Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Even with the deficit commission on the lam, Jamie Galbraith delivers what should (but won't) be a death blow


UPDATE BELOW: Zounds! The commissioners emerge from hiding for a day!

House Minority Leader "Sunny John" Boehner has taken to arguing that the Bush tax cuts aren't "what led to the budget deficit." Obviously the immediate cause is asset and revenue collapse brought on by the Bush depression, but who laid the groundwork -- for both the depression and the deficits? Of course since Sunny John's knowledge of economics is limited to shoveling in bribes in his personal Corporate Cash for Congress program, he really can't be expected to know better, can he? And apparently it's too much to hope he might keep his trap shut on stuff he doesn't know anything about.

"Secrecy breeds suspicion: first, that your discussions are at a level of discourse so low that you feel it would be embarrassing to disclose them. Second, that some members of the commission are proceeding from fixed, predetermined agendas. Third, that the purpose of the secrecy is to defer public discussion of cuts in Social Security and Medicare until after the 2010 elections. You could easily dispel these suspicions by publishing video transcripts of all of your meetings on the Internet, and by holding all future meetings in public. Please do so."
prepared for the Secret Commission on Deficit Reduction

by Ken

Howie and I have both been jumping ugly on the loomingly disastrous Let's Stick It to Social Security Commission brought to us by the president in cahoots with America's pillars of economic orthodoxy. While it's true, as a report on this morning's NPR Morning Edition ("Once a Critic, Obama Now Embraces Commissions") reported, that there is a long, undistinguished history of presidential commission reports that were duly filed and, after perhaps a hearty press-conference launch, never heard from again. However, I don't think this commission's report is designed to suffer the same fate.

As the Morning Edition report pointed out, a presidential commission is almost always a president's way of saying, "I don't wanna talk about it." As the Morning Edition report also pointed out, it was presidential candidate Barack Obama who derided opponent "Young Johnny" McCranky for proposing to deal with the then-new economic meltdown with -- what else? -- a presidential commission.

For a proper refutation of the kind of nonsense Sunny John is spewing about the deficit, see Kathy Ruffing and James R. Horney's Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report.

What's different about this commission -- that is, apart from its fugitive status (I expect those poor commissioners-in-hiding to start showing up any day now on milk cartons) -- is that it seems meant, not to take an awkward subject off the table, but to provide cover for the first step toward dismantling or at least drastically curtailing so-called entitlement programs long desired by certain corporate and far-right interests emblemized by corporate predator Pete Peterson. Instead of the usual commission formula of producing sensible proposals that will be safely ignored, this commission seems to have been created for the express purpose of producing intensely ideological and normally wildly unpopular plans of action which proponents can then try to strong-arm through Congress.

Which is why I'm not nearly as optimistic as Paul Krugman, in his now-famous blogpost, that ""Zombies Have Already Killed The Deficit Commission." The fact that commission co-chair former Sen. Alan "The Annoyer" Simpson is trotting out long-since-disproved (and therefore "zombie") lies about Social Security might matter if this commission's work were aimed at an impartial, well-informed decision-making authority, but in reality it seems intended to be fed into the Right-Wing Noise Machine and whatever other media echo chambers will sign on, for the purpose of simulating enough noise to induce compliance among enough members of Congress whose existences don't depend on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Still, a commission that took it on the lam in response to scrutiny from a single blogger (Social Security Works's Alex Lawson) may be more vulnerable to intellectual shaming than I'm allowing. If so, the devastasting statement just delivered to the commission today, apparently at its request, by University of Texas economist James K. Galbraith (see link above for the text) might actually have some effect.

The statement really is worth looking through. For example, the chunk I've quoted above, denouncing the commission's secrecy, is in fact only one of four counts on which Galbraith argues that the commission is illegitimate -- and that itself is only the first point he makes, which he acknowledges is a political rather than economic one.

The New Deal 2.0 website provides this overview of Galbraith's statement:
James K. Galbraith’s Testimony Blasts Fiscal Commission

Wednesday, 06/30/2010 - 12:16 pm by Lynn Parramore

James K. Galbraith, one of the country’s most respected economists and a ND20 contributor, offered a statement today to the Fiscal Commission on behalf of Americans for Democratic Action, an organization co-founded in 1949 by (among others) by Eleanor Roosevelt. We at New Deal 2.0 recommend that you grab a coffee, sit back, and read this elegant, blistering, and brilliant description of why the Commission is both misguided and malignant.

Read full text of testimony here.

For a quick snapshot, Galbraith’s testimony is divided into ten sections, which address the following points:

-That the Commission’s work is illegitimate
-That current deficits and rising debt were caused by the financial crisis.
-That future deficit projections are generally based on forecasts which begin by unrealistically assuming full recovery
-That, having cured the deficits with an unrealistic forecast, CBO recreates them with another, very different, but equally unrealistic forecast.
-That the only way to reduce public deficits is to restore private credit.
-That Social Security and Medicare “solvency” is not part of the Commission’s Mandate.
-That as a transfer program, Social Security is also irrelevant to deficit economics.
-That markets are not calling for deficit reduction, either now or later.
-That in reality, the US government spends first & borrows later; public spending creates a demand for Treasuries in the private sector.
-That the best place in history (for this Commission) would be no place at all.

Our favorite line comes near the end with this withering address to the Commission: “You are plainly not equipped, either by disposition or resources, to take on the true cause of deficits now or in the future: the financial crisis.”

The point about the need to restore private credit is one the Republican deficit hawks have conveniently forgotten now that their masters the banksters have been bailed out and rendered at least relatively whole relative to the rest of us, only to blithely refuse to do what they were ostensibly bailed out to do: unjam the credit lockdown. You have to give them credit for recognizing what piss-poor judges of creditworthiness they were in the orgy of crap-loan-writing they engaged in as their contribution to crashing the economy. Still, if the banks aren't lending, what public interest is there in helping them to survive?
The only way to reduce a deficit caused by unemployment is to reduce unemployment. And this must be done with a substantial component of private financing, which is to say by bank credit, if the public deficit is going to be reduced. This is a fact of accounting. It is not a matter of theory or ideology; it is merely fact. The only way to grow out of our deficit is to cure the financial crisis.

To cure the financial crisis would require two comprehensive measures. The first is debt restructuring for the entire household sector, to restore private borrowing power. The second is a reconstruction of the banking system, effectively purging the toxic assets from bank balance sheets and also reforming the bank personnel and compensation and other practices that produced the financial crisis in the first place. To repeat: this is the only way to generate deficit-reducing, privately-funded growth and employment.

As a former top adviser in the Clinton White House, co-chairman [Erskine] Bowles no doubt know that privately-funded economic growth produced the boom years of the late 1990s and the associated surplus in the federal budget. He must also know that the practices of banks and investment banks with which they were closely associated worked to destroy the financial system a decade later. But I would wager that the Commission has spent no time, so far, on a discussion of the relationship between deficit reduction and financial reform. [Emphasis added.]

And Galbraith argues effectively that Social Security should be beyond the purview of a deficit commission because it doesn't create debt, it simply moves money -- money that not only has deserving recipients but is spent, unlike the money the banksters and their cronies have been piling up.
Social Security is a transfer program. It is not a spending program. A dollar "spent" on Social Security does not directly increase GDP. It merely reallocates a dollar from one potential final consumer (a taxpayer) to another (a retiree, a disabled person or a survivor). It also reallocates resources within both communities (taxpayers and beneficiaries). Specifically, benefits flow to the elderly and to survivors who do not have families that might otherwise support them, and costs are imposed on working people and other taxpayers who do not have dependents in their own families. Both types of transfer are fair and effective, greatly increasing security and reducing poverty -- which is why Social Security and Medicare are such successful programs. . . .

{C]utting Social Security benefits, in particular, merely transfers real resources away from the elderly and toward taxpayers, and away from the poor toward those less poor. One can favor or oppose such a move on its own merits as social policy -- but one cannot argue that it would save real resources that are otherwise being "consumed" by the government sector. [Emphasis added.]


Also scheduled to report to the commission today was AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose prepared statement included this (there are footnotes in the online text which I've left out):
We need to be clear that President Obama is not to blame for getting us into this mess. Two weeks before he took office, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion for 2009—and annual deficits averaging well over $1 trillion for the coming decade.

We should be honest about what’s causing deficits over the next ten years. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “The tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn together explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.” And “without the economic downturn and the fiscal policies of the previous administration, the budget would be roughly in balance over the next decade.”

Although more than half of the 2009 deficit is due to the recession, Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer points out that “in the absence of [Bush administration policies that we failed to pay for], we could have had an economic downturn as severe as the current one and responded to it as aggressively as we have, all while keeping the budget roughly balanced over the next ten years [2010-2019].”

We should also be honest about what’s causing projected deficits over the long term. We do not face a crisis of entitlement spending generally, caused by the retirement of the Baby Boomers. In the long term, we face a crisis of public and private health care costs growing faster than GDP, especially after 2035. Social Security has its own source of dedicated funding and is not responsible for our unsustainable long-term debt, and spending on other entitlements is projected to fall as a share of the economy over the long term. [Emphasis added.]

Of course the deficit hawks can always be counted on to be in the forefront of the resistance to any serious effort to rein in health care costs.

It would be interesting to get an idea of the commissioners' responses to the Galbraith and Trumka testimony, but I assume the Secret Commission has gone back into hiding. Soon to be seen on milk cartons in a supermarket dairy case near you?


Well, my goodness, the D.C. Deficit Hawks' Club, I mean the Secret Deficit Commission, slipped out of the attic yesterday to hold what at least one source called "a rare public session"!

I wish I could say this seems in some way significant. I mean, if this was the day set aside for what the defhawks no doubt consider wild-eyed radical lefties like Jamie Galbraith and AFL-CIO President Trumka, why bother going through the motions unless you do it publicly? Never mind that Galbraith has become one of the country's most respected economists; the quickest glance at the statement he was bringing tells you that not a word of it will be given the slightest attention. And when was the last time anyone inside the District of Columbia felt any need to pay attention to anything having to do with organized labor?

Let's wait and see how open the DCDHC, I mean the SDC, is when it comes to actual commission work.


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A Matter Of War And... War And More War


This week Blue America participated in Alan Grayson's Peace Party. The Orlando Democrat is serious about peace, in Afghanistan and everywhere else. I wish there were many more like him. There aren't-- on either side of the aisle. The Obama team and their congressional allies, working on behalf of the Military-Industrial Complex President Eisenhower solemnly warned the American people about (take a look at the video below if you were busy when Eisenhower went on the new fangled machine to sound the alarm), have some fancy juggling to do to pass his disgraceful war supplemental to finance the catastrophic and unwinnable occupation of Afghanistan and war against the primitive Afghan people. First Ike:

Obama's problemo is that the Pentagon and ruling elite insist that the disastrous and pointless war drag on. But fewer and fewer Democrats have their hearts in it. Oh, I don't mean troglodyte warmongers like Ike Skelton and the moronic southern Blue Dogs; I mean real Democrats who would rather see the country make social and economic progress for ordinary working families. So a few of these people-- very few from what I can tell-- are standing firm with Grayson and other anti-war stalwarts like Barbara Lee and Dennis Kucinich. But most of them are hemming and hawing (and whoring) and telling Obama that they'll vote for the $33 billion for more of this Afghanistan crap if he makes at least some kind of attempt to keep the country from falling off the cliff economically by funding domestic projects that are both emergency-oriented and stimulative to the economy. The congressional Republicans, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly in favor of the war, as usual, but eager for the economy to wind up in a ditch so they can seize power in the November elections. So Obama's going to try to split the difference-- or at least the bills.
Democratic leaders plan to stage two votes in the House on the supplemental-- one that focuses on the measure’s war funding, and a separate one on additional domestic spending the majority wants to add to prevent massive layoffs of local teachers, police and firefighters.

A divided majority caucus may not have the votes to pass a war supplemental without Republican help, because a sizable number of Democrats oppose further funding for conflicts.

The Senate passed its $58.8 billion version of the supplemental on May 27, but it is unclear whether the Senate would accept any new domestic spending beyond money for disaster relief included in its version of the legislation.

Boehner was crowing happily, like a pig in shit, that “We need to get a supplemental passed as soon as possible. It should not be used as an excuse for tens of billions of dollars of additional social spending that will pile more debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren.” For him this is all politics. He doesn't care about the young men and women fighting in Afghanistan. He doesn't care about the unemployed or the elderly or about the American families. He cares only about grabbing the speakership. John Boehner is vomit.

Most Americans would like Obama to bring the Afghanistan fiasco to a prompt end and to concentrate on fixing the dismal economy the Republicans left us. It's why we elected him.
A majority of Americans (58%) favor President Barack Obama's timetable that calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Most of the 38% of Americans who are opposed reject the idea of setting any timetable rather than setting one with an earlier or later date.

Around 30%-- all of whom are utterly clueless and have probably rarely left their couches while Fox is broadcasting-- think there should be no timetable at all and that we should just "win" the war and 7%-- yours truly included-- think the timetable should begin sooner. (I suppose yesterday is part of "sooner," right?) And that poll was conducted even before this came out yesterday:
More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.

The cash-- packed into suitcases, piled onto pallets and loaded into airplanes-- is declared and legal to move. But U.S. and Afghan officials say they are targeting the flows in major anticorruption and drug trafficking investigations because of their size relative to Afghanistan's small economy and the murkiness of their origins.

Officials believe some of the cash, if not most, is siphoned from Western aid projects and U.S., European and NATO contracts to provide security, supplies and reconstruction work for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization spent about $14 billion here last year alone. Profits reaped from the opium trade are also a part of the money flow, as is cash earned by the Taliban from drugs and extortion, officials say.

The amount declared as it leaves the airport is vast in a nation where the gross domestic product last year totaled $13.5 billion. More declared cash flies out of Kabul each year than the Afghan government collects in tax and customs revenue nationwide. "It's not like they grow money on trees here," said a U.S. official investigating corruption and Taliban financing. "A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course."

Most Americans don't know anything about Afghanistan. The ones who do, know without any doubt that this was inevitable. It goes to the essence of the culture. It's what Afghanistan is. Even if Americans don't know that, our governing elites should. And they do. So one might assume they're partaking in the pillage.

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Today's Worst Person: John Campbell (R-CA)


If you happen on the official congressional website of California Congressman John Campbell-- the one the taxpayers pay for-- you're notice he doesn't really keep it up. Under his "voting record," the last update was December 16, 2009. And there's a frontpage claim that the propaganda-oriented website, much mostly talks about how he's against everything, from healthcare to energy and environmental legislation, won a Bronze Mouse Award. “I have long made it a priority that my staff and I perform at the highest level of constituent service and outreach," bragged Campbell.  "My website serves as a vital conduit for this effort, and I, along with my staff will continue to work on improving it and other avenues of communication.” So why no update on the voting record since 2009?

Perhaps, and I'm only speculating, it's because he's embarrassed that someone representing a moderate, mainstream California district is voting so far to the right and that his 3.94 (out of 100) Progressive Punch score would be more suitable to some crackpot district in Texas or Mississippi than in the highly educated and culturally diverse Orange County suburbs.

Tuesday evening, for example, the House passed the Homebuyer Assistance and Improvement Act in order to extend the homebuyer tax credit for the purchase of a principal residence before October 1. It passed overwhelmingly with a bipartisan vote, 409-5. Even the GOP leadership, which usually obstructs just about everything, urged Republicans to vote YES. And 165 did, including some of the worst of the extremists like Michele Bachmann, Darrell Issa, Eric Cantor, even Joe Barton, the Texas crook who apologized to BP last week and was then caught laundering Big Oil cash into the campaigns of dozens of Republican candidates through his sleazy Texas Freedom Fund. (And, yes, Campbell took $2,500 from the Texas Freedom Fund and adamantly refuses to return it or donate it to an oil spill cleanup fund.) But 5 radicals dug in their heels and voted no-- and one was John Campbell.

Speaker Pelosi explained why the legislation is so important to helping to revitalize the American economy. “As a part of our efforts to strengthen America’s housing market, Democrats created the successful first-time homebuyer tax credit. With the help of this credit, more than 4 million families have been able to achieve the dream of homeownership, and in doing so, given a boost to our economy. 

“The legislation passed by the House today will extend the deadline for Americans already in the process of buying a home, but facing delays that would mean they no longer qualify for the credit. Up to 180,000 homebuyers will now receive the tax credit they deserve, and our housing market will be strengthened as a result.

“We will continue to work to strengthen our nation’s economy: creating good American jobs, providing the lowest taxes in 60 years for the middle class and small businesses, and closing tax loopholes that send jobs overseas.”

Makes sense, even to kooks like Mean Jean Schmidt, Virginia Foxx and Steve King. But not to John Campbell. No wonder he doesn't want anyone to see his current voting record on his "award-winning" website!

Blue America has endorsed City Councilmember and former Irvine Mayor Beth Krom and we reached her this morning. She pointed out that "Once again, John Campbell has voted against the interests of his own district by opposing the homebuyer tax credit."
Given that he and his family live in an exclusive gated estate community that overlooks a vast swath of open space, you would think he could muster a little sympathy for the thousands of people in his own district who stand to benefit from this tax credit. He doesn’t mind corporate welfare, but when it comes to the needs of working people in America, he couldn’t care less. He’s not just opposed to helping homebuyers, though. In a recent post on the Town Hall blog, he recommends eliminating funding for Amtrak, Community Development Block Grants, Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, Energy Star and Title X Family Planning programs-- just to name a few. Compared to this guy, Marie Antoinette looks like a friend of the people. I don’t want to live in the kind of America that John Campbell represents. Corporations are not more important than people in our society. If we lose our ability to aspire for a better life, including the opportunity to own a home and realize the American dream, our future as a nation will look far worse than it does today.

Today's the last day of the campaign fundraising quarter and if you're thinking of donating to a campaign, let us suggestion you think about Beth's race against Campbell (who is, after all, awash in oily special interests money).

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Blue America Welcomes Raúl Grijalva


When Arizona's accidental governor signed SB 1070 into law in April, Digby, John and I put up a new Blue America page, One America, dedicated to helping Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) fight back against Know Nothings and teabaggers in his state. Yesterday Congressman Grijalva met with President Obama at the White House to discuss comprehensive immigration reform and we invited him to join us for a chat at Crooks and Liars at 10:30am, PT/1:30pm back East.

Grijalva, as we explained at One America, is the chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a booming voice on behalf of working families on every issue that comes before Congress. He helped lead the fight against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped lead the fight against Wall Street predators and helped lead the fight for equitable health care. And he was the first to step up and speak out, at great political-- and personal-- peril, against SB 1070, urging the governor to veto what is clearly an unconstitutional bill. He even called for a boycott asnd pointed out that "one of the first conventions to cancel was Martin Luther King's fraternity, which would have brought up to 5,000 people. It was going to have a convention in Phoenix and within a few days of the governor's signature they cancelled and moved it to Las Vegas. That should have been a harbinger of things to come for the governor and the state legislature... I find it ironic that the resort industry and Chamber of Commerce are so concerned about the loss of business, but have yet to state publicly how they feel about the law.”
There's a pattern here. 1070 was the peak of a crescendo that's been building in the state for the last five or six years.
...At some point soon one out of every three kids coming into kindergarten is going to be Latino in this state. This growing population is seen as a threat. Whether it's Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, you name it, it's just feeding and feeding. Underlying the issue of immigration here in Arizona and in other parts has been the issue of race. What 1070 did, both in Arizona and on a national level, is put the question of race front and center in the debate. It was always there, but now it's out in the open.
...We're going to look for opportunities to encourage people to come to this state, but to come with a sense that they're part of the opposition to this law, as opposed to blindly ignoring the fact that we have this law in this state. We're looking at a political change that is probably a decade away. So in the meantime what becomes the avenue to undo this law is the courts.

This year, because of his forthright stand against SB 1070, the GOP has targeted Rep. Grijalva and they and their front groups have been pouring a great deal of money into the election. This is anything but a safe seat. Although Pima and Santa Cruz counties went for Obama in 2008, Pinal, Maricopa, Yuma and La Paz counties all voted Republican. Rep. Grijalva has been popular in the district but the Republicans have their divisive engine on overdrive. Our guy doesn't whore himself out to lobbyists and corporate PACs. Digby, John and I want to ask you to consider joining us in doing what you can to retain a true tribune for ordinary working American families. That's why Raúl Grijalva is the only Member of Congress aside from Alan Grayson with his own personal Blue America page!

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It's "Go, Blackhawks!"--But Then Aisle Crossin' On Unemployment


good mornin', Sunshine

The House started the day with a bang. Chicago Rep Mike Quigley's Resolution 1439 came up for a vote at 11:10AM and passed overwhelmingly, 395-5 (with Jason Chaffetz voting "present"), the House of Representatives going on the record congratulating the Chicago Blackhawks on winning the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship. I don't even want to ask why Tom Rooney (R-FL), Marion Berry (Blue Dog-AR) and Bob Andrews (D-NJ) voted NO and I figure Glenn Nye (Blue Dog-VA) and John Adler (proto-Blue Dog-NJ) base their votes on automatically voting against whatever Pelosi does. Other than that it was a nice placid, bipartisan kumbaya moment, Boehner resplendent in an eerie orange glow of not being the lazy bastard who leads the Party of No for a few moments-- and far more placid than when Al Jourgenson of Ministry dragged me to a Blackhawks home game once and led the entire stadium in such a horrendous chant of blood curdling hatred that the goalie of the visiting team seemed to have broken down.

The Democratic Leadership then tried to get a consensus, a motion to suspend the rules, to pass an emergency extension of unemployment benefits, something that the millionaires in the Senate killed last week. H.R.5618, the Restoration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act, introduced by Jim McDermott (D-WA) didn't get the kind of support the Blackhawks did. It did get 261 votes, but the 155 no votes prevented a suspension of the rules, so back it went to committee. It was nice that 30 relatively mainstreamish Republicans in hard-pressed districts-- like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Tim Johnson, and Vern Ehlers-- crossed the aisle against the wishes of Boehner and Cantor and voted with the Democrats. Or at least most of the Democrats.

As odd as it may seem, 16 members of the party that purports to support the aspirations of ordinary working families were scurrying across the aisle in the opposite direction. So who are these rabid haters of American workers, the 16 Democrats who disgraced themselves by joining 139 Republicans in voting against unemployed workers? Oh you can probably guess yourself. No surprises here:

John Adler (D-NJ)- still on autopilot
Brian Baird (D-WA)- willing to thumb his nose at voters since he's retiring
Melissa Bean (D-IL)- the Chamber of Commerce's go-to person inside the Democratic caucus
Marion Berry (Blue Dog-AR)
Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL)
Travis Childers (Blue Dog-MS)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Joe Donnelly (Blue Dog-IN)
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (Blue Dog-SD)
Baron Hill (Blue Dog-IN)
Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog-MD)
Betsy Markey (Blue Dog-CO)
Jim Marshall (Blue Dog-GA)
Walt Minnick (Blue Dog-ID)- only Democrat, in a manner of speaking, endorsed by both the U.S. Chamber and the Tea Party
Glenn Nye (Blue Dog-VA)- still on autopilot like Adler
Heath Shuler (Blue Dog-NC)

Don't get nervous about Gene Taylor (Blue Dog-MS) and Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog-NC); they were both absent. More interesting is that some of the reflexive Boehner-boys didn't vote against working families yesterday: Barrow (who has a primary), Matheson (still chastened by his primary brush with mortality), Ellsworth (who has to appeal to actual Democrats statewide in a Senate race), Melancon (see Ellsworth) and Boren (who will be facing state Senator Jim Wilson in a primary next month and wouldn't dare spit in the face of workers the way he normally does). Perhaps AFSCME president Gerald McEntee's warning in Boston yesterday scared some of them:
"We need a new jobs bill that continues to fund our economic recovery. That jobs bill exists right now in Congress. It includes resources to help states avoid massive layoffs. Unfortunately, this bill is on life support. Just last week, Senate Republicans blocked the bill for the second time. They again decided to play politics with our lives and our jobs...

“We support the politicians who support working families. But these politicians, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, must understand: We are holding you accountable. You are not above the people who elected you. And if you turn on us you will pay the price!”

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Long wars are antithetical to democracy" (Andrew J. Bacevich)


So General McChrystal may get to retire with four stars after all, even though regulations seem pretty clear that he should have to have had the fourth star for three years, not his one. But the Obama administration "will do whatever is necessary" to get around the rule. (Meanwhile Bill O'Reilly, backed up by that odds-on favorite for "world's most pulingly dishonest guttersnipe," Bernard Goldberg, is speculating that McChrystal may have deserved his downfall for being -- or so it's rumored! -- a stinking liberal!)

"In explaining his decision to change commanders without changing course in Afghanistan, the president offered this rhetorical flourish: 'Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths.' In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths."
-- Andrew J. Bacevich, in a Washinton Post op-ed piece,

by Ken

The American people avert their eyes from difficult truths? You're being much too kind, Professor Bacevich. Not just when it comes to war do Americans run kicking and screaming from difficult truths.

My goodness, what a strange feeling -- a Washington Post op-ed piece that makes a real point and sets you to thinking! How'd that slip past the usually hypervigilant Villager Fred Hiatt? Just to complete the thought begun in the title of this post:
Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week -- notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's dismissal -- hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military's professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.

"Earlier generations of American leaders," says Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, "military as well as civilian, instinctively understood the danger posed by long wars."
"A democracy cannot fight a Seven Years War," Gen. George C. Marshall once remarked. The people who provided the lifeblood of the citizen army raised to wage World War II had plenty of determination but limited patience. They wanted victory won and normalcy restored.

The wisdom of Marshall's axiom soon became clear. In Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson plunged the United States into what became its Seven Years War. The citizen army that was sent to Southeast Asia fought valiantly for a time and then fell to pieces. As the conflict dragged on, Americans in large numbers turned against the war -- and also against the troops who fought it.

And the situation was only made worse when the U.S. "abandoned its citizen army tradition, oblivious to the consequences." In its place," says Professor Bacevich. "it opted for what the Founders once called a 'standing army' -- a force consisting of long-serving career professionals." And "this so-called all-volunteer force, only tenuously linked to American society, appeared to be a master stroke" -- for a while. "Washington got superbly trained soldiers and Republicans and Democrats took turns putting them to work." Americans watched all these engagements from a distance. "The costs appeared to be negligible. Their role was simply to cheer."
This happy arrangement now shows signs of unraveling, a victim of what the Pentagon has all too appropriately been calling its Long War.

The Long War is not America's war. It belongs exclusively to "the troops," lashed to a treadmill that finds soldiers and Marines either serving in a combat zone or preparing to deploy.

To be an American soldier today is to serve a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of armed conflict without end. Once begun, wars continue, persisting regardless of whether they receive public support. President Obama's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, this nation is not even remotely "at" war. In explaining his decision to change commanders without changing course in Afghanistan, the president offered this rhetorical flourish: "Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths." In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths. Largely unaffected by events in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with problems much closer to home, they have demonstrated a fine ability to tune out war. Soldiers (and their families) are left holding the bag.

Throughout history, circumstances such as these have bred praetorianism, warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend. The smug disdain for high-ranking civilians casually expressed by McChrystal and his chief lieutenants -- along with the conviction that "Team America," as these officers style themselves, was bravely holding out against a sea of stupidity and corruption -- suggests that the officer corps of the United States is not immune to this affliction. [Emphasis added.]

The ignominious end of General McChrystal's career, Professor Bacevich says, "however clumsily, issued a warning that deserves our attention."
The responsibility facing the American people is clear. They need to reclaim ownership of their army. They need to give their soldiers respite, by insisting that Washington abandon its de facto policy of perpetual war. Or, alternatively, the United States should become a nation truly "at" war, with all that implies in terms of civic obligation, fiscal policies and domestic priorities. Should the people choose neither course -- and thereby subject their troops to continuing abuse -- the damage to the army and to American democracy will be severe.

We've seen, throughout the G.W. Bush and Obama presidencies, the obvious ways in which promoting perpetual wars encourages the degradation of democracy, in the all but automatic assault on even the most basic American liberties. Lunkheads like "Big Dick" Cheney and John "Dial Y for Torture" Yoo really believe that war gives the president powers beyond any kind of check whatsoever, which applied to perpetual war means . . . um . . . gulp . . .

That what we've already talked about may be only the tip of the iceberg seems to me something well worth thinking about. Again:

"Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government."

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Do Conservatives Like Ken Buck Want To Destroy America? Who Knows, But The Sick Policies They Espouse Will Do Just That


After Amato bet me that Obama would fire McCrystal-- I took the position Obama didn't have the intestinal stamina to do it-- I'm a little wary of these pool sharks taking advantage of me. So when one of my friends wanted to bet that he could name someone running for the Senate even more bizarre, extreme and perhaps even more psychotic than Sharron Angle or even Rand Paul, I hesitated. A case could certainly be made about that creepy bribery and coercion guy in Wisconsin. And Vitter's up for re-election. Of course, there's the former Wall Street derivatives trader, Pat Toomey, who's stark raving mad, and that pasty, pudgy guy who hasn't been able to stop eating cane-glazed pork chops with apple chutney since being caught embezzling Republican Party funds with his magic credit card. But then I remembered-- just in time... Ken Buck, the nutroots candidate, straight from Teabaggerville in Colorado.

What I remembered about Buck, another fringy DeMint candidate, wasn't just the ordinary far right claptrap he's been screeching about getting rid of Social Security and ending the whole separation of church and state thing. (These super Constitutionalists actually hate everything about the Constitution except the their interpretation of the Second Amendment.) It's his despicable comments about student loans and the mindset behind that.

Yammering on to a bunch of selfish wingnuts about the evils of Social Security, he recited usually carefully disguised GOP dogma: “I don’t know whether it’s constitutional or not; it is certainly a horrible policy. The idea that the federal government should be running health care or retirement or any of those programs is fundamentally against what I believe. And that is that the private sector runs programs like that far better.” And he threw in government backed student loans in to boot, adding, "over time, we have to wean the American public off those." Like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, he would like to abolish the Department of Education (but then so would the Republican Party hack he's running against in the primary, Jane Norton).

I want to say something about these Republican greed-mongers, many of whom-- like both Buck and Norton-- have been sucking at the government teat all their lives. Basically they're nihilists and law-of-the jungle, anti-social suck-ups to the ruling elite. Before I retired I was paying nearly a million dollars a year in taxes. I didn't love writing those big checks but I love my country and when you pay that kind of money in taxes, it means you're doing pretty damn well. America did a great deal for me and I was proud I could give back. I couldn't have gone to college at all if not for the state university system-- opposed by conservatives, as too costly from the day they were proposed-- and I still wouldn't have been able to go without grants and loans. And then there was a time in my life when I couldn't quite make the ends meet and I don't know what would have happened to me with food stamps. I don't quite know what the government investment in me was. But I bet it worked out really well, considering I started a business, employed people, paid taxes and eventually generated many millions of dollars in income for American companies. And my taxes in any single month more than paid back the year of food stamps. And the student loans Buck and shortsighted conservatives like him want to do away with! What a bleak vision for our country these blinkered, greed-obsessed conservatives have!

Sunday you may have read Paul Krugman's harrowing column, The Third Depression, something the economics Nobel laureate thinks is descending on us because of a repeat of adopting as policy the same kind of conservative ideology that have caused past depressions.
Neither the Long Depression of the 19th century nor the Great Depression of the 20th was an era of nonstop decline-- on the contrary, both included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses.

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost-- to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs-- will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world-- most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting-- governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

In 2008 and 2009, it seemed as if we might have learned from history. Unlike their predecessors, who raised interest rates in the face of financial crisis, the current leaders of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank slashed rates and moved to support credit markets. Unlike governments of the past, which tried to balance budgets in the face of a plunging economy, today’s governments allowed deficits to rise. And better policies helped the world avoid complete collapse: the recession brought on by the financial crisis arguably ended last summer.

But future historians will tell us that this wasn’t the end of the third depression, just as the business upturn that began in 1933 wasn’t the end of the Great Depression. After all, unemployment-- especially long-term unemployment-- remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly. And both the United States and Europe are well on their way toward Japan-style deflationary traps.

In the face of this grim picture, you might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy.

And his conclusion as to why the ruling elites are headed down this road again? Even more chilling: "the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times. And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again." If you're a regular DWT reader you're certainly aware that we don't want to single out Ken Buck-- or even a raving sociopath like Sharron Angle-- as if the real toxicity were coming from anyplace else other than the very nature of conservatism itself. And since the fish rots from the head, let's take a look at the most recent random sociopathic utterances of the little orange man who would be Speaker, John Boehner. There's a wealth of information about the conservative mindset in those videos but the two most astonishing takeaways is that Boehner thinks she should cut back on Social Security-- in fact, keep Americans from retiring until they're 70 so that we can afford to pay for the foolish wars the ruling elites want to fight-- and that Financial Regulation is an overreaction, like killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.

The actual Speaker didn't seem especially amused by Boehner's boneheaded remarks. "An ant, Mr. Boehner? It was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression-- Americans lost 8 million jobs and $17 trillion in retirement savings and net worth. The irresponsible fiscal policies of George W. Bush and Congressional Republicans were much bigger than an ant to American workers, their families and small businesses."

Justin Coussoule is the Democrat running for the seat Boehner is occupying. Earlier today he told us that this kind of shameless grandstanding is par for the course for Boehner. "While protecting bankers and careless polluters he blocks desperate unemployed workers from receiving essential compensation and now suggests that to pay for corporate giveaways and endless war that we balance the books by doing a bait and switch on Social Security recipients. Once again Boehner defends the powerful and tells the most needy in our society that it is time for them to suffer so that his benefactors can continue to wade in shallow water while those who have suffered from his trickle on economics gasp and drown in the deep and treacherous economic waters." Contributing to Coussoule's campaign seems like an exceptionally good idea-- unless you approve of Boehnerism.

Meanwhile, my friend Jill Richardson, author of Recipe For America: Why Our Food System Is Broken And What We Can Do To Fix It, put a very human face on this looming macro-economic crisis, asking a simple question about how, as a society, we treat our own children: Tate Tots Aren't Vegetables: Why Do We Feed Our Kids Crap?
Those who say the deficit must be addressed now via PAYGO ignore the basic principles of Keynesian economics. John Maynard Keynes, the economist most credited with bringing the U.S. out of the Great Depression, encouraged increased government spending-- even deficit spending-- during economic downturns. Recall that GDP is calculated as consumer spending plus investment by businesses plus government spending plus net exports. When consumers and businesses tighten their belts and spend less, the government can increase spending to jumpstart the economy once again. That was the very idea behind last year's stimulus package, which provided for targeted spending on infrastructure, food stamps and other programs that would most create jobs and result in immediate spending to help the economy recover.

Keynes knew that in a downturn, people are earning less so they also pay less in taxes. Simultaneously, more people qualify for entitlements (like food stamps or Medicaid), pushing up government spending. An austerity budget to fix the deficit now will prevent the government from spending what is necessary to bring back our economy. Once the economy recovers, the opposite will be true, and we will be more able to fix the deficit then.

In the specific case of school lunches, an austerity budget (and unhealthy food) now will result in massive increases in spending in the future when a generation of children raised on unhealthy food becomes a generation of unhealthy adults with costly, chronic illnesses. Some say they don't want to pass the deficit onto their children. But what child, when they are diagnosed with diabetes at age 25, would say "Thank you for balancing the budget by saving money on my school meals"?

I don't mean to single out John Boehner but his scary little world, is the conservative mind:

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Do You Remember Rob Miller, The Guy Running For The South Carolina House Seat Joe Wilson Occupies?


A few days ago, in an unkind, even thoughtless, throw-away intro to a post about Tarryl Clark that didn't appear at DWT, I kind of lumped South Carolina Democratic congressional candidate Rob Miller in with Elwyn Tinklenberg. Tinkenberg is an unabashed conservative-- he ran against Michele Bachmann in 2008-- who is anti-Choice, against equality for gay people and as backward and reactionary, at least on social issues, as your garden variety Republican. He actually has nothing to do with Rob Miller whatsoever.

Well... he has one thing to do with Rob. Both were the beneficiaries of massive outpourings of disdain for the moronic statements of their opponents. I doubt many of Tink's donors knew he favored a constitutional amendment to make sure same sex couples could never get married under any circumstances or that a woman should not be allowed to ever have the medical procedure that she and her physcian had decided on because it offended his-- Tink's-- religious sensibilities. I mentioned that I had tried to find out about where Miller stood on some of the core issues of the day but had been unable to. Someone from the campaign saw the post and yesterday I had an excellent talk with the former Marine officer, who did a couple of stints in Iraq. Unlike any number of bizarre Republicans claiming military honors they never won, Rob's military awards are breathtaking-- and real, including the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device (‘V’ for Valor) for operations in Al Fallujah, Iraq; the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for leadership during cold weather training in Bridgeport, California; the Combat Action Ribbon for operations in Iraq; the Navy Unit Commendation for operations in Mosul, Iraq; the Good Conduct Medal (X2); the National Defense Medal (X2); the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; the Iraqi Campaign Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; the Armed Forces Service Medal; the Humanitarian Service Medal for Operation Sheltering Sky in Liberia; the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (X3); the Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Medal.

No wonder he wanted to talk about service to the country! To Miller that's what running for office is all about: service. Too abstract a concept? I asked him about the issues-- he's good on them (even having come out publicly against the Stupak Amendment)-- and I asked him if we can expect to see him join the Blue Dog Caucus in Congress. He laughed. "I get asked that all the time." He said he wouldn't be joining the Blue Dogs and an impeccable source told me that the Blue Dogs approached Miller several time bearing gifts-- promising to raise money for him the way they are for conservative corporate shill and DCCC stooge Lori Edwards in Florida-- and he turned them down flat. It takes guts and conviction to turn the kind of easy money the Blue Dogs offer their recruits, the kind of conviction an unscrupulous political creature like Lori Edwards has never imagined and the kind of conviction a patriot like Rob Miller could never get through a day without. "What South Carolinians are looking for is an independent voice that represents hard working people in this district... There is so much corporate lobbyist influence in Washington that you can't get anything done for ordinary families and if you do, it's all watered down." Yep, this guy wouldn't be the right fit for the Blue Dogs.

"The biggest difference between Joe Wilson and me is service. Joe Wilson continually shows that he serves the special interests of Washington and Wall Street instead of serving the hard-working people on Main Street. Whether he's bailing out big banks or sending jobs overseas by casting the deciding vote on CAFTA, Joe Wilson represents everything that's wrong with Washington. While South Carolina's suffering from one of the highest jobless rates in America, Joe Wilson is off trying to privatize Social Security and cut Medicare. South Carolina needs a Congressman who will serve the people who elected him, and unfortunately Joe Wilson has shown that the only job he cares about is his own."


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Alan Grayson's Peace Party Wasn't Just About Yesterday-- It's About EVERYDAY


I hate money bombs and quarterly deadlines and all that campaign crap. I think we should reward our representatives when they do well. In fact, I think the reason why Alan Grayson has gotten more money, week after week after week from DWT readers and Blue America donors is because week after week after week Alan Grayson is out there kicking butt the way no other members of Congress do. It's not just about him standing up for the difficult positions-- like on wanting to end the Bush-Obama war in Afghanistan-- but also the way he goes to the media and frames those positions so that the whole country can understand them, even in light of the thunderous noise from the right-wing corporate echo chamber. And they hate him. They hate him more than any other member of Congress. They hate him more than Nancy Pelosi and they hate him more than Harry Reid. They hate him the way they used to hate Paul Wellstone. They're smart enough to see that Alan Grayson's sensible and no-bullshit approach to their treachery can really hurt them. There aren't ten Democrats in Congress I wouldn't trade for one Alan Grayson.

Yesterday Blue America helped Rep. Grayson alert people about his Peace Party. If you're a member of the Blue America PAC-- and all you have to do to join is to donate, even one dollar, to any of our candidates-- you will have gotten a letter from us asking you to remember Grayson in your giving. No one deserves it more. And as Digby pointed out at her blog, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Grayson is speaking out so forcefully about peace. Like most people who love to travel, he also loves peace.
On June 28, 1919, the United States put an end to a world war, after less than two years of fighting. In 1945, the United States ended another world war, after less than four years of fighting. But in 2010, we are embroiled in two wars, after almost nine years of fighting.

When will it end? When Blackwater and Halliburton say so? When we’re all broke?

It’s time that someone spoke out for peace.

Digby points out that she, like many of us who admire Grayson's political courage and stamina so much, is "convinced that it takes political fighters to keep us out of war, and there's no smarter or more effective fighter in the Democratic Party than Alan Grayson. Who else says things like this?"
"Imagine if we had decided after 9/11 to wean ourselves off oil and other carbon-based fuels. We'd be almost ten years into that project by now.

"Imagine if George W. Bush had somehow been able to summon the moral strength of Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, or Martin Luther King Jr, and committed the American people to the pursuit of a common goal of a transformed society, a society which meets our own human needs rather than declaring 'war' on an emotion, or, as John Quincy Adams put it, going 'abroad, in search of monsters to destroy'.


"Imagine that we chose not to enslave ourselves to a massive military state whose stated goal is 'stability' in countries that never have been 'stable,' and never will be."

Blue America was the first Netroots PAC to endorse Grayson when he decided to run. None of the Very Serious People in politics thought he could win in what was a Republican district but we don't base our endorsements solely on electability, so that wasn't relevant. We felt he had a good chance and we knew that if he won, he would be an articulate and passionate advocate for our values. He has exceeded our expectations, to say the least.

One of the reasons Grayson can be so outspoken is that he takes no special interest money from businesses his committees oversee and so depends on small donations more than other politicians.  So far, the netroots have come through for him, giving him an independent funding base and allowing him to operate with much more freedom than the average representative. Today, he's asking for your help again. If you can spare a few bucks, now's the time.

The world is full of supposedly indispensable men and women, virtually none of whom are actually indispensable. Grayson, in my view, is the exception. The progressive movement needs this man in congress, serving as an example of intelligent, aggressive, principled progressivism and hopefully building up a paradigm for others to follow.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Is there a glimpse of daylight beyond the "Let Them Eat Guns" Roberts Court?


Solicitor General Elena Kagan listens to Senate Judiciary Committee members' opening statements as her Supreme Court confirmation hearings began today.

"Corporations hate juries. It's the one part of government you can't buy."
-- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), quoted by E. J. Dionne Jr. in his Washington Post column today, "Whose Supreme Court is it?"

by Ken

It was Justice Steven's last day on the Court, and the day after Justice Ginsburg's husband died, but they were both on hand to watch their colleagues, the beasts-of-the-fields who now constitute its working majority pursue their brutish assault on the Constitution.

You figured the chief justice and his five-man Constitutional Rewrite Committee ("We make it up as we go") had some jolly mischief sitting on something big for the final day of this session, with four noteworthy cases still to be resolved. In fact, for a band of hooligans like these, it was kind of pathetic stuff. Apparently the "Let them eat guns" majority isn't secure enough to just say, "Anybody can buy a gun anytime he wants." Presumably to hold onto "Slow Anthony" Kennedy's vote, they left open the possibility that jurisdictions actually can set limits on gun ownership.

You can see the thinking, though. "We are by God the Supreme Court, and what was the point of our rewriting the Second Amendment if we can't damn well make sure every goddamn court in the land enforces out new version making gun ownership a 'feel good' unrelated to any of language of the pedantic old version [i.e., "the written text"] of the amendment?" No doubt the dears are trying to pour some concrete around their flimsy Second Amendment rewrite to protect it from being treated as cavalierly as they themselves have been treating judicial precedent the next time the Court has a sane and legally responsible majority. I like to think, though, that the rulings of the Roberts goons are being preserved on toilet paper, so they can all be quickly and unceremoniously flushed down the crapper when the time comes.

Worse still, Slow Anthony went off the reservation altogether, joining the Court's four Communists, refusing relief to the Christian bigots who think they're entitled to university funds to pursue their bigotry. And nobody can really figure out what the Supreme goon squad said about patent limits.

Meanwhile, the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan's nomination to replace Justice Stevens got off to a predictable start.
Republican senators questioned Monday whether Elena Kagan can be an impartial Supreme Court justice, displaying the partisan divide of the Senate Judiciary Committee as it began its confirmation hearing on Kagan's nomination to the nation's highest court.

While the panel's seven Republicans used their opening statements to challenge Kagan's judicial experience and ability to put aside personal politics, the 12 Democratic members praised Kagan's qualifications and welcomed her possible presence on a court they criticized for what they called conservative activism.

But if you're in the market for some political good news, E. J. Dionner Jr. says we should keep an eye on Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R) and Al Franken (D-MN). He says they intend to have these hearings "mark a sea change in the way liberals argue about the judiciary."
Democratic senators are planning to put the right of citizens to challenge corporate power at the center of their critique of activist conservative judging, offering a case that has not been fully aired since the days of the great Progressive Era Justice Louis Brandeis.

It was Brandeis who warned against the "concentration of economic power" and observed that "so-called private corporations are sometimes able to dominate the state."

None of this should affect Kagan's confirmation, Dionne argues, except perhaps in a positive way. "Unless we live in an age of partisan double standards, she can't be asked to be any more forthcoming about her views than were Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito." Oh, nothing apparently can stop Little Jeffy Sessions from making his squeaky little jerk noises (if he were your pet cocker spaniel and you took him to a vet, the vet would tell you it's time to let the poor creature go to peace), surrounded by fellow Republican members of the Judiciary Committee who are apparently themselves too far gone to be properly mortified that they even know, let alone are known associates of, the little cartoon character. Nevertheless, says Dionne, Kagan "will be approved easily, and should be." (See Charlie Savage's NYT report, "Kagan Promises Impartiality as Hearings Open.")

But E.J. says the good guys are going to set about changing the confirmation agenda.
[I]f Kagan's job is to get confirmed, the task of progressive members of the Senate Judiciary Committee is to reverse the effects of years of conservative propagandizing over the stakes in our debates about the nation's highest court.
They will be pushing the narrative away from the hot-button social issues that have been a distraction from the main game: the use of the Supreme Court as a redoubt against progressive legislation, the right of plaintiffs to call corporations to account before juries and the ability of the political system to protect itself against corruption.

If Whitehouse and Franken have their way, upcoming rounds of judicial confirmation hearings may follow a markedly different script, even if it means Little Jeffy will throw the tantrum to end all tantrums. (Is that different from what he's doing now?)
Whitehouse, formerly his state's attorney general, was one of the most outspoken voices during Justice Sonia Sotomayor's hearings last year. He battled -- largely in vain -- against Republican efforts to turn the hearings into a rally on behalf of a definition of "judicial restraint" that would have judges approve whatever items happen to be on the conservative agenda.

It's amazing how often conservative judges use the "original intention" of our Founders to conclude that Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison were simply card-carrying members of the American Conservative Union.

This time, Whitehouse told me, he plans to focus on how conservative courts have limited plaintiffs' rights to challenge corporations before juries by restricting the right to sue and on the evidence that can be brought into play.

"Corporations hate juries," Whitehouse said. "It's the one part of government you can't buy." He will link this argument with a challenge to the Supreme Court's appalling Citizens United decision, which gives corporations virtually unlimited rights to spend money to influence elections. Invoking the baseball-umpire metaphor made popular by Roberts, Whitehouse observed that "corporations have a different strike zone in the Supreme Court than regular people."

Franken previewed his approach in a powerful speech to the American Constitution Society this month that has made conservatives unhappy. Franken argued that the right has dominated the judicial debate by suggesting that "the Court's rulings don't matter to ordinary people" through a focus on cases involving late-term abortion, flag-burning and pornography.

The time has come, Franken said in an interview, for progressives to recognize that Roe v. Wade has distracted attention from what is now at the heart of the judicial controversy: the ability of individuals to assert their rights against corporations.

"If you use a credit card, if you work, if you drink water, you're affected by the court," he said. "Roe is important, but there's this whole other area we weren't talking about."

In his speech, Franken cited a long list of conservative rulings that powerfully affected average citizens: decisions against shareholders' rights, against workers fighting for their pensions, against small-business owners battling price-fixing, against environmentalists trying to protect wetlands -- and, note well, in favor of Exxon when it capped punitive damages for the Valdez oil spill.

How will this argument affect Kagan? It puts her in a perfect position to tell Republican senators what they claim to want to hear: that she is resolutely opposed to "legislating from the bench."

At this moment, those words would signal her refusal to join a conservative majority on the court determined to enhance the power of private corporations and to undermine the right of our government's elected branches to legislate and regulate in the public interest.

For once, that sounds like a plan to me.

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Americans Spoke Back To Pete Peterson's America Speaks Farce


I don't want to see a real class war in America, where millions and millions of ordinary Americans get pushed so far up against the wall and just get so fed up with being cheated that they finally rise up and start hunting the plutocrats and their whores in the streets and chop them into pieces and feed them to dogs. That can still be averted-- though not by slick plutocratic ploys like Pete Peterson's Austerity Pimp Revue that Digby live-blogged so eloquently this weekend-- at those two links and here.

I'm not suggesting anyone chop up any plutocrats or Wall Street brokers; that's not why I'm suggesting you read the Pete Peterson crap, even if that would be the normal reaction of many people to seeing it. I like this woman's reaction more; she participated in southeast Pennsylvania and she was smart enough to think outside of the Peterson Box, a box designed to give the political elite-- a useless segment of society installed to serve the interest of the plutocrats-- the excuse they would prefer to cut Social Security and Medicare and to push even further the redistribution of wealth away from working people and more towards social parasites.

Yesterday Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign For America's Future, pointed out, as Robin in the video above did, and as Digby did, over the course of the weekend did, that ordinary Americans who attended the sessions were not buying into the reactionary premises and the stacked deck the political elites were offering. Hickey's point, something many participants noticed, was that the whole process was flawed because the slickly presented background material was so flawed. "Peterson," he wrote, "cannot be pleased with the participants' mainly progressive policy choices, which will be presented on June 30 to the Deficit Commission that Peterson encouraged President Obama to create. According to America Speaks' own press release, when a scientifically selected group of participants picked up their electronic voting devices, they overwhelmingly supported proposals to:
• Raise tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million.

• Reduce military spending by 10 to 15 percent,

• Create a carbon tax and a securities-transaction tax.

That's not what the elites want to hear from us. Remember, we're supposed to pay, through crushing "austerity" programs, the mistakes in handling the economy since 1981 when Reagan kicked into gear an uninterrupted corporatist takeover of the country. It continues today; keep in mind the current stooge's Chief of Staff is a Wall Street puppet who shoved NAFTA down Congress' throat.

I have a modest proposal. How about if we hold off on all this stuff for a minute? Just stop everything for one minute here, and let's try something that makes sense. Everybody pays-- through withholding-- a small payroll tax (FICA) to fund Social Security, providing benefits for retirees, the disabled, and minor children of deceased workers. This is the major portion of income tax for most Americans-- like over 75% of us. But this tax is not paid on any income over $106,800 (gross) and not paid on any income from stocks or bonds. If someone makes $20,000,000 a year they pay the same percentage as someone who makes $20,000 a year: 6.2% on $106,800-- $6,621.60. If a more typical American family with two incomes-- a husband making $53,000 and a wife making $53,000, say-- they pay the same thing as the guy making $20,000,000 a year. If Rchie Rich were paying his fair share ($1,240,000) there would be no crisis, That's why rich people hire lobbyists and buy corrupt politicians-- whether we're talking about virtually the entire GOP, but especially the wheeler-dealers like John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Raul Ryan, and Joe Barton, or Democrats like Rahm Emanuel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Blue Dogs and Steny Hoyer who operate just like them-- and whose careers they finance. Let's end the $106,800 cut off on taxes and let the wealthy pay their fair share, see if that works out and then talk about austerity and budget deficits after that.

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Is Woefully Inadequate Financial Regulatory Legislation Ripping The Fig Leaf Off The Democratic Party?


Over the weekend I spent some time on the phone with a Capitol Hill staffer, a very depressed one. I'm a cheery, optimistic, cup half-full kind of guy-- and he even managed to get me depressed. The picture he painted of life working around a bunch of congressmen, their staffers and the lobbyists they love-- and we never even discussed Republicans at all-- is so ugly and unseemly that I can certainly see how it can quickly turn an idealistic young man into a nihilist... or Naderite. I sure hope he's wrong about some of this stuff.

One thing that shook me up was his supposition-- I think he said he isn't positive he's correct about this-- that getting mortgage lenders to renegotiate rates was primarily a kind of conspiracy between banksters, lobbyists and congressmen to wring a few more dollars out of consumers before their homes are foreclosed on. He felt strongly that members of Congress generally identified as among "the good guys" belong in prison. (If you're a conservative, don't get excited. If these Democrats belong in prison, their GOP counterparts would be getting the death penalty.)

And speaking of the death penalty, doesn't it look to you that the lobbyist industry-- I'm not talking about individual lobbyists, so don't get all in a huff-- as an industry should get the death penalty? I mean if there were no more corporate lobbyists would society be better off or worse off-- and by a lot or a little? And when it comes to Wall Street and banking, insurance and real estate... do these guys spend-- and quite effectively! $4,051,567,962 in lobbying since 1998 and another $1,395,315,634 in direct "donations" to federal candidates! As Durbin said, they own the Senate. As he didn't say, they own everything, including the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch. If only I wasn't 100% positive the teabaggers weren't a fully-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party I'd be looking for a way to get us "small people" beyond the tribal divisiveness that allows the elites to continue lording it over us.

Yesterday Rob Kall's analysis of the financial legislation coming up for a vote was another blow to any kind of ability to keep any kind of faith with the congressional Democrats. His premise, succinctly laid out in the first sentence is "We've been stabbed in the back again." And in case you missed the import: "We're screwed again. Obama and the democratic congress did it again-- created legislation that is labeled reform, but is so diluted it is worthless and won't prevent another financial meltdown." Monday's the Big Day. Can Obama and Democrats playing footsie with Wall Street actually make the Republicans look semi-plausible? Wall Street likes what Dodd and Frank are serving up-- stocks were up 3% Friday, what Kall interprets as a celebratory mood that the financial industry has escaped serious regulatory reform.
The Wall Street Journal expects that the legislation will be called the Dodd Frank bill.

Good!! Put their names on the bill. Make it clear who created the better-than-nothing, highly diluted, watered down, full of loopholes legislation. Dodd and Frank are sellouts who betrayed US consumers, betrayed the majority of their own constituents.

I spent at least an hour yesterday, reading article after article in the Wall Street Journal that breathed sighs of relief that the legislation was not as bad as the financial industry feared. The tough reforms-- Volcker, Lincoln-- were all gutted and watered down, with loopholes added.

There's only one conclusion. The bill is another sham reform, a gift to the finance industry, just like the health care reform bill was a gift to insurers, hospitals and big pharma. I assure you that built into this new "reform bill" will be new, expanded protections and extensions of privileges for finance companies. There may be some small changes that could have been passed in a far less extensive bill-- some minor tweaks-- but this bill is no great achievement.

The bill is another chimera of real change, guided by the faux change president, Barack Obama.

We now know that Obama is a staunch defender of big corporations, of lobbyist interests-- not of consumers, not of the people who worked so hard, with such hope and faith to elect him.

Personally, I'm going to do all I can to primary as many of the perpetrators of the Finance and health reform legislation as I can.

I'm going to work to make sure that Obama is a one term president.

Ready for President Mittens? And where have these people been? We've been running desperate primary races against these bad Democrats. We can use some help. We sure haven't been getting much. We won in North Carolina with Elaine Marshall and in Arkansas with Joyce Elliott but lost opportunities to replace less-than-worthless corporate Blue Dogs Jane Harman and Jim Matheson with consumer oriented populists Marcy Winograd and Claudia Wright. We're fast approaching Blue Dog v progressive primaries in Oklahoma and Georgia, where two of the worst Blue Dogs in the whole caucus, Dan Boren and John Barrow, are being challenged by progressive state Senators Jim Wilson and Regina Thomas. And then there's the Florida race in 6 weeks where Doug Tudor is looking very strong against Blue Dog shill Lori Edwards and in September we've got Mac D'Allesandro going up against conservative Democrat Stephen Lynch in Massachusetts. I hope Kall inspires some people to follow him into the sensible approach of primarying as many bad Democrats as there are left to be primaried.

As for Obama... anyone who really expected more from him should be ashamed. His record was clear. As we-- and others-- pointed out all through 2008 his voting record in the Senate always found him down at the bottom of the barrel, clustered between Max Baucus, Joe Lieberman, Mark Pryor, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson. "Obama," write Kall, "has betrayed the tens of millions who voted for him. His sell-outs in favor of the biggest industries have become routine and predictable." Did someone think he was only making believe he's an overly cautious corporatist? Better than a Republican? Sure... and that's something in case you've forgotten Bush/Cheney-- but it isn't what progressives should be striving and fighting for. Alan Grayson is. Doug Tudor is; Billy Kennedy is. Jim Wilson is. Regina Thomas is. Joyce Elliott is. They've proven it in their service and their lives. Blue America never raised one dime for Obama and never asked anyone to donate to his campaign. That was no coincidence or oversight. We knew what he would turn out to be-- better than Bush, better than McCain, worse that acceptable.

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