Saturday, July 30, 2011

How do you kill the economy? Pass a balanced budget amendment.

Guest post by Publius

The House recently passed “Cut, Cap and Balance” (see John McCain’s fantastic take on it here). Republicans are convinced of the need for a balanced budget amendment, and one of the most cited arguments for they give for a balanced budget amendment is that 49 states have one so the federal government should too.

The concept of a balanced budget amendment sounds intuitive enough. “Ordinary Americans and 49 states have to balance their budgets,” the argument goes, “so Congress should too.” Well, not exactly.

First, there is a huge difference between the balanced budget “amendments” (several states have laws instead of constitutional amendments) at the state level and the proposed amendment at the federal level. The state amendments, for example, do not even attempt to balance the entire state budget. Instead, they almost exclusively only apply to a state’s “general fund.” The general fund oftentimes constitutes less than half of a state’s budget. It is the fund out of which general expenditures flow and into which general revenues enter. “Special” expenditures and revenues, such as gasoline taxes, education expenses, etc., have nothing to do with the general fund and are exempt from the balancing requirement.

If Congresspeople would stop and think about their argument for a moment, they would quickly realize that the balanced budget requirements at the state level either can’t apply to the entire budget or are laxly enforced. Most every single state is currently running a deficit, and has been for several years! Further analysis by these Congresspeople would also show the issue isn’t lax enforcement- at least exclusively.

In 1987, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations published an oft-cited study (PDF) of state balanced budget requirements. The study examined each state’s budget balancing requirements and the mechanisms each used to enforce the requirements. It then ranked each state on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no enforcement mechanism and 10 being the strongest possible enforcement mechanism. 26 of the states ranked a “10,” and in 2004, California recently became the 27th state to join that category by adopting an amendment to its constitution. Here’s how those states have done with their deficits since FY 2009:

States in categories 3-5 (fairly lax enforcement) had the largest deficits by far over the measured periods, but states in category 10 (most stringent) were the next worst deficit spenders. Ironically, states with little to no enforcement mechanism had almost no deficit (though only 2 states fit in this category, so not much of a sample size). This suggests that stringent enforcement of a balanced budget amendment is insufficient to produce a balanced budget for the states.

The scatterplot table below (amounts in thousands) shows the deficits by year, state and category. California’s enormous deficits and NY’s 2010 deficit were removed from the scatterplot because they shrunk the scale of the chart so much the rest was not legible:

Deficits by year
The scatterplot is a bit messy, but it shows the size of the deficit for each state within the 0-10 enforcement categories described above. There’s no getting around it. No matter how strict a state balanced budget requirement is, states continue running deficits during this economic downturn. This doesn’t mean the balanced budget requirements have no impact- only that they don’t accomplish what Republicans in Congress think they accomplish.

One might ask, “Why isn’t the federal proposal (which demands that the entire budget be balanced) more workable than the state proposals?” Well, first consider that the federal “general fund” only accounts for about about 35% of the entire federal budget. That number includes defense spending, however (which is considered “discretionary” even though it has a history of only going up). Non-defense discretionary spending only accounts for about 15% of the budget.

A true “balanced budget amendment” like what Republicans have proposed could require that money which is allocated to defense spending or other mandatory spending (social security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt, etc.) be cut in order to balance the budget. In FY 2010, for example, the deficit was about $1.3 trillion. Total non-defense discretionary spending in FY 2010 was only $714 billion. Even if all non-defense discretionary spending was eliminated in FY 2010 (no spending on education, justice, health, roads or other infrastructure, etc.), we would have still had a $586 billion deficit. Total defense spending in FY 2010 was only $663.7 billion, meaning to avoid any cuts to mandatory spending (which, as its name implies, is money we must spend), the Department of Defense budget would have been reduced by 88% (to a total of $77 billion). The last time defense spending was that low was 1973.

As should be obvious, when a severe recession hits, it’s quite difficult to balance a budget. In fact, it’s also precisely the wrong thing to do in a recession (when spending should go up as a stabilizer). The federal government has a macroeconomic role through fiscal policy which it cannot play if it is hamstrung by a balanced budget amendment. But even assuming that wasn’t the case, there’s just not enough discretionary spending to cut to balance a budget in a severe recession. Recessions reduce tax revenue dramatically because people lose jobs and stop paying FICA and income taxes. There just aren’t enough discretionary dollars to eliminate to keep pace. That means defense spending and/or mandatory spending has to be cut. So who should cut it?

This is the next problem with the balanced budget amendment. The enforcement mechanism. If the Constitution requires Congress to balance a budget and it doesn’t- what happens? In some states, the governor can eliminate spending without legislative approval (like a line-item veto). In 2010, however, there is no chance any politician would have voluntarily eliminated 100% of discretionary spending plus a large amount of defense/mandatory spending. The courts, then, would be required to mandate the cuts or, alternatively, raise taxes (also a bad idea during a recession). One can only imagine the Republican cries of “activist judiciary” in such an instance- and ironically they would have been the ones demanding that the judiciary take such an activist role. I should mention that tax increases could be adopted in lieu of spending cuts, but I haven’t spent much time on that option because: a) Republicans would never agree to tax increases; and b) to ensure no tax increases are passed, Republicans have proposed in Cut, Cap and Balance that all tax increases require a 2/3 vote, effectively making them illegal.

So, what happens if the courts also don’t act to force the budget to balance? The Constitution is violated and, as we are seeing with the debt ceiling debate, the nation’s credit rating would beat risk as a consequence (thereby threatening global economic instability).

Of course, the federal amendment could be fashioned to look more like the state balanced budget requirements and only apply to discretionary spending. Needless to say, such an amendment would not eliminate federal deficits (which is the stated purpose of enacting such an amendment). The amendment would be circumvented entirely in recessions (appropriately so from an economic perspective) which would only serve to undermine the Constitution and the rule of law. The accounting tricks employed by states to “balance their budgets” would only be magnified at the federal level thereby creating far more frustration with the system (California technically has a balanced budget this year, despite its projected $17.9 billion deficit).

The balanced budget amendment as included in Cut, Cap and Balance is quite possibly the worst economic idea any major party has actively promoted in modern history. It can’t work- except to wreak havoc. Few other proposals stand to do as much harm to the US and global economies, particularly during recessions.

(Cross-posted at The Fourth Branch.)

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What is the Ames Straw Poll and why do we care?

Sometimes it's good to take a step back and do a little self-education about an apparently significant event in the current election cycle. Experts and other pundits talk about some of these things like we all know exactly what they are and how they work, which is frequently not the case.

Recently, as I have been trying to figure out how things are going in Iowa for the crop of Republicans seeking their party's nomination for the presidency, I've been hearing a lot about the Ames Straw Poll.

So, what is it?

Near as I can tell, it's a non-binding vote that takes place at a fundraising dinner in Ames, Iowa benefitting the Iowa Republican Party. Obviously, its purpose is to determine voters' preferences for GOP presidential candidates. Although there are a number of pre-Iowa Caucus "straw polls" in the state, it seems that Ames is by far the most important based on the fact that it is centrally located and draws voters from all over Iowa. This is the reason it's called the "Iowa Straw Poll."

The next one will take place on Saturday, August 13, 2011 at the Hilton Coliseum on the campus or Iowa State University.

As for voter eligibility, non-Republicans are allowed to vote. Voters have to be 18 years of age on or before the presidential election date, which, if I understand correctly, means a voter could be as young as 16 and 3/4 years old, or thereabouts. A voter must be a legal resident of Iowa or a student attending an Iowa university or college, which is really interesting given efforts by some Republican run states to disenfranchise college students. And, finally, a voter has to have bought a ticket to the fundraiser.

It also appears that the integrity of the vote is taken seriously as hands are stamped or dipped in ink to ensure that no one can vote twice, although in past years integrity may have been an issue.

Again, the vote is non-binding and has no official effect on the presidential primaries, but it is considered, whether fair or not, an indicator of the strength of a given campaign and treated as such by the media and others who pay attention.

Just to give a sense of the magnitude of the event, here are some results from 2007: Mitt Romney (4,516/31.6%); Mike Huckabee (2,587/18.1%); Sam Brownback (2,192/15.3%); Tom Tancredo (1,961/13.7%); Ron Paul (1,305/9.1%); Rudy Giuliani (183/1.3%); and John McCain (101/.7%).

I should note that neither Giuliani nor McCain attended the event in 2007, which obviously had an impact on their performance and the usefulness of the straw vote that year. Clearly, decisions to attend or not to attend are influenced by one's assessment of chances for success.

As for the August 13th vote, the following names will appear on the ballot: Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Thad McCotter, all of whom are aggressively campaigning in the straw vote.

Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich will also be on the ballot, though these three are not expected to attend.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sarah Palin will not be on the ballot.

Bizarre as it may be, the Ames Straw Poll is considered the first major organizational test of the 2012 season. I guess any electoral contest is as important as the chattering classes deem it to be (whether it is or not).

All I can say is that Tim Pawlenty, thus far failing in all attempts to gain traction, probably has an awful lot riding on a bunch of people attending a fundraiser in the middle of Iowa in the middle of August. I'm sure he'll be sweating for all sorts of reasons.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Now what?

Now that we've basically wasted two weeks in this pointless exercise of coming up with a debt ceiling bill in the House that had to be rejiggered so many times to make the crazies happy that the final version couldn't pass the laugh test only to have it die within seconds in the Senate, what's next?  Platinum coins?  Kited checks?  A late-night raid at Gringotts?  (Watch out for the dragon!)

Aside from all the inside-the-Beltway juvenile behavior and tantrums, all the intricate economic measures and soothsaying from the portfolio managers and Wall Street denizens who vultch over the markets waiting for something to drop, there are millions of people who don't know a hedge fund from a hedgehog or care about the hurt feelings of John Boehner but who rely on the government and its services to make it through their daily lives.  If the checks don't come, they are in real trouble.  Everyone from the retired nurse in Boise, Idaho, on Social Security who budgets her monthly check down to the penny, to the little company in Waterville, Ohio, that is keeping their employees paid through a contract with the federal government to provide food to the local school system for Title I is counting on the money to be there next week.

The folks in the Tea Party say that we shouldn't be so dependent on the government; that we should all be self-reliant and strong, and maybe this intentionally-manufactured crisis on their part is a good lesson on how we should wean ourselves away from it.  That's idiocy (not to mention breathtaking hypocrisy), and it demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of economic reality.  No one is asking for a hand-out; the nurse earned her pension throughout her career and paid into it, and the company, like millions of other businesses in the country, is doing business with the government just like they'd do it with any other private business.  It's how our economy works.

We saw such rank stupidity from the Tea Party in microcosm when the auto industry was in trouble in 2009 and they said it would be a good thing if GM and Chrysler went belly-up; for one thing, it would be sweet revenge for the Chevette and the K-car.  As in that case, they didn't get it, and just like the auto business has a larger footprint beyond Detroit, a huge segment of the economy relies on providing goods and services to government-run facilities such as schools, hospitals, construction projects, road maintenance, utilities, airports, harbors, police and fire departments, and hundreds of other businesses.  If they stop getting paid, then the employees don't get paid, and then they're not buying food at the grocery store, gas at the filling station, or paying their rent or mortgage.  The ripples become a tsunami.

We have had plenty of lessons in hard times economically, most notably the Great Depression of the 1930's, and the measures we have in place such as Social Security and Title I are what we came up with to help us through such times.  Like it or not, this is how We The People decided how to run our country.  We've also seen what "smaller government" brings us.  It's not Paradise.

What's most galling and enraging is that the Republicans did this not because of a philosophical difference of opinion in macroeconomics.  If that were the case, they wouldn't have let President Bush run up the huge deficits he did or raise the debt ceiling all those times when they were in the majority.  No, they did it out of pure spite and to try to ensure their political future.  No one is naive to think that they wouldn't do it, and given the chance, the Democrats, if they had any balls, would have played their political cards as well if it was a Republican in the White House.  It happens all the time.  But to bring it to the level of endangering the economic welfare of this nation and possibly the global economy is ratcheting it up to the level of bring a nuclear weapon to a mugging.

It's one thing to demonize Muslims with hysteria about an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, scare the fools with stories about anchor babies in Arizona, and ostracize an entire segment of the population with horror stories about the wrath of God over marriage equality.  But to intentionally wreck the economy because they hate the idea of a Democrat -- and a black man -- in the White House deserves swift and wrathful retribution.

They should be held accountable for this kind of terrorism, and a year from now, long after this moment of brinksmanship has passed, we should be reminding every voter of who it was that held the country hostage while they played with the nuke.  Given the short attention span of the American public -- oh, look, another white woman is in trouble -- I don't hold out a lot of hope, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to limit their contribution to politics to calling in on C-SPAN or baying at the moon.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Easing ourselves into football again (with two awesome Super Bowl highlights)


Now that the football lockout is over and we are getting really excited about the coming season here at The Reaction, as you will see in coming weeks, I have to indulge myself with just one video. And because I am a New York Giants fan, you might guess what that would be.

Yeah, that felt good.



Okay, great play. (And, yes, I was rooting for the G-Men in that one.) But, as a Steelers fan, I just have to post this:

Now that... that was exciting! I remember being, like, two feet in front of my TV, jumping up and down and screaming "Go! Go! Go!" the whole way.




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Rick Perry: "Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me."

A-flipping and a-flopping goes Texas governor, right-wing evangelical theocrat, and possible contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination Rick Perry.

Is it okay for states to legalize same-sex marriage or not?

Apparently it was not so long ago, when he was pushing states' rights, but now, eyeing the White House and in need of support from the religious right, he's come out in support of federal action:

So much for states' rights.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), one of the country's most prominent defenders of the 10th Amendment, is making an exception when it comes to gay marriage. After initially telling reporters that it's "fine with me" if states like New York legalize same-sex unions through their own legislature, Perry is pulling a 180 and calling for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Perry, who is flirting with a presidential bid, clarified his position to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins in an interview.

"I probably needed to add a few words after that 'it's fine with me' and that it's fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue," he said. "Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn't changed."

Well, no, it has. His personal stance may not have changed -- he's against same-sex marriage and, if it were up to him, there wouldn't be any -- but his political stance has -- he thinks there should be a federal ban that denies states the right to legalize it on their own.

As Joe explains: "This is just more evidence of how the dominionists are forcing the GOP presidential field to conform to their vision of a Christian theocracy." 

Good times.


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Made in the GOP

Republicans Seek Credit for a Debt Ceiling Solution

It's pretty clear at this point that the debt ceiling debacle isn't about spending cuts and tax increases and entitlement reform and balanced budget amendments.

It's about 2012.

That is the only logical explanation for the Republican Party's blanket opposition to every attempt by Democrats to solve this impasse over an otherwise routine debt limit increase. Republicans need something they can campaign on in 2012.

After three years of saying no to everything – health care reform, Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, the Dream Act, a nuclear treaty with Russia, the Libya intervention, unemployment benefits, and most recently the debt ceiling increase itself – Republicans need a legislative victory they can show off to the voting public.

They fared well in the midterm election by campaigning against policies that were already on the books, but they've failed to achieve any of the repeals and nullifications they placed at the center of their 2010 campaign: "Obamacare" is still in place, the stimulus bill was not reversed, and the debt continues to grow.

They also failed to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and NPR, to gut the regulatory oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency, and to turn Medicare into a voucher program. As for the far-right Tea Party conservatives out there who thought the 2010 election would mark a turning point for the morality of the United States, every day is another reminder that Republicans have also failed to make abortion illegal, to replace biology with Intelligent Design in our nation's schools, to abolish the IRS and the Department of Education, to return to the gold standard, and to protect our government against Sharia law with a constitutional amendment.

They cannot win another election simply by campaigning against everything, especially not when they've fallen short of achieving any of the goals they sought. Republicans need a legislative victory. This debt ceiling fight may be the last opportunity to campaign for something in 2012. (God knows they can't point to the 2011 budget negotiations and boast about how they slashed the deficit; according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill they agreed to eventually ended up costing $3.2 billion, not saving the $78 billion they claimed.)

And that is why Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor stormed out of negotiations last month. It's why Speaker John Boehner abandoned negotiations with President Obama last week. Every deal Democrats have offered, whether to slash government spending by $4 trillion or to cut entitlements, may have been a capitulation to Republican demands; it may have been snatched up without pause by any other Republican Party; but it was still offered by Democrats.

Democrats are the opponents, and accepting a deal crafted by the enemy is sacrilege in Washington, D.C., today – even if doing so provides a means to achieving the ends you campaigned on in the last election.

Republicans need to draft their own bill. They need to prove that they are capable of governing, of leading. They must be able to demonstrate to their constituents that the Grand Old Party represents more than obstruction. They need to pass a law that has a "MADE in the GOP" label on it.

And so they did. Or tried.

It was titled the "Cut, Cap and Balance" bill, and it did everything Republicans wanted. It cut spending, capped total outlays based on average GDP growth, and called for an amendment to the Constitution requiring balanced annual budgets. (See "The Balanced Budget Amendment that Wasn't")

Despite being heralded by Speaker John Boehner as a "bipartisan bill," CC&B passed along party lines in the House, receiving only five Democratic votes to 229 from Republicans. Not a single Democrat voted for it in the Senate.

In a speech following the president's national address on the debt ceiling crisis, Boehner claimed, "there's no stalemate here in Congress." It wasn't his only false claim.
"I want you to know," he said, "I made sincere effort to work with the president, to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of 'Cut, Cap and Balance' in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law."

The bill "could" secure bipartisan support if it were a bipartisan bill, but it didn't because it isn't – and neither was the proposal Boehner came up with after Democrats rejected the CC&B bill in the Senate.

CBS News poll

In attempting to solve one problem, Republicans have created another. Like everything Republicans have proposed this year – repealing health care reform, eviscerating the EPA, defunding public radio – Boehner's proposal is slated for failure because it makes no concessions to Democrats.

What's more, not only will the new proposal fail to garner bipartisan support in the upper chamber, it is also failing to unite Republicans in the House.

Rep. Jim Jordan, standing alongside Boehner at a press conference, thanked the speaker "for fighting for Republican principles," but said "I cannot support the plan that was presented to House Republicans this afternoon."

Instead, Jordan is urging Republicans to stick with the CC&B proposal, even though it couldn't garner a simple majority in the Senate; even though it requires a supermajority to pass.

Republicans have found their footing with a bill that the majority of Republicans support, but they have isolated their opposition such that voting on their bill represents nothing more than a symbolic gesture aimed at creating the perception of party unity.

Boehner's speakership is on the line. The Republican Party's majority hold over the House may be in jeopardy, as well. A strong majority of the American people have shunned the GOP for holding up a deal to avert default. A strong majority supports tax increases. A strong majority supports compromise.

Any debt ceiling deal that cuts federal spending, reduces the national deficit, and averts disaster by preventing U.S. default will be seen by voters of both sides as a policy victory for the ages.

Republicans appear incapable of taking the steps that are necessary to allow them to claim even partial credit in that historic deal. They cannot accept anything they themselves didn't create, and they cannot make concessions that will allow Democrats to accept anything they did create.

Congress is no closer to a debt ceiling agreement today than it was six months ago, and the Republican Party's goal of having a legislative record on which they can base their 2012 campaign is still out of reach.

At this point, Plan B is likely a repeat of the 2010 "blame Obama" strategy.

Unfortunately for Republicans, public opinion polls consistently show a "blame Republicans" mentality.

According to the latest CBS News poll, 71 percent of the American public holds Republicans responsible for the impasse.

If the United States defaults, Democrats would be wise to take a page from the Republican Party's 2010 campaign playbook. A "repeal the GOP" platform could prove effective in 2102.

Then again, if Republicans let the nation default, Democrats might not have to campaign at all.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Billion-dollar coins and exploding options -- oh my!

Maybe the president can't simply cite the 14th Amendment and raise the debt ceiling, maybe he can -- but does the Constitution provide a paddle? Must he allow the Tea Party to shut down the government as the more mainstream Republicans attempted to do in 1995 during the Clinton administration? 

You remember President Clinton, don't you, the guy that the snickering snarkmongers told us would only serve one term, who would destroy capitalism, plunge us into debt and start fake wars simply to allow him to become a dictator. I'm sure the parallels are coincidental (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

But Obama, even if if no Clinton ( for better or worse), may still have options, says Jack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale Law School. The Constitution has as many loopholes as the Tea Party has loonies, although some of them are as arcane as something out of The Da Vinci Code. There's the Platinum Coin Gambit and the Exploding Option Strategy, for instance.

Even so, all may not be lost for 14th Amendment solution protagonists, like Bill Clinton and a few others, says Balkin:

If the president reasonably believes that the public debt will be put in question for either reason, Section 4 comes into play once again. His predicament is caused by the combination of statutes that authorize and limit what he can do: He must pay appropriated monies, but he may not print new currency and he may not float new debt. If this combination of contradictory commands would cause him to violate Section 4, then he has a constitutional duty to treat at least one of the laws as unconstitutional as applied to the current circumstances.

Balkin likens this dispute to recent attempts to topple the president over his ability to use the military to protect the national interest or in emergencies: 

If the courts won't intervene in the Libya affair, they probably won't intervene here.

But regardless of your opinion on the best way to beat back the barbarians, whichever side you think they're on, Balkin's CNN exclusive interview is great reading and gives a glimmer of hope that the Constitution will do what it was designed to do: protect us.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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This day in history - July 28, 1932: President Hoover orders troops to evict the "Bonus Army"

The Bonus Army was what they called the 43,000 marchers, comprised of 17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and other groups, who came to Washington, D.C. in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash payment of their service certificates.

The march took place at a time when many of the veterans had already been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression a few years earlier. In essence, they were asking that compensation due to them for wartime service that was not redeemable until 1945 be paid immediately.

Rather than being met by the compassion one might expect for soldiers who had served their country, they were driven out, along with their wives and children, by infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks with none other than Douglas MacArthur in command.

Today the right-wing likes to warn that progressives are encouraging "class warfare" by pointing to the growing gap between rich and poor and the diminishing opportunities for the middle class and the poor to sustain themselves.

I would suggest that progressives are not so much encouraging mass protest as they are amazed that it is taking so long to come together. When growing numbers are having a difficult time taking care of their families through no fault of their own, they are likely to move beyond asking politely for their fair share. It's not a call to class warfare. It's a statement of fact.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Herman Cain: "I'm so sorry, Muslims, for hating you so much."

TPM reports:

Herman Cain had his much-ballyhooed meeting with Muslims Wednesday, and he emerged, he said in a campaign statement "humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends."

Cain stood behind his past remarks about Islam and sharia law, but he apologized to the Muslims he may have offended. In a recent interview, Cain said that Americans should be allowed to ban mosques from their communities if they so choose.

"While I stand by my opposition to the interference of sharia law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends," he said in the statement. "I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it."

First, Herman Cain is an anti-Muslim bigot. This apology hardly erases his record.

"As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues," Cain said. "In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists."

Second, Herman Cain is an ignorant fool. He didn't realize before these shared experiences? A black man who experienced bigotry first-hand should know better. That he didn't, and may still not, says a lot about him -- and not good things.

Third, what about the reprehensible actions of Christian extremists/terrorists, both at home and abroad? Oh right, we're not allowed to talk about that.

Am I being unfair? Was Cain being sincere? Maybe. But I recommend we watch for genuine expressions of humility and contrition going forward. I suspect there won't be many.

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Encoded bigotry: Sarah Palin slams Obama's "background" as anti-American

Honestly, dealing with Republican stupidity is exhausting. If you care to pay attention, Sarah Palin alone seems to suck every last joule of energy out of you.

And yet -- well, to those of who write about politics, she's just the gift that keeps on giving.

Here's her latest gem, via Think Progress:

Adding her heft to the GOP's debt ceiling debacle, the "undefeated" Sarah Palin graced Fox News Business last night to slam President Obama for suggesting that the wealthy should return to a higher tax rate. Blasting the White House and liberals for being "so addicted to that OPM, other people's money," Palin declared that Obama "is not capable of giving the right message" to the American people. Though a majority of Americans side with Obama's position, Fox asked Palin why he seems so disconnected from the public. Palin harped on the all-too-familiar right-wing refrain that American ideals "seem to be foreign to our President" because of "his background." She added, "His ideas are the antithesis of those things that created the prosperity in America."

His background. Ah, right. That's right-wing code for "being black, having an African father, being born in un-American Hawaii (or not born in America at all), living in dangerous foreign places like Indonesia, and probably being Muslim." In short, not being "one of us," that is, a white Christian xenophobic bigot.

Charming, as always.

Actually, though, isn't Obama in a way the personification of the American Dream? Born in America to modest beginnings, he made it all the way to the top.

Or is it that only white Christians can really ever live that dream? Sorry, I forgot.

And is he really the antithesis of America? Yeah, I guess someone who bails out American capitalism from its own implosive instincts, who proposes market solutions to America's catastrophic problems (health care, climate change, etc.), and who proposes budget deals that emphasize massive spending cuts while keeping taxes at historically low rates must, must, must be anti-American.

Palin is the gift that keeps on giving because she's a bottomless well of stupidity.

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An overarching backdrop

By Carl 

The Teabagger-infused acrimony over things domestic has implications beyond our borders. Perhaps this is by design: 

In one swoop, Britain has recognized Libya's rebel government, expelled the remaining London diplomatic staff of the Tripoli-based regime, and freed up millions in assets that can now be funneled to the cash-strapped rebel troops.

Amid a weeks-long stalemate, diplomatic activity seems to have stepped up. This is likely partially because Ramadan begins next week, which will force NATO forces to scale down the fighting as most of Libya begins the month-long daily fast. The US and France have already recognized the rebel government.

"This decision reflects the national transitional council's increasing legitimacy, competence and success in reaching out to Libyans across the country," Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday, according to the Guardian. 

As the title of the article states, the U.K. is really taking the lead on the withdrawal from Libya.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. It's true, the U.S. participation in this NATO exercise has been about as non-existent as a sasquatch (which is real, by the way), and again, my suspicion is that's by design on the part of the Teabaggers.

Three wars, even with one on a limited scale like Libya and one in a draw-down phase like Iraq, is three wars too many for a peacenik like me and two wars too many for an armed force to fight. So it's a good thing the Teabaggers have played the role of Shadow Ministry for Commiepinkohippiefags this time around. I'm glad for that.

And House Weaker Boehner has grasped the Prime Minister for War Opponents like it was a goose for Christmas dinner, rattling the President's cage over the War Powers Act violations, and essentially going nowhere with that tactic. Again, failure is an option for the GOP. Me likey.

It worries me, too. All this fussin' and fightin' over debt limits and War Powers Acts and birth certificates and Messicans has created one overarching backdrop against which any President for the foreseeable future (but in particular, Scary Black Man) will have to contend. The fucking loons of the right wing have managed to turn the once-great America into a joke.

I'm not sure when it started. I mean, you can go all the way back to Joe McCarthy, I suppose. Certainly, Barry Goldwater is worth a look. Ronald Reagan, too.

But somewhere along the thread here, the American right morphed from a set of reasonable people with radical goals into a set of radical asshats with goals best left to Robert Heinlein novels.

In some regards, they fulfill one of the last remaining holes in my theory that Republicans run about a generation behind Democrats.

It goes like this: What Democrats endured as a party in the '60s and '70s, the Republicans only began to experience in the '90s and '00s. And now in the Teens. Party divisions? Democrats saw those flourish in the aftermath of Watergate when it looked like Democrats could maintain a permanent Democratic majority in perpetuity, and everyone wanted a piece of the prize and the squabbling allowed a stealth conservative movement the opportunity to undermine the good works and progress done to that point.

A gradual loss of relevance as a political party, turning into massive jokes during some Presidential campaigns? Look no further than the 1984 Reagan re-election for Dems. Look no further than the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign for the GOP.

A wresting of the party's center with a jerk to the wing? The Dems in 1968. The Republicans in... well, I'd say 1994, but Newt Gingrich's "revolution" looks moderate and centrist by comparison to today's kamikaze. 

All these growing pains -- and we must keep in mind that we are but a stranger in a strange land still, this novel experiment in democracy -- have taken our focus away from what was our purview for decades: our place in international affairs.

Some see this as a good thing and I might concur, but it's the way that we went about it that troubles me. We didn't gracefully exit the world stage, as President Obama put it in his address on Afghanistan, for "nation-building at home." We were dragged away like a mother in a supermarket trying to placate a panicked and tired toddler who demands attention. Or at the very least, candy.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Paging Bob Hoskins

By J. Thomas Duffy

Boy, if the PartyofNoicans think this is their idea of a tough guy, no wonder they are so clueless. 

House Republicans Psyche Themselves Up By Watching Ben Affleck Prepare To Beat Some Guys Up 

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the party’s vote counter, began his talk by showing a clip from the movie, “The Town”, trying to forge a sense of unity among the independent-minded caucus.

One character asks his friend: “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later.”

“Whose car are we gonna take,” the character says.

After showing the clip, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), one of the most outspoken critics of leadership among the 87 freshmen, stood up to speak, according to GOP aides.

“I’m ready to drive the car,” West replied, surprising many Republicans by giving his full -throated support for the plan.

The actual line from the scene is “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later. We’re gonna hurt some people.”

I mean, he's an okay actor, and they're referring to his role in The Town, but he's probably more defined by Jersey Girl than being a tough guy.

If you want a real tough guy, someone to put the fear of Jesus into you, then you gotta go with Bob Hoskins in the very underrated 1979 gem The Long Good Friday (whose cast also included the great, and gorgeous, Helen Mirren). 

"The mafia? I've shit 'em!" - Long Good Friday final scene

Note, at the very end, the unknown rookie Pierce Brosnan playing a heavy. 

Actually, it might do us all better if Obama effected a little Hoskins: 

"I'll tell you something... I'm glad I found out in time just what a partnership with a pair of wankers like you would have been... A sleeping partner is one thing, but you're in a fucking coma..." 

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Bruce Springsteen's Top 10 has absolutely nothing to do with the debt ceiling

For some reason, my mind is in New Jersey today, which is, by the way, a very beautiful, though sometimes maligned, state. I grew up in New York on the Jersey border, and sometimes made it down to the Jersey Shore, so I guess I'm allowed.

Partly, I just can't think about the debt ceiling for another second without driving myself crazy, so I'm surfing today.

While looking for something entirely different, I came across a website that purports to be able to rank Bruce Springsteen's top 10 hits. The site is called ...ology. They appear to cover off a lot of topics, so their sports page is called "sportsology," and the music page "musicology," etc. You get it.

If for some reason you didn't know that Springsteen was from New Jersey, I should make that clear. Hey, I guess some people wouldn't know.

I like Springsteen, though I'm not a huge fan only because I never really turned my attention to him in any systematic way. It's great rock 'n' roll, make no mistake.

But any website that not only has an opinion on his top 10 but goes to the trouble of posting a YouTube clip for every last one gets my attention.

If you have nothing better to do with your time, as we try to outlast this nasty hot summer, and want to enjoy some great videos, the link is here.

Here's their list:

1. Jungleland
2. Thunder Road
3. Born to Run
4. Hungry Heart
5. Dancing in the Dark
6. Atlantic City
7. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
8. Racing in the Street
9. The Rising
10. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Final note: I have no skin in this game of ranking hits by The Boss. If you do, by all means, tell us how the folks at ...ology got it wrong (or right).

And not a word about the debt ceiling, please.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)



Not a word about the debt ceiling here. Of course you're welcome to comment on our many debt ceiling posts.

(But it's good to take a break from it! Political paralysis and possible economic catastrophe -- not so fun.)

Now, I actually lived in New Jersey for several years as a teenager, graduating from West Morris Mendham High School before heading up to Tufts for college. The state has a reputation for being "the armpit of the nation," but that's really only true of parts of the state, the industrial parts across the river from NYC. It's an ugly, smelly part of the country, but probably no worse than many other parts. And much of the rest of the state, including Mendham, in Morris County, in the north-central part of the state, is extremely beautiful, far removed from the reputation.

I lived there but wasn't of there. It's not that I didn't like my time there -- I really did -- but I have more of an affinity for Boston than I do for New Jersey. (Not Boston's sports teams, mind you, just the whole Boston area, a fantastic place to spend four collegiate years.) I don't like Bon Jovi, for example, and don't you have to to be an honest-to-goodness New Jerseyan/Jerseyite? And you probably have to love The Sopranos as well. Me? I never watched it.

As for Springsteen, well, sure, fine. "Born to Run," "Jersey Girl" -- these are songs you just can't avoid there. They are New Jersey. If you're from there, they're part of you. I'd call myself a casual fan. I respect him and admire him as an artist, and he's done a lot that I like, but I can't say I've ever made a point of seeking out his music, beyond a few songs here and there.

Well, okay, I do have the 3-CD Live/1975-85 album with the E Street Band. So maybe I'm more of a fan than I think I am.

For what it's worth, my picks... my Top 20:

1. Streets of Philadelphia
2. Tunnel of Love
3. Secret Garden
4. Brilliant Disguise
5. Human Touch
6. Born in the U.S.A.
7. My Hometown
8. The Rising
9. Born to Run
10. I'm on Fire
11. Atlantic City
12. Devils & Dust
13. Darkness on the Edge of Town
14. Thunder Road
15. Jungleland
16. The River
17. Racing in the Street
18. Dancing in the Dark
19. Badlands
20. Glory Days (a song I occasionally loathe, I admit, but I should tack it on here at the end)

No huge surprises there, I'm sure.

Purists, or rather fans of the more raw Boss of the early years, might object to "Streets of Philadelphia" and "Secret Garden" being so high, or listed at all, but they're wonderful songs. And I suppose I like his 1984-92 period more than the older classics, which is why songs like "Tunnel of Love," "Human Touch," and "Brilliant Disguise" are higher than, say, "Born to Run." And while I have a few more recent songs on here, like "Devils & Dust" and "The Rising," I'm not as familiar with his recent work as I am with the songs I grew up with.

How ironic, though, that in my opinion his best song is about Philadelphia, which, while right across the river from New Jersey, isn't New Jersey. But, then, his art, not to mention his appeal, extends well beyond The Garden State, as much a part of it as he remains.

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Gov. Christie, still unpopular in his home state

Just because I like to point to anything that counts as bad news for that pompous bully governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, I note a recent Public Policy Polling survey on how Christie would fair against Obama head-to-head in the state. The results were 56 percent for the president, 39 percent for the pompous bully.

It is true that Obama won New Jersey by 15 points in 2008, and the state hasn't gone Republican since 1988, as Daily Kos points out, but isn't Christie supposed to be a cut above?

His current approval rating? 43 percent approve of the job he's doing and 53 disapprove, so maybe not.

I know that a lot of people think Christie could win the White House for the GOP if he would only run, but if the guy can't even come close to carrying his own state, that might be an overly optimistic assessment.

For the record, Obama beats all comers in "The Garden State" with the following breakdown: Romney (53-39); Bachmann (55-35); Pawlenty (54-32); Cain (55-29); and Palin (59-33).

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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