislative solutions that provide loans, grants, and tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable.”  So apparently Santorum was FOR universal access to higher education before he was against it. What has changed? You might call it the Obama touch. Everything the president supports must now be portrayed as hateful by his opponents. If Obama said tomorrow that Americans should eat more apple pie, I'm sure the Republican field would tell us that would be poisonous.

Feel the excitement

as Detroit welcomes Mitt Romney home!



It looks like there might have been almost as many people outside, supporting somebody who was not speaking:


Does anyone doubt that President Obama could fill Ford Field to the rafters, if he decided to hold a rally there, tomorrow?

UPDATE: Now that I've read more about this speech, it might be a bit unfair to make fun of Romney for failing to fill up a stadium, and I feel a little guilty for jumping on the bandwagon. (not guilty enough to delete the post, but still a little guilty). Apparently, the football stadium venue was only chosen at the last minute because the original place sold out too quickly. So the problem was not lack of enthusiasm  for Romney's speech, but perhaps more enthusiasm than anticipated. And the fault may lie with the Detroit Economic Club, which chose such a ridiculous venue for what was intended to be a serious policy address to a limited, well-heeled crowd. Unfortunately for Romney, however, whatever he said at his speech today was overshadowed by stories and pictures of an empty stadium. At the very least, Romney ends up looking inept and tone-deaf. Appearances count for a lot in a campaign, and these pictures might end up being as harmful for Governor Romney as the pictures of Governor Dukakis posing on top of a tank in the 1988 presidential campaign, even though in both cases the candidates might have been perfectly innocent.

So perhaps in the future I should concentrate on the content of Romney's statements, rather than his presentation. That still gives me plenty of material to work with. (In today's speech, for example, we could talk about Romney's attempt to ingratiate himself with his audience by telling them that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs." Good for her. I'm sure all the people of Michigan with a couple of Cadillacs in the garage now feel you are one of them.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Apologies

News should be about something important that just happened. Real news might surprise us, and might even challenge our assumptions. Sadly, we don't seem to be all that interested  in that kind of news in these days of an ideologically-sorted cable TV audience. What makes news these days are stories that fit our preconceived narratives. As an example: the story of Newt Gingrich's outrage--outrage!--that the Obama administration apologized to the Afghan government for the careless or reckless acts by some American personnel of burning a few Korans at a military base in Afghanistan. Gingrich called this apology a "surrender." What's convenient about an incident like this from Gingrich's point of view is that he can use it as an example in support of the false narrative that Obama administration has been kowtowing to radical Islam. That allows him to stoke the fires of vicious and libelous rumors that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or terrorist sympathizer without coming right out and saying so. Instead Gingrich says this, which is nearly as bad:
 "There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way, and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States, period."
Really, Newt? You wouldn't call killing Osama bin Laden or any number of other al Qaeda operatives a form of "negative attention"?  You must think the president was showing his love for these terrorists by sending them to an early grave. You don't think that the Obama administration's dramatic expansion of the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan is perceived by the Taliban in a negative way at all?  You really think we sent all those troops into Afghanistan to apologize to radical Islam? Seriously?

If we were to allow some facts and context to get in the way of Gingrich's story, we might have to consider that the burning of the most sacred texts of the people whose country we are essentially occupying might ruffle a few feathers, and might justify some small conciliatory gesture. According to the same CBS story, George W. Bush issued an apology to the Prime Minister of Iraq after an American soldier fired a gun into a Koran. I don't recall Newt Gingrich complaining about any "surrender" by Bush to radical Islam at that time.

While thinking about this story, I came across another story today about two stupid teenage girls in Florida who got into a whole lot of trouble for creating a seriously racist video. Naturally they issued effusive apologies to try to rectify the damage they caused. No one would consider such an apology inappropriate.

It should go without saying that when someone commits a thoughtless act that is likely to inflame the feelings of those who were offended by it, they ought to apologize for it. Otherwise they are just asking for more trouble. I feel confident that even if Newt Gingrich were president, he would try to minimize the offense caused by inappropriate actions by American soldiers or other personnel stationed abroad. That's the president's job. Just as, if we invited some foreign soldiers to this country and found out they started a bonfire with a bunch of Bibles, he would feel an apology--at least!--were warranted. If we would demand recompense for a foreign government's offensive acts toward us, which of course we would, then the Golden Rule--which Newt Gingrich is supposed to subscribe to--demands an apology by us in similar circumstances.  What kind of arrogance justifies the assertion that being an American means never having to say you are sorry?

Only when you're involved in a political campaign looking for any sort of material to support a false narrative about your political opponent might you seize on an action of decency and plain common sense and try to turn it into something nefarious. I say that not to excuse Newt Gingrich's ludicrous comments, but only to try to understand them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to install a gun rack in a Chevy Volt

Speaking as one of the last people still promoting the dream of bridging the divide between red and blue America, I was thrilled to come across this video demonstrating that, in fact, you can install a gun rack in a Chevy Volt.





This video has the added benefit of proving that Newt Gingrich doesn't know what he is talking about, whether he is talking about gas prices, or gun racks.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Austerity

One answer to critics of the Obama administration's economic policies can be expressed in a single word: Europe. As Paul Krugman's NYT column yesterday points out, most of the governments in Europe actually tried what the president's critics have been demanding. They cut government spending, tried to reduce deficits, and encouraged people to practice austerity. The results have been slow or negative growth, high unemployment, and high interest rates. Whereas in the United States, where at least at the federal level we increased government spending and cut taxes, we have seen a return to economic growth, reduced unemployment and low interest rates. Krugman has consistently suggested that if we had run even bigger deficits, and used that money to assist state governments in maintaining public sector employment, we could have done even better.

These are hard lessons to grasp. Common sense tells most people that if our income falls during tough times, we must cut back on spending. That might work for individual families, but when the government tries it, the result is only to prolong the economic downturn. That's because the government needs to make up for the reduction in consumer spending by maintaining and even increasing, public sector spending. I think another part of the reason we are afraid to increase spending during a recession is that we mis-define the problem. A lot of people think the problem began with, or continues to be the debt. And so they make the common sense assumption that you can't spend your way out of debt. You will only make the debt worse. But what if the main problem was not the debt? What if the problem was economic contraction? It turns out you can spend your way out of that because spending causes economic expansion. We can turn our attention to deficit reduction after we have restored the economy to growth.

People who question or criticize these assumptions behind the administration's economic policies of the last three years should have an obligation to point to a working model that proves that a policy of reduced government spending would have led to a better result. The counter-model turns out to be right in front of us. It is Europe, where misguided austerity policies seem to be leading that continent to a double dip recession. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the economic situation is improving every day. Our major economic concerns right now are that Europe's mishandling of its economic problems could affect our economy; and that the American opposition party's plans for reduced government spending could cause us the same kinds of problems they are experiencing in Europe. If we didn't have to worry so much about people with the wrong answers trying to undo the progress of the last several years, we would be able to enjoy and appreciate that progress a lot more.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Santorum Surge

What explains the rise in the polls of improbable Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum? Much of the commentary I've been reading falls back on the suggestion that a lot of hard core Republican primary voters just don't like, or don't trust Mitt Romney very much. He's a flip-flopper; he's a secret moderate; he just doesn't connect well with voters, etc. Most of the commentary also seems to suggest that these primary voters are acting against their own self interests. It is precisely because Mitt Romney has taken some moderate positions in the past that he has heretofore--at least on paper--been perceived as the strongest Republican challenger. By disregarding the Establishment choice, conventional wisdom suggests that conservative GOP primary voters have simply taken leave of their senses.

I question the conventional wisdom to some extent. Another part of what has been happening recently is that the economy has been receding in importance as a campaign issue. Recent jobs numbers and growth numbers bring nothing but good news for the president's re-election chances. As more and more moderate and independent voters give President Obama credit for turning a terrible economy around, it's a lot harder to make the argument that we need another change in direction in economic policy. And to the extent economic policy is still an issue, the issue has changed its character. Many voters are now attuned to issue of economic fairness--the still-struggling middle class now seems more aware that the wealthiest 1% have obtained a larger and larger share of the nation's wealth over the past several decades. To the extent economic fairness has come to the fore as an issue, Mitt Romney might be the worst possible candidate to address it. He thinks the issue of economic inequality should only be spoken of in quiet rooms. He epitomizes the wealthiest slice of the top one percent. And he advocates policies that will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Maybe one reason the Republican presidential race has been so volatile this year has nothing to do with the personalities of the candidates. It may have more to do with the search for a plausible theme on which to challenge the current administration. Maybe that's why we're suddenly talking about contraception, and religion, and values. And maybe the resurgence of those sorts of issues explains the recent surge of that symbol of old-fashioned morality, Rick Santorum.

How should Obama supporters feel about this? As I've posted before, the best outcome would be for the Republicans to nominate their strongest candidate, and for the president to defeat that candidate convincingly. So I'm not going to root for whomever might be the weakest candidate, but I'm also not going to try to figure out which one of the remaining Republican challengers is the strongest candidate either. I don't know what the Republicans' strongest message would be this year, but I don't think a campaign to re-instate old-time morality is going to be any more successful than a campaign to re-instate the failed economic policies of the Bush administration. The Republican Party needs to come up with a more forward-looking, positive, unifying message if it wants to have any hope of making a credible challenge.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Taxes

From the Washington Post, here's a chart comparing the proposed income tax rates under President Obama's proposals with those under candidate Mitt Romney's:

Ezra Klein's column points out the differences in  terms of percentage of GDP taken in taxes under each proposal. We are at near-historic low levels of income taxation today, and those taxes would increase somewhat (as a percentage of GDP) under both proposals (though not to the levels we experienced during the Clinton administration). Romney would raise taxes only slightly less than Obama. So first off, we should probably rein in all the rhetoric about how the Republicans are going to cut taxes while the Democrats are going to embark on some mad socialist redistribution scheme. The truth is that most people aren't going to notice a big difference regardless of which party assumes power.

What jumps out at me from this chart, however, is the difference in how the tax burden would fall. Again, not a dramatic difference. Obama would raise the top rate to 36%, still less than under Clinton, and WAY less than under Eisenhower, when the top marginal tax rate was more than 90%, while Romney would lower the top rate to 26%. Romney would also raise the rate slightly for the bottom 60% of earners, while Obama would raise it a bit for the top 20%.

I'd love to hear Romney explain why the rich should pay a smaller percentage than they do now, while the poor should pay more. "It's because we want to reduce the burden on the job creators," I'm sure he'd say, "and that will benefit everyone."

So I guess the Republicans think the wealthy are slacking off now in their job-creating activities, because of the heavy burden of taxation. These members of the top 1% are saying to themselves, if only I didn't have to give nearly 35% of my income to the government, I'm sure I'd go out and hire a whole bunch of employees. Right now I just don't have the incentive to do that. It's tough being rich, I guess, because you just never have enough money. If the rich could keep more of their money, they'd work much harder. Of course we would have to trust that these wealthy people wouldn't use their extra cash to take fancy European vacations, or buy luxury foreign cars or invest overseas, but I'm sure hardly any of them would shirk their patriotic duty to spend all their additional wealth on beefing up their staffs.

What about the bottom 60% then? That's a different story, I imagine Mitt would say. The problem with those people is they get to keep too much of their money. The government needs to take a bigger percentage, so they will feel more like contributing members of society. If they have a little less money to buy groceries or pay the rent, I'm sure that will help build their characters.

Bottom line: if you believe rich people don't have enough money, and poor people have too much, you should vote Republican, because as the chart makes plain, their plan is to let the government take more from the poor, while the rich get to keep even more of their wealth. If you think the rich should contribute a bit more to the general good, while the poor should bear a proportionately smaller burden, then vote Democratic.

Third shift back on line

(Thanks to Chipsticks for this clip.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who are the job creators?

A study performed by a University of Alabama economist found that Alabama's tough new anti-immigrant law could be hurting the state's economy more than it is helping, by costing the state billions in reduced demand for goods and services, as well as causing substantial losses in sales tax and other tax revenue. The law is estimated to have caused more than 40,000 workers to flee the state. Contrary to the hopes of the law's supporters, the vast majority of the low wage jobs those workers were performing have not been filled by documented workers. Alabama farmers and factory owners are  reporting difficulty replacing the workers scared off by the immigration crackdown, leading to declines in production. As the study author points out, if these employers were able to fill all those jobs with citizens, they would not be complaining about the new law. And we're hearing lots of complaints by those employers. In sum, the costs of driving out so many low income workers appear to far exceed the benefits. 

My point is not so much about immigration policy. It is that we should not under-estimate or denigrate the economic impact of the least well off among us. After low wage workers are done paying local landlords their rent, they tend to spend the entire rest of their paychecks in local grocery stores and all kinds of other businesses. All that spending supports jobs. That makes all of us job creators, and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum might be proportionately the biggest job creators of all.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The budget

In case anyone thinks the video of the platypus dance or any of my other recent posts, are too frivolous, here's the entire White House proposed 2013 budget. After reading the whole thing, feel free to comment below.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Platypus Walk

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Birth Control

I'm trying to imagine the meeting of Republican strategists who decided that THIS was the issue to go to the mat on. Let's listen in:

Strategist 1: "Did you hear about HHS's new rule that would require religious institutions to provide free birth control to employees? Isn't that an outrageous assault on religious freedom?"

Strategist 2: "Well maybe the Catholic bishops would see it that way, but it's really old news, isn't it? Most of the states already have similar rules for health insurance coverage. And there are exceptions for churches and other religious organizations that predominantly have employees of their faith. This rule would only make a change for some hospitals or universities run by religious institutions."

Strategist 1: "Maybe so, but we can still make it sound really bad, as if the Obama administration is forcing religious organizations to violate their sacred principles."

Strategist 3: "I'm still not seeing it, considering that these Catholic hospitals have so many non-Catholic employees who would want their health insurance to cover birth control. And even their Catholic employees want this. Hardly any practicing Catholics pay attention to the Church's teachings on birth control. I mean, what century is the Church living in, anyway? Besides, nobody's forcing anybody to use birth control. All they're saying is that if somebody wants a prescription, it should be covered by insurance. So how does this impinge on anybody's religion?"

Strategist 4: "We must have some better issues to take a stand on than birth control. I mean, practically everybody is in favor of birth control. Even Governor Romney, our potential presidential nominee, said at one of the debates that we should leave contraception alone, it's working just fine."

Strategist 5: "That was funny, wasn't it? Though with five kids, I'm not sure contraception was working just fine for Romney. Anyway, I heard that Romney put almost the same rule into effect in Massachusetts, so how could he criticize Obama for doing exactly what he did?"

Strategist 1: "Somebody said we must have some better issues to run on. What are they? We're getting our legs knocked out from under us trying to run on the economy."

Strategist 2: "You're right. It's getting pretty hard to keep arguing about how bad the economy is, when it keeps getting better every day."

Strategist 3: "There's always the deficit."

Strategist 1: "But people are starting to figure out that the Republicans aren't very serious about that, considering that all we do is complain about cuts to defense spending, and we won't agree to any tax increases."

Strategist 3: "We can still attack the president for his weak foreign policy. And there's always Iran."

Strategist 1: "Every time we try calling him weak, though, we have to hear about Bin Laden. And he didn't look so weak in Libya, either. Or in Afghanistan. And he's been playing pretty tough with China too. I have a feeling he'll keep a lid on Iran too until after the election."

Strategist 3: "There must be something better than birth control we can use as a campaign issue. Come on . . . anybody?"

Strategist 2: "Sorry, I got nothing."

Strategist 4: "Me neither."

Strategist 5: "I can't think of one right now."

Strategist 6: "Oh my God, I can't believe we're going to go into the campaign as the party that is against birth control. Something almost 100% of the electorate supports. We're doomed."

Strategist 1: "Look, it's all we've got right now. We're just going to have to make the best of it."

No Child Left Behind Left Behind

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ninth Circuit decision

9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling striking down Proposition 8

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Newt's Southern Strategy

After Newt Gingrich's defeat in Nevada yesterday, the candidate outlined a new strategy, heavily dependent on racking up additional delegate gains in upcoming southern state primaries, while facing the fact that his chances appear to be declining in most of the rest of the country. While the candidate can still point to the fact that the votes for "not Romney" so far exceed the votes for Romney, this Southern strategy does not sound like a viable way actually to win his party's nomination.

So, has Newt simply lost his grasp on reality altogether, or does he have some other goal? What his campaign strategy is starting to remind me of are the quixotic quests of former Southern strategists like Strom Thurmond, who led a Southern walk-out from the Democratic convention in 1948, or George Wallace, who led a third party campaign that won only Southern states, in 1968. Newt Gingrich must be acutely aware of these historical parallels, as he prides himself on his devotion to history. Now he seems condemned to repeat it. If Gingrich has in mind something like the protest movements led by Thurmond or Wallace, then the Republican party may be facing a defection of white Southerners similar to what the Democrats already experienced during the years of the Civil Rights movement.

This time, however, it is a lot harder to understand the cause these Southerners would be fighting for, or how they could possibly end up with meaningful political power. Is the South just doomed to replay their failed rebellions of the Civil War era, and of the Civil Rights era? Both those times Southerners fought in the service of terrible causes, but maybe this time they will follow Newt in an effort to prove that they always had a more noble purpose than the ones they seemed to be fighting for. If that happens, this year's Southern rebellion may end up fighting for no understandable cause at all.

(photo of unofficial campaign button from Atlantic Wire collection of strange Republican 2012 collectibles)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rebound



Here's a chart from TPM, attempting to explain the reasons for the president's decline and rebound in popularity. I would probably also factor in economic worries, including the last few months' perceived improvement in the economy, as another explanation for the rebound. But certainly we should be able to agree that the debt ceiling fight last summer did neither the president's nor Congress's popularity any favors.

If we take that as a given, then what does it mean that the Republicans in Congress are now trying to walk away from the deal they struck last summer? Remember the deal was that if the super-committee could not agree on additional deficit-reducing measures, then automatic spending cuts, that were designed to be unpalatable to both sides, would take effect. Well, the super-committee failed to agree, and now the Republicans in Congress want to change those spending cuts they don't like (essentially defense cuts).

President Obama seems to be dug in here. He has already said he is not going to rescue Congress from this jam. And he is not under the same pressure he faced last summer to make a new deal with the Republicans (last summer, he had to make a deal or the Republicans might have allowed the government to default on its debt obligations). And if the president were to strike a new deal with the Republicans now, eliminating some of the automatic defense cuts, that would not help his popularity, as the chart above suggests. That means the president and the Senate Democrats will probably hold firm this time, insisting that the defense cuts take effect, or the Republicans go along with some revenue increases. The Republicans can probably be counted on to refuse to agree to anything that sounds like a tax increase.

And then what? The Republicans will have to run in the fall campaign on the platform that no matter what, they will not allow the rich to pay a penny more in taxes, and that they wanted to spend more money on defense, but the Democrats won't let them. How does that help their argument that we need to make tough choices to reduce the deficit? President Obama may have suffered a decline in popularity by bending over backwards last summer to try to make a deal with Congressional Republicans. But as usual, he appears to have been thinking way ahead to the 2012 election campaign. And has positioned his side to have much the better of the argument.

Jobs



January jobs report: 243,000 jobs added; unemployment down to 8.3%.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mitticisms

I'm trying to imagine the conversations candidate Mitt Romney is having with his senior campaign staff after another one of his unfortunate misstatements.

A staffer might say, "Mitt, what the heck did you mean by saying you're not concerned about the very poor. Do you see how bad that sounds?"

Romney replies, "I'm getting sick and tired of the media constantly reporting the actual words that I speak. It's so unfair. Anyway, did you see the context of that interview? All I meant was we have a lot more middle class people than poor people, so I'm going to worry more about them."

"OK, I think I understand what you're trying to say," replies the staffer, "but why would you lead off your remarks by saying that you're not concerned about the very poor? That's the part that's going to re-circulate all over You Tube. And it doesn't sound very charitable, does it?"

"Hey, I did say something about repairing the safety net, didn't I? Why don't the media report on that?"

"That was a good one," admits the staffer. "Of course anybody who takes a minute to look at your budget proposals knows that you're actually planning to rip giant holes in the safety net."

"Give me a break," responds the candidate. "I'm tired. Anyway, the very poor are only a small part of the electorate, and we're making efforts to make sure they don't vote. The middle class is who we need to be concerned about. There seem to be an awful lot of them, and they seem to have a lot of worries about their own circumstances. They're not going to care about the poor, are they?"

"There you go again, Mitt. Our supporters might not care too much about the very poor, but it still doesn't sound very Christian to them if you come right out and say you're not concerned about the very poor."

"OK, OK, I get it. I'll try to lay off the poor."

"That's the spirit, Mitt. You know, poor people are people too."

"Oh yeah, you mean like corporations?"

"Not quite. We're not proposing any tax breaks for poor people. And we don't mind regulating them either."

"Hmm. Maybe I'd just better not talk about poor people anymore then. But what can I talk about? You told me not to say I like firing people. I'm not supposed to say anything nice about corporations. I can't talk about money or taxes. And now I have to leave poor people alone?"

"Just keep saying that everything is Obama's fault. That seems to be your best tactic. I like that line in your speech last night about how Obama got us into this mess. Keep repeating that, and people might forget that we had the economic mess before Obama even got into office, and things have been steadily improving ever since."

"It is kind of hard to explain that, isn't it? It just comes so much more naturally to me to admit that I don't give a crap about the poor."

"I understand, Mitt, just stay on your toes, ok?"