Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ring Lardner Tonight: "You Know Me Al" II, Part 7 -- Bedford, IN, meets NY, NY


"I run into a couple of the ball players and they took me to what they call the Garden but it ain't like the gardens at home because this one is indoors."
-- from Jack's letter of September 16 from New York

The Garden that Jack was taken to would have been
the second Madison Square Garden (1890-1925).


YOU KNOW ME AL: Our story to date

John Lardner's Introduction (1958): Part 1 and Part 2
Chapter I: A Busher's Letters Home --
Part 1, Preface and Jack's letters of Sept. 6 and Dec. 14 and 16
Part 2, The busher reaches the bigs -- March 2, 7, 9, and 16
Part 3: Countdown to Opening Day -- March 26 and April 1, 4, 7, and 10
Part 4: The busher makes his big-league debut -- April 11 and 15
Part 5: A major development for Jack -- April 19, 25, and 29
Chapter II: The Busher Comes Back
Part 1, The busher comes back -- May 13 and 20
Part 2, Big news for Al -- July 20
Part 3, A surprise for Jack -- August 16 (plus "The real Charles Comiskey")
Part 4, Back in the bigs -- August 27
Part 5, Big doings in Detroit -- September 6
Part 6, "Boston is some town, Al" -- September 12


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The 14th Amendment Blues


The Congressional Progressive Caucus and lots of Democratic candidates and activists have called on President Obama to invoke section 4 of the 14th Amendment to prevent the United States from going into default. New Mexico state Senator Eric Griego summed it up well earlier today when he wrote to constituents that the GOP refusal to negotiate in good faith has left us "teetering dangerously close to losing the full faith and credit of the United States," an unacceptable outcome.
We must put the country’s interests ahead of House Republicans’ insistence on an ideological crusade that takes our country’s future hostage in order to gut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts for millionaires, Big Oil and other corporate special interests.

We expect Republicans in Congress to own up to their responsibility for fostering the conditions that have led our country to this point. But after spending trillions of dollars in Bush tax cuts for millionaires, paying trillions more on the nation’s credit card for two mismanaged wars under President Bush’s watch and having nearly caused another Great Depression by falling asleep at the wheel while big banks sank our economy, their intransigence is callous at best and morally bankrupt at worst.

That is why on Friday I called on the President to invoke the 14th Amendment to use executive order in raising the national debt ceiling immediately. Then let’s get to work cutting subsidies for big oil and tax breaks for the rich so we can create jobs and reduce unemployment because people are hurting and they want to work.

Not so fast, says my old friend "bmaz," an attorney in Phoenix who blogs at Emptywheel. He made a persuasive argument today on Twitter about why this is the wrong tack to take and, while I'm not entirely convinced, the argument was sound enough for me to ask him to summarize it for us at DWT:


-by bmaz

As about everyone knows by now, the great debate is still ongoing on the issue of the debt ceiling. The frustration of those on the left with the intransigence of the Republican Tea Party, coupled with the neutered Democratic Congress, has led many to call for President Obama to immediately "invoke the 14th." The common rallying cry is that legal scholars (usually Jack Balkin is cited), Paul Krugman and various members of Congress have said it is the way to go. But neither Krugman nor the criers in Congress are lawyers, or to the extent they are have no Constitutional background. And Balkin's discussion is relentlessly misrepresented as to what he really has said. "Using the 14th" is a bad meme and here is why.

The Founders, in creating and nurturing our system of governance by and through the Constitution provided separate and distinct branches of government, the Legislative, Executive and Judicial and, further, provided for intentional, established and delineated checks and balances so that power was balanced and not able to be usurped by any one branch tyrannically against the interest of the citizenry. It is summarized by James Madison in Federalist 51 thusly:
First. In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments.
We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other-- that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

Which must be read in conjunction with Madison in Federalist 47:
The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

This is the essence of the separation of powers and checks and balances thereon that is the very-- root foundation of our American governance. It may be an abstract thing, but it is very real and critical significance. And it is exactly what is at stake when people blithely clamor to "Use the 14th!"

Specifically, one of the most fundamental powers given by the Founders to the Article I branch, Congress, was the "power of the purse." That was accomplished via Article I, Section 8, which provides:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States...


To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

The call to "Use the 14th" is a demand that the President, the embodiment of the Article II Executive Branch, usurp the assigned power of the Article I Congress in relation to "borrow money on the credit of the United States." This power is what lays behind the debt ceiling law to begin with, and why it is presumptively Constitutional. It is Congress' power, not the President's, and "invoking the 14th" means usurping that power. Due to "case and controversy" and "standing" limitations, which would require another treatise to discuss fully, there is literally likely no party that could effectively challenge such a usurpation of power by the Executive Branch and an irretrievable standard set for the future. The fundamental separation and balance of powers between the branches will be altered with a significant shift of power to the Executive Branch.

This is not something to be done lightly or if there is any possible alternative available. Indeed, the only instance in which it could be rationally considered would be if all alternatives were exhausted. That does NOT mean because the GOPTeaers are being mean and selfish. It does NOT mean because you are worried about some ethereal interest rate or stock market fluctuation that may, or may not, substantially occur. It does NOT mean because your party's President and Congressional leadership are terminally lame. That, folks, is just not good enough to carve into the heart of Constitutional Separation of Powers. Sorry.

And for those that are thinking about throwing "experts" such as Jack Balkin in the face of what I have argued, go read them, notably Jack himself, who said before invoking the 14th, first the President would have to prioritize what was paid by existent resources, those that could be liberated and revenues that did still come in:
...certainly payments for future services -- would not count and would have to be sacrificed. This might include, for example, Social Security payments.
Assume, however, that even a prolonged government shutdown does not move Congress to act. Eventually paying only interest and vested obligations will prove unsustainable-- first because tax revenues will decrease as the economy sours, and second, because holders of government debt will conclude that a government that cannot act in a crisis is not trustworthy.

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.

So, contrary to those shouting and clamoring for Obama to "Use the 14th," it is fraught with peril for long term government stability and function, and is not appropriate to consider until much further down the rabbit hole. It is NOT a quick fix panacea to the fact we, as citizens, have negligently, recklessly and wantonly elected blithering corrupt idiots to represent us. There is no such thing as a free lunch; and the "14th option" is not what you think it is.

As a parting thought for consideration, remember when invasion of privacy and civil liberties by the Executive Branch was just a "necessary and temporary response to emergency" to 9/11? Have you gotten any of your privacies and civil liberties back? Well have ya?

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Will Progressives Abandon Obama... Even With Fascists Burning Down The Country (Literally)?


We have our own brand problems now

Earlier today, Digby started a brilliant post explaining what's gone down in the debt ceiling kabuki by quoting a jubilant George Will:
"Conservatives are saying it's imperfect, to which one must say, the Sistine Chapel is probably in some sense imperfect."

This morning Paul Krugman was on ABCNews with Christiane Amanpour. He'd sure make a better leader-- or poker player-- than Obama. He sees the same thing Will sees, although his reaction is more sympathetic to the victims of Austerity, most of us:
"From the perspective of a rational person-- in other words a progressive-- we shouldn't be talking about spending cuts at all now. We have 9% unemployment. These spending cuts are going to worsen unemployment. It's even going to hold the long-run fiscal picture because we have a situation where more and more people are becoming permanent long-term unemployed... We used to talk about the Japanese and lost decade. We'll look at them as a role model. They did better than we're doing. this is going to go on. I have nobody I know who thinks the unemployment rate will be below 8% at the end of next year. With the spending cuts it might be above 9% at the end of next year. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. We're having a debate in Washington, all about, 'Gee, we'll make the economy worse, but will we make it worse on 90% of the Republicans' terms or 100% of Republicans' terms?' The answer is 100%."

I'm a happy guy; I don't let things get me down. Nothing depresses me. Last night at dinner, 3 savvy progressives asked me what country I thought would be best to move to after the 2012 elections. (I lived in Europe during the Nixon/Vietnam War years.) I ain't movin' anywhere again. This time I'm staying and fighting.

Last night, right after the outline of Obama's complete surrender to the Far Right came out, someone tweeted that the White House was denying that there's a deal. Let me see if I can find it. Ah... there it is: a tiny little hope in the firestorm:

Turns out to be a false hope. As John Conyers pointed out, it was Obama who put Social Security cuts on the table for the corporate overlords, not the Republicans who want it so badly but are too (wisely) scared. And it's been Obama who has been feeding their hated anti-Medicare mania. Another scrap of hope-- a really far-fetched one this time:

Obama didn't win California's 55 electoral votes in 2010 because of the one I, on a leap of faith, cast for him. 8,274,473 Californians voted for him, more than 3 million the number who came out for John McCain. If Obama can't win California without my vote, he's not going to come close to winning in states he needs, like Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Hampshire. How many more progressive Democrats, like me, have made up their minds to withhold their votes from Obama next year-- not in California, where it is easy to take the high ground, but in the swing states, where an election is decided? Today's NY Times sees a problem with the base if Obama is really signing on to this dreadful deal the Republicans have forced him into. This morning Jackie Calmes wrote about the rightward tilt and the party rift.
However the debt limit showdown ends, one thing is clear: under pressure from Congressional Republicans, President Obama has moved rightward on budget policy, deepening a rift within his party heading into the next election.

Entering a campaign that is shaping up as an epic clash over the parties’ divergent views on the size and role of the federal government, Republicans have changed the terms of the national debate. Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans’ language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.

That has some progressive members of Congress and liberal groups arguing that by not fighting for more stimulus spending, Mr. Obama could be left with an economy still producing so few jobs by Election Day that his re-election could be threatened. Besides turning off independents, Mr. Obama risks alienating Democratic voters already disappointed by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his failure to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, end the Bush-era tax cuts and enact a government-run health insurance system.

“The activist liberal base will support Obama because they’re terrified of the right wing,” said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future.
But he said, “I believe that the voting base of the Democratic Party-- young people, single women, African-Americans, Latinos-- are going to be so discouraged by this economy and so dismayed unless the president starts to champion a jobs program and take on the Republican Congress that the ability of labor to turn out its vote, the ability of activists to mobilize that vote, is going to be dramatically reduced.”

Borosage is a friend of mine but I disagree with him. Members of he liberal activist base, or at least many of them, are abandoning Obama despite the false threat of BACHMANN!!!!!-- which the Republican Establishment will never let happen. Pawlenty was supposed to knock her out of the primaries in return for the Romney VP nomination. T-Paw turned out to be the biggest political dud since Fred Thompson... so they recruited Texas dullard, Rick Perry-- yes, dumber than Bush-- to do the job for them.
Obama, in his failed effort for greater deficit reduction, has put on the table far more in reductions for future years’ spending, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, than he did in new revenue from the wealthy and corporations. He proposed fewer cuts in military spending and more in health care than a bipartisan Senate group that includes one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.

To win approval of the essential increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing ceiling, Mr. Obama sought more in deficit reduction than Republicans did, and with fewer changes to the entitlement programs, because he was willing to raise additional revenue starting in 2013 and they were not. And despite unemployment lingering at its highest level in decades, Mr. Obama has not fought this year for a big jobs program with billions of dollars for public-works projects, which liberals in his party have clamored for. Instead, he wants to extend a temporary payroll tax cut for everyone, since Republicans will support tax cuts, despite studies showing that spending programs are generally the more effective stimulus.

Even before last November’s election gave the Republicans control of the House, Mr. Obama had said he would pivot to deficit reduction after two years of stimulus measures intended first to rescue the economy and then to spur a recovery from the near collapse of the financial system. With Republicans’ gains in the midterm elections, that pivot became a lurch. Yet Congressional Republicans say Mr. Obama seeks a debt limit increase as “a blank check” to keep spending.

“The Republicans won, and they don’t know how to accept victory,” said Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

...“The president’s proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare has the potential to sap the energy of the Democratic base — among older voters because of Medicare and Medicaid and younger voters because of the lack of jobs,” said Damon A. Silvers, policy director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “And second, all these fiscal austerity proposals on the table will make the economy worse.”

Mr. Obama’s situation has parallels with the mid-1990s, when President Bill Clinton shifted to the center after Republicans took Congress and battled them on deficit reduction and a welfare overhaul. Many Democrats were angered by his concessions, by a sense of being left out of negotiations and by a fear of alienating Democratic voters. Mr. Clinton was re-elected in 1996.

But Mr. Obama is likely to face the voters with a weaker economy and higher unemployment than during Mr. Clinton’s era. Still, his advisers express confidence that voters will reward Mr. Obama either for winning a bipartisan deal, if that were to happen, or for at least having a more balanced approach that does not remake Medicare and Medicaid and asks for more revenue from the wealthy. And they suggest another potential parallel with the Clinton years of divided government: that Republicans risk a voter backlash with their uncompromising stands.

There are going to be a lot of people aliented from "mainstream" politics now, even as the radical-- now fascist-- right turns more and more to crap like this:
Fire officials in La Crosse are continuing to investigate a Saturday blaze that destroyed the regional offices of We Are Wisconsin, a union political action committee (PAC) that has pumped millions of dollars into supporting Democratic candidates in the upcoming recall elections.

The La Crosse Tribune reports that the cause of the fire, which started at about 9:30 a.m., remains unknown. Firefighters thought they had the blaze under control in the afternoon, however, that wasn't the case and it continued into the evening, the newspaper reported.

We Are Wisconsin used the building at 432 Jay St. to oversee its efforts in the 32nd Senate District recall election, which will be held Aug. 9. Incumbent Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke is being challenged by Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Shilling in that district.

A spokesman for the group told the La Crosse Tribune that the group's office was a total loss.
We Are Wisconsin is a political action committee made up by a coalition of unions that has spent more than $2 million supporting Democratic recall candidates around Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

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Sunday Classics: The seething revolutionary rage of "Andrea Chénier" certainly strikes a chord at our present moment


Last night we heard two minutes' worth of Plácido Domingo singing the Improvviso. It seemed only fair to let him get through the whole thing.

by Ken

As I explained in last night's preview of Chénier's Improvviso, we're continuing the three-part series devoted to Giordano's best-known opera begun earlier this month with a post called "Giordano's Andrea Chénier and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare" (also with a Saturday preview), built on the premise -- well, my premise -- that Chénier is a great revolutionary opera. Our goal is to get to the great Madelon scene of Act III. (I know you may not know what a "Madelon scene" is, but I don't want to try to explain the scene until we get to it.)

It's true that eventually Giordano and librettist Luigi Illica (also one of Puccini's most important librettists) cared more about the doomed love of the anti-royalist poet Chénier and the aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny, and I don't have a huge problem with that, because that's interesting enough and occasioned a fair amount of swell music. But for me the opera sizzles when it focuses on the way its characters are caught up in the tide of revolution in France, starting -- literally starting -- the overwhelming opening scene in which the servant Carlo Gérard, observing his broken-down father still in service to the Contessa di Coigny, vents some volcanic rage that there's no escape from servitude not just for his father but for his father's children; they're a race of menials.

In that opening scene we saw Gérard occupied, along with all the other servants in the household, with preparations for a grand soirée at the Coigny home -- just as the French Revolution, as we learn, is about to break out. Later we see the Countess and her lovely, inquisitive daughter Maddalena engaged in final preparations for Maddalena, and then the guests arrive. At the party, one of the guests, a young poet, is going to be moved to share some recent experiences and observations that will scandalize everyone present except Gérard and Maddalena: the Improvviso we heard last night, which today we're going to put in context.

We're going to pick up as the arrival of the guests is well under way, a starting point that was determined by one of three recordings we're going to hear -- all that survives of the broadcast of a 1938 San Francisco performance -- once we've broken the scene down a little. It's actually not a bad starting point, though, as the Countess greets the first of her "special" guests.



. . . continues with previews and, and the main post "We do know that young Roger Alberto isn't coming back, don't we?We do know that young Roger Alberto isn't coming back, don't we?"

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Will A Downgrade Matter?


Remember when he used to talk about "adult moments?"

S&P still says it's serious about a downgrade. Economics Weekly looked at it from their perspective:
S&P have recently revised its outlook for the US from stable to negative, indicating it may lose its precious AAA credit rating in 2012. For an long time now the US has had economic and fiscal risks and has an large amount benefits. However the strengths of the US, the fact that it is highly diversified and flexible, their track record have allowed it to maintain the highest possible credit rating, however recently the fiscal uncertainties i.e. the weaknesses have started to outweigh the strengths of the US economies. Thus it looks like their rating may be downgraded, but what are the likely effect of a possible downgrade?

Any downgrading of US debt will mean investors will see US dollars as riskier therefore will sell US dollars, resulting in a fall in the value of the US dollar against most global currencies. However many believe that as many of the world currencies do not want to be devaluated against the main global currency, as it will effect price competitiveness many central banks may intervene in the market to maintain the value of the US dollar. Therefore in the long term the dollar may not fall that much in value that is of course if the dollar is still the major global currency at the time when the US may have their credit rating downgraded.

Moreover any downgrading will result in the cost to obtain money increasing, this will therefore cost the US more to service debts. The return they will have to offer for bonds would therefore have to increase. Furthermore with news that China may cut up to two thirds of its $3 trillion worth of US debt, this will mean yet greater interest will have to be offered in order to borrow money. This will therefore limit the US ability to borrow money in the future.

Furthermore if the rating does fall it will result in the US dollar no longer being seen as the safest currency in the world, and may result in many investors moving away from the dollar to precious metals such as gold and silver, or to other countries. This will further weaken the US and may result in a decline of the US dollar as the world’s most prominent currency. This will then result in a fall in investment levels within the US, as the country will no longer be as appealing.

Yesterday while I was putting on my socks, I had the TV on and Steve Womack, the freshman Republican Party hack who replaced now-Senator John Boozman in Arkansas' reddest district, was babbling on about the greatness of the Boehner bill. Watching this highly bigoted, former small-town mayor-- and Merrill Lynch financial advisor-- trying to grapple with the impending financial meltdown his party is purposely inflicting on the country, I made a snap decision. I ran down to my safe, which I hadn't opened in a decade, and took out a big stack on I Series federal Treasury bonds, zoomed over to an open bank and cashed them all in. When I got home I read Binyamin Appelbaum's analysis of what a credit downgrade is likely to look like if the GOP gets its way and forces one on the country in their mad and demented jihad against Barack Obama.

Applebaum says that one of the reasons the talks have broken down is because Inside the Beltway, there is a feeling that although a downgrade would probably increase the cost of borrowing for the federal government, state governments, businesses and consumers, the economic impact might not be as bad as many people have predicted. That's encouraging?
The federal government makes about $250 billion in interest payments a year. Even a small increase in the rates demanded by investors in United States debt could add tens of billions of dollars to those payments. And the credit rating agencies have said other downgrades would follow like dominoes.

For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the huge mortgage companies that are backed by the federal government, would be downgraded, raising rates on home mortgage loans for borrowers. Maryland and Virginia, and many local governments near Washington, their economies tied to the government, would also be downgraded. So would New Mexico, because an unusually high proportion of residents depend on federal benefits.

“A default on our nation’s obligations, or a downgrade of America’s credit rating,” 13 financial company chief executives said on Thursday in a letter to the president and Congress, “would be a tremendous blow to business and investor confidence-- raising interest rates for everyone who borrows, undermining the value of the dollar, and roiling stock and bond markets-- and, therefore, dramatically worsening our nation’s already difficult economic circumstances.”

...Moody’s said on Friday that it would maintain its Aaa rating for the United States so long as the Treasury keeps paying bondholders and Congress passes a long-term deal to extend the debt ceiling. The announcement said that failure to act by Tuesday night, or to meet other obligations, including Social Security payments, would not prompt a downgrade.

Ready for what last line may be presaging? Meanwhile click on this image to get it large enough to read. It's from the Chicago Tribune and warns of higher borrowing costs for consumers, plummeting consumer confidence, and jittery markets-- the GOP game-plan for the 2012 presidential election.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: Is the moral of "Andrea Chénier" that poets make lousy party guests?


DG herewith shares two minutes' worth of Plácido Domingo singing the Improvviso from Andrea Chénier (at the Vienna State Opera, 1981, Nello Santi conducting) from its Domingo 70th-birthday audio-and-video sampler.

by Ken

A few weeks ago I began what I explained would eventually be three sets of posts devoted to Giordano's opera Andrea Chénier. In that first post, "Giordano's Andrea Chénier and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare" (with a Saturday preview), we looked at the opening scene given to Carlo Gérard, a servant in the household of the Contessa di Coigny immersed in preparations for a swanky soirée on, literally, the even of the French Revolution.) We're headed for the Madelon scene of Act III, but before we get there we have to consider the poet Chénier's arresting Improvviso (which refers both to its improvisatory quality and to its suddennesss and unexpectedness), which shocks the dickens out of most of the guests.

In tomorrow's post we're going to work our way through the scene that leads up to the Improvviso as well as hearing the scene in its entirety (several times, actually).

Tonight we're going to listen just to the Improvviso itself. For the sake of my sanity I limited myself to what I've got on CD, but I think we've got an interesting assortment of performances -- in terms of voice types, national origins (two Italians, two Canadians, and an Argentinian), personalities, and interpretive thoughts -- beginning with Enrico Caruso's only recording of it, made when the opera, which had its premiere in March 1896, was little more than a decade old. Don't worry about hearing a bunch of antique recordings. After the Caruso, we jump to 1958, and everything is in stereo. (Which reminds me, there's also some notable variety in the conducting and orchestral playing. Just listen to the way the veteran Tullio Serafin balances, and the Rome Opera Orchestra plays, the chord that launches the aria proper.)

Believe it or not, I really don't have anything else to say tonight. I'll let the performances speak for themselves, and the music too, of course.


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It's not just in his politics that Andrew Cuomo sure ain't his old man


Andrew Cuomo after being sworn in as governor of New York, with his daughter Cara at left and his parents, Mario and Matilda Cuomo, at right -- it's a shame the boy doesn't seem to be nearly as smart as his folks.

by Ken

We're not big fans here of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It's not as if he's done anything surprising. He made it pretty clear during the campaign -- what there was of a campaign once it became clear that he was running pretty much unopposed, thanks to the Republicans' nomination of far-right kook Carl Paladino -- that he intended to govern basically like a Republican, making working people pay for the excesses of their financial overlords, and while he may not be in a class with plutocrats' best friends like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and New Jersey's Crap Christie, the margin really oughtn't to be that close. Now he's shown that he may seriously overestimate his own smarts.

Last week New Yorkers were shocked by sudden news that Jay Walder, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates pretty much all buses, subways, bridges, and tunnels in the city plus the Long Island and Metro North commuter railroads and many bus lines in other state counties outside the city, was quitting to take a high-paying job in Hong Kong running its buses and commuter rail systems and apparently a whole bunch of other stuff, with a stratospheric salary and a mandate to move Hong Kong into the 22nd century. It was, according to the early reports, an offer he couldn't refuse. What was a little odd was that in taking the MTA job Walder had had built into his contract provisions designed to make him immovable from the job -- it sure seemed like he intended to stay awhile.

Now I think we've heard the other shoe drop. The NYT's Michael Grynbaum and Christine Haughney report that a major factor in Walder's receptivity to the Hong Kong job offer was being treated like dirt by the governor. (The MTA, you should understand, is a state-chartered agency.) The MTA has brutal financial problems just trying to maintain service, and not only have the governor's plans for balancing the state budget included no help, but Walder hasn't even been able to talk to him.

On the management level, this is pretty stupid. A huge number of New York State voters use MTA facilities every day, and the man responsible for keeping them running can't even get the governor's ear. (Grynbaum and Haughney start with an appalling story of Walder being snubbed on a visit to Albany, when the governor entered a meeting Walder was having with gubernatorial aides, spoke to one of his guys for a few seconds, and left.)

I don't know how great a job Walder was doing, but the fact is, he was doing it. Does the governor have any idea how complex as well as punishing the job is? Does he have any idea how hard it's going to be to fill? Here are the NYT reporters:

The governor began his term with this best-of-both-worlds situation: If Mr. Walder ran into problems, the governor could easily blame his predecessor for the appointment. And if the transportation authority thrived, Mr. Cuomo could take credit.

Now, Mr. Cuomo must find someone willing to take on the Sisyphean task of running a troubled agency at a troubled time. Transit experts say the number of qualified candidates is limited. Officials in the transportation industry said they did not fault Mr. Walder for making a reasoned decision, saying the outlook for transit and infrastructure in New York is far grimmer than its competitor cities around the world. . . .

“When Jay was working in London, Jay had the total confidence of the mayor,” said Robert E. Paaswell, a longtime friend who studies transportation at the City University of New York.

In New York, Mr. Paaswell said, “the mayor and the governor have a very complex platform, and transportation is just one of many issues; it doesn’t really stand out.”

As for Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Paaswell said transportation “hasn’t been on his radar” because of priorities like legislative fights over the budget and same-sex marriage.

Mr. Cuomo may have gotten what he wished for. At the sole debate in the governor’s race last fall, he teed off on the transportation authority, repeating a long-discredited canard about the agency’s “two sets of books” and complaining that “no one is in charge of the M.T.A.”

“Put the governor in charge,” Mr. Cuomo said at the time. “If it does not work, it should be up to the governor, and everyone should know.”


It may be worth remembering that the stepping stone to Mario Cuomo's political career was his impressive service in 1972 investigating and mediating a public battle over low-income housing planned in Queens. That required actually listening and understanding the stands and stakes of the parties to the controversy. His boy doesn't seem to be much of a listener -- except maybe to what's going on in his own head.

Maybe our Andrew really has a plan that will answer the transit needs of the huge number of New Yorkers who are captives of the MTA. Or maybe he's just a whole lot less smart than he thinks.

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There Is A Solution-- And Austerity Isn't It


Frank Guinta is a dangerous kook; the other guy is dressed up as a Revolutionary War general

If you've been following Bernie Sanders' heroic efforts to refocus Congress on what the American people are actually interested in their representatives in Washington getting accomplished-- as opposed to the Austerity Torture that has taken over both parties-- it will have come as no surprise to you that the Alliance for American Manufacturing released a non-partisan poll this week that shows, conclusively (and once again), that by an overwhelming 67% to 29% margin voters prefer that Washington focus on job creation rather than deficit reduction. Confirming what Sanders has been telling everyone who will listen,
• Voters want Washington to act on jobs, especially in manufacturing.

• At the same time, voters give the President and Congress even worse marks than last year for taking any action at all on jobs and manufacturing.

• Voters across the spectrum see manufacturing as central to the nation’s economic success.

• Less than a third of Americans see the U.S. as the strongest economy in the world, but overwhelming majorities feel it is possible and important for the nation to regain that position.

• Though it may surprise pundits and media talking heads, Republican voters favor pro-manufacturing job solutions just as much as Democratic voters.

• When given an “either/or” choice, just 29% want Washington to focus on deficit reduction while 67% favor job creation.

I like the way independent-minded Democrat Nick Ruiz looked at the problem yesterday. (There's a reason he was the first candidate for Congress Blue America endorsed this cycle)
The mediastream is awash in debt talk. Such is the pop currency in circulation. It's not a train that is bound for glory, saddled as it is with the misinformation of the corporate coup d’état. The conductor in chief could easily change tracks, but he has not.

The trick of the ideological center people are talking about today, the "centrist cop-out" as it is being called -- is that there is no center. That is the trick of the tale. People once believed the Earth was at the center of the universe. I'm sure some of the radicalized Right still do. But as for the political axis, we should recognize that there are only interests, factions, alliances, allegiances and competition -- but no center. The center is what they call it when someone has won. New centers are created every political cycle.

That is why there is always talk of the pendulum swinging this way and that, each election cycle, with winners and losers. And we all know who has been winning lately. The center is the myth that the media sphere sells on CCTV, where everything is solicitation. But you don’t have to buy it.

Debt is in circulation, tradable, like any other instrument of financial imagination.

Will someone throw the people a line? Save them from being cut adrift, as Wall Street pouts and sulks; about as convincing to us as a teen-aged tantrum? Not this time.

Merck will cut 13,000 more jobs, hording cash. BHO says again today, he is willing to sever the New Deal legacy. McDonald’s continues to open a restaurant every other day, soon to be every day -- in China. All while the U.S. economy grinds essentially to a halt.

I'm sure Republican Sandy Adams (FL-24) would love to take your call, fax or email on all of this, and seriously consider your concerns about the Wall Street debt crisis, the destruction of the New Deal, the corporate miseducation of our children and the wholesale destruction of our natural environment; and candidly admit how wrong she is to follow the fake Republican simulation of prosperity. Perhaps you'd rather not waste your time.

But there is something you can do about all of this for the next phase of austerity that is sure to come -- help me to replace these kinds of Republicans with progressive Democrats, and give yourself the voice you deserve on Capitol Hill.

Carol Shea-Porter was one of the few progressives who got caught up in the big Tea Party mess last year. By a 121,655- 95,503 vote she lost her New Hampshire congressional seat to hackish on-again, off-again teabagger Frank Guinta. He got to Congress and promptly started voting to end Medicare and attacking Social Security. Carol has decided to seek a rematch now that New Hampshire voters are having a serious case of buyers' remorse all across the board. This week she approached this whole Beltway mess from another perspective in a guest column she did for New Hampshire media.
Social Security had its 75th Birthday last year. While Americans celebrated this vital program that has provided economic support and dignity to seniors, disabled people, and children of deceased workers, there were members of Congress and a political party who were laying plans to change and jeopardize the program. The Republican Party leaders, who previously tried to privatize Social Security in 2005, decided to "save" Social Security from the very people who have spent a lifetime paying into the program. Their Chairman of the Budget Committee introduced "The Path to Prosperity," which included raising the qualifying age and, yes, privatizing it. It is particularly grating to read the language from Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan-- "Further, even if the current system could be sustained, it is no longer a good deal for American workers"-- because he, more than most, knows better. His father died young, and Paul Ryan rightfully became eligible for help from the federal government. He collected Social Security benefits as a minor. He saved those federal government checks to pay for college. This shows why we need to protect Social Security from the now educated and financially secure Paul Ryan and his party-- because Social Security provides economic support and, for the young, economic and educational opportunity.

Here are some facts about Social Security. First, more than 90% of Americans 65 and over receive Social Security. More than 6 million children receive benefits due to a parent's death or disability, and a deceased worker's spouse collects if there are children under the age of 18. Millions rely on it to survive. While almost half of all seniors would be poor without it, women would be hurt even more than men, because women earn lower wages and generally live longer than men. More than half of all elderly women would live in poverty.

This would have an enormous economic impact on middle class families with aging parents. Already struggling adult children would have to care for themselves, their kids, and their parents. Without Social Security, families would have to make devastating decisions about living arrangements, health care, education, transportation, etc, as they tried to divide resources between the young and the old. Also, reducing future benefits or privatizing Social Security would not be a "shared sacrifice.” As former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers recently wrote in Vanity Fair, "The top 1% of Americans now take home nearly a quarter of all income and control more than 40% of the country's wealth-- roughly the same as the bottom 90%." Not exactly shared sacrifice. Therefore, we must stop Paul Ryan and New Hampshire's Republican Representatives from dismantling this program.

Both of our Republican Representatives have attacked Social Security. One supported the Bush plan. The other said, at a May 2009 rally with Glen Beck's 9/12 group, "…future generations should seek different private sector solutions and have personal responsibility start to lead the way."

Why are Republicans doing this? Is there really a problem with Social Security? Right now, there is actually a surplus. As Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in USA Today on 22/21/11, "...the problem is not with Social Security, but with the rest of the budget. In 2001 and 2003, Washington cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and later expanded Medicare without paying for it. Blaming Social Security for our fiscal woes is like blaming you for not saving enough in your checking account because the bank lost all depositors' money."

Social Security will have problems paying at today's rate in 26 years, but it can be fixed if the Congress would do what Reagan did in 1983-- fix it. First, raise the cap. Right now, people who earn under $106,800 pay tax on every single dollar they earn. People who earn over that do not pay on every dollar, just the first $106,800. This amounts to a hidden tax cut as their income rises. This is not fair. We also need to stop the Social Security tax “holiday” that was enacted last year, which reduced workers' payments 2%. This denies the fund essential resources.

As President Roosevelt said about Social Security in 1941, “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” We need to tell our leaders again-- don't scrap our social security program!

Stimulating the economy to put American victims of the Bush/Wall Street/GOP Recession back to work, while protecting the lives and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens, is clearly what Americans expect from our government. Someday we may figure out what President Obama is thinking. It's not difficult to know just how progressives like Bernie Sanders, Alan Grayson, Raúl Grijalva and Carol Shea-Porter feel about it-- and how strongly they'll stand up against the right-wing onslaught. In the end, of course, it's up to the voters to chose. And in New Hampshire, voters are more than a little shocked to see how the Republicans they have empowered have chosen to proceed, after being-- excuse the phrase-- given the keys to the car.

Yesterday Robert Reich warned his readers to not fall for the Republican lies that have totally infused the corporate media. His point: there's a job crisis and a growth crisis, not a budget crisis.
[T]he best way to get jobs and growth back is for the federal government to spend more right now, not less-- for example, by exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes this year and next, recreating a WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps, creating an infrastructure bank, providing tax incentives for small businesses to hire, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and so on.

...Repeat after me: The federal deficit is not the nation’s biggest problem. The anemic recovery, huge unemployment, falling wages, and declining home prices are bigger problems. We don’t have a budget crisis. We have a jobs and growth crisis.

The GOP has manufactured a budget crisis out of the Republicans’ extortionate demands over raising the debt limit. They have succeeded in hoodwinking the public...

I like the ad below that's running in Iowa this weekend. It could have just as easily run in either of New Hampshire's congressional districts-- or against Sandy Adams in central Florida.

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Of Course The Conservative Consensus Is Completely Wrong


I often go to sleep watching MSNBC. The other night I turned off the TV right after Ed Schultz's show, where he had Bernie Sanders on as a guest. Bernie's the greatest, a national treasure. We need more like him... desperately. The problem with going to sleep right after the Ed Show is that when I wake up, before I can catch myself, I've tuned into MSNBC's insidious Republican propaganda program, Morning Joe.

Yesterday before I had even fully opened my eyes and gotten out of bed, I was being bombarded by deranged Inside the Beltway consensus. Everyone agreed that America went wrong by passing Social Security and that that has led us down the road to ruin, culminating in Medicare, which must be ended or America is doomed. Thanks, MSNBC! And thanks, Democrats, for not even standing up against this well-planned attack on our country by the Austerity Monster.

Jared Bernstein is one of the few economists the Obama Administration hired for a top-level position who isn't a dedicated Wall Street shill and a class enemy of 95% of America. He didn't last long. His blog, On The Economy is worth following. Thursday he found the Beltway debate unbelievable.
–How could it be that we’re a less than a week out from a totally self-inflicted wound to our already frail economy?

–Why are policy makers spending every waking minute on deficit reduction when jobs are the most immediate problem facing the economy?

–How did a relatively small group of far right activists totally highjack the national debate?

According to Greg Sargent (citing E. J. Dionne), more people are beginning to buy the most insidious arguments about immediate fiscal austerity-- large spending cuts that kick in right away-- leading to growth, even in the light of the current slowdown, which is itself driven in part by the fading of fiscal support.

As I noted last night, the UK is a living example of the damage done by premature contraculation, but you don’t have to look abroad to see the problem. The figure shows how much diminished gov’t spending has shaved off of GDP growth in the past six months. No wonder employment is in a stall, driven by job losses in the public sector.

But those are facts. And facts are not winning. Facts, in fact, are getting crushed. One almost feels embarrassed to raise them in this climate, as if you’re impolitely butting your pointy head into the dream world of the Washington policy debate.

A highly subsidized Big Oil industry's second quarter haul is a staggering $35.4 billion profit, but the Conservative Consensus doesn't factor getting them to share the sacrifice as part of a problem worth addressing-- not like abolishing Medicare.

Yesterday I was talking with Ed Potosnak about the Blue America candidates' commitment-- absolute commitment-- to not just preserving but strengthening Medicare, for a healthier and more equitable society. Monday we're planning to release a statement from all the Blue America candidates. Ed mentioned that his mom was "near tears telling me about how important Medicare is to her, and she's not alone. I have heard a similar impassioned pleas to preserve Medicare from seniors and their families across the district." His opponent, wealthy Republican career politician Leonard Lance, has voted several times to gut Medicare. In fact... every Republican has.

We don't need more politicians like Leonard Lance. We need more political leaders like Bernie Sanders. I know I started this post with him on the Ed Show. At the bottom is a speech he gave on the floor of the Senate this week. It's worth-- really worth-- listening to the whole thing. Here's a painful synopsis for video-haters:
The rich are getting richer, and their effective tax rate is the lowest in modern history. Many corporations are enjoying huge profits and, because of outrageous loopholes, pay nothing in taxes. Among many other absurdities, we lose about $100 billion every year from companies and individuals who stash their wealth in tax havens in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other locations.

And yet, the Republicans have been fanatically determined to protect the interests of billionaires and large multi-national corporations so that they do not contribute one penny toward deficit reduction. The Republicans want the entire burden of deficit reduction sacrifice to be placed on the elderly, the sick, children, and working families. That is morally wrong and, in terms of getting us out of this recession, bad economic policy.

Sadly, the Democrats have yielded far, far too much. In December, with the Democrats controlling the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate they extended Bush's tax breaks for the rich and lowered the tax rates on estates for the very rich. In April, they allowed tens of billions of dollars in cuts to vitally important programs for low- and moderate-income Americans.

And now, we find ourselves debating two plans. The Reid plan, which calls for $2.2 trillion in cuts over a 10-year period, includes $900 billion in cuts (which will be determined later by committees) in education, health care, nutrition, affordable housing, child care and many other programs desperately needed by working families. Appropriately, it calls for meaningful cuts in military spending and ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Reid plan does not require the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations to pay one nickel in deficit reduction.

The Reid plan is bad. The Boehner plan is much worse. It calls for large cuts in discretionary spending now and demands that this debt-ceiling discussion be revisited next year-- which is totally absurd and which will likely keep the Congress paralyzed.

Lastly, both plans call for a congressional committee to determine future efforts toward deficit reduction. Based on recent committees-- Bowles-Simpson, the Gang of Six, etc.-- I have little doubt that that new committee will call for major cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and will ask very little of the wealthy and multi-national corporations.

Meanwhile, while all of this is occurring in Washington the American people have consistently stated, in poll after poll, that they want the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes and they want to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. For example, a recent Washington Post poll found that 72 percent of the American people believe that Americans earning over $250,000 a year should pay more in taxes.

Given that reality, is there any reason to wonder why the American people are so angry and frustrated with what's going on in Washington?

If the GOP is determined to wage a fanatic class war against the American people, we need stalwart fighters who won't back down on our side to fight back. You will always find them here.

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Another Look At What Happened In Boehner's Dysfunctional House Yesterday


By now you already know the whole sorry Boehner bill story, which was like a Frankenstein monster that finally passed late Friday, without a single Democratic vote (not even a stray Blue Dog-- not even Dan Boren or Jason Altmire, who, respectively, have voted 83% and 79% with the GOP on crucial issues this year!) and still managing to lose 22 deranged Republican teabaggers. The 22 deranged Republican teabaggers who absolutely insist on a default and financial armageddon, for those keeping track, were:
Justin Amash (Grand Rapids)
Paul Broun (John Birch Society)
Jason Chaffetz (Provo, UT)
Chip Cravaack (Duluth, MN)
Scott DesJarlais (central Tennessee)
Jeff Duncan (Anderson, SC)
Trey Gowdy (Greenville, SC)
Tom Graves (rural north Georgia next to SC)
Tim Huelskamp (rural Kansas)
Jim Jordan (a rapidly changing OH-4, just east of Boehnerville)
Steve King (Council Bluffs, IA)
Tom Latham (Ames, IA)
Connie Mack (Ft. Myers, FL)
Mick Mulvaney (Sumter, SC)
Ron Paul (his own world)
Tim Scott (Charleston, SC)
Steve Southerland (Tallahassee, FL)
Joe Walsh (Deadbeat Dads)
Joe Wilson (Columbia, SC)

How ironic that these madmen passed a bill to, in effect, prevent the federal government from paying bills run up mostly by Republican presidents and with overwhelming support from Republican congressmembers going back to the early 1950s! Obama's press secretary sent out an official statement from the White House:
The bill passed today in the House with exclusively Republican votes would have us face another debt ceiling crisis in just a few months by demanding the Constitution be amended or America defaults. This bill has been declared dead on arrival in the Senate. Now that yet another political exercise is behind us, with time dwindling, leaders need to start working together immediately to reach a compromise that avoids default and lays the basis for balanced deficit reduction.

Senator Reid’s proposal is a basis for that compromise. It not only achieves more deficit reduction than the bill passed in the House today and puts a process in place to achieve even more savings, it also removes the uncertainty surrounding the risk of default. The President urges Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to find common ground on a plan that can get support from both parties in the House-- a plan the President can sign by Tuesday.

I enjoyed what Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had to say after the bill limped to passage:
At a time when our country is on the brink of a catastrophic default, it is reckless and irresponsible to bring a bill to the floor that not only has no chance of becoming law, but would also devastate the working and middle class. This bill would cost an untold number of Americans their jobs, stunt our already fragile recovery, and destroy vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That is why I did not hesitate to vote against this legislation.

The stakes are too high now for us to continue this way. If there were ever a time for Republicans to put aside ideological attacks for the good of the country, now is that time. Never in the history of the United States of America has our nation’s credit been held hostage. If Republicans fail to join us in avoiding default, they will distinguish themselves as a party that has deliberately harmed the American economy because of obstinacy, stubbornness and recklessness.

But for me the highlight of the day came a few minutes before the vote on Boehner's bill, when Kathy Hochul (D-NY) offered a Motion to Recommit for the Democrats which would have directed the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction in the Boehner bill to eliminate subsidies for the five largest oil and gas companies, and corporate jet owners, before gutting education initiatives that create jobs, spur growth and invest in the country's future. Only one Republican, the intrepid and independent Walter Jones (R-NC), had the decency and the nerve to vote for it. It failed in this demented House 183-244. And half a dozen Democrats voted against it, a Texas oil industry water-carrier (Gene Green) and 5 of the most disreputable and reactionary Blue Dogs:
John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)
Dan Boren (Blue Dog-OK)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)

If you want to help Blue America eradicate the scourge of Blue Dogs... we have a page for that. As for the scourge of Republicans... we're working on that too. Although with leaders like Boehner, they may take care of themselves, the way Mike Pence seems to have this week, utterly destroying the teabag-cred he worked so hard to build up for so long.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

You have to give the Far Right credit for knowing how to milk an economic meltdown and a phony baloney "debt crisis"


"America is simply not set up to handle one political party that bases its political organizing on an alternate reality and the raw power of propaganda. The U.S. government, and our public debates, are organized around the idea that there’s some measure of good faith in both parties, some common basis on which to make decisions. 

"I do not think most Republicans realize this is how their party operates -- but the more cynical high-level operatives certainly do."

-- Matt Stoller, in a Politico op-ed, "GOP's 'alternate universe'"

by Ken

It's another nice piece our friend Matt Stoller has written for Politico, neatly tracing the history of the Right's calculated separation from reality. There won't be much there that's unfamiliar to DWT readers, but Matt does a fine job of setting out the grim reality and sounding the alarm for the consequences, and more important, this piece wasn't written for DWT readers. How often are Politico readers confronted with the reality of the Right's now-completed leap off the cliff of reality?

For sure this wasn't what our great democratic visionaries, Jefferson and Madison, had in mind. All of their theorizing assumed an educated electorate, in touch with reality and capable of processing it, as opposed to a nation of patiently bred dimwits being led by the nose by opportunistic predators and thugs. But you have to give those predators and thugs credit -- they've done masterful job of training and manipulating their lost legions.

I trust we don't need -- here, at least -- to reestablish the cynical fraudulence of the "debt crisis." The combination of the economic meltdown has provided the billionaire predators and the ideological crackpots (not that the categories are mutually exclusive) of the Far Right with cover for a transformation of the country into their private creamland.


After the major embarrassment of not being able to get his own crazies to back his crackpot atrocity of a "plan," crazed it up and cracked enough heads to get it past the House. Of course the Senate has already tabled it, and there was never any chance of its becoming law. However, it's now officially the "other side" baseline for any compromise -- for example, against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan, which instead of being an atrocity is merely an abomination. Seriously, flash back a year and imagine how seriously Harry's plan would have been taken, especially if it had been proposed by a Republican.

But flash back another couple of years, and as Ian Welsh reminds us:
Predicted August 2nd 2008

20) A huge push to gut entitlements in 2009, no matter who is president. Even if the US quickly pulls out of Iraq, the deficit will be totally out of control, and hundreds of billions will be needed for bailouts. A rapid consensus will form that rather than increasing taxes significantly on the rich, or slashing expenses like the military R&D and equipment appropriations budget, that the real problem is people retiring at 65, poor people getting Medicaid and old folks who aren’t destitute receiving Medicare.

On January 4th, 2009, I wrote:
I think I got this one wrong, given the consensus forming for a large stimulus (assuming the Republicans don’t kill it). We’ll see, but I’ve tentatively marked it wrong.

Between the president's one-hand-tied-behind-his-back approach to fighting the depression, the Republicans' tireless efforts to keep it going, and the rise of the radical centrists, it simply took an extra election cycle for Ian's scenario to play out.


In terms of selling the "deficit-reduction" package of lies and delusions to the eager-to-be-hoodwinked public, the Right has benefited, as Gene Robinson ventured in his Washington post column "Why progressives need a Big Idea":
Momentum is on [the Republicans'] side, even though they control just one wing of the Capitol -- and even though they advocate measures that most Americans reject.

Conservatives are on a winning streak because they have a Big Idea that serves as an animating, motivating, unifying force. It happens to be a very bad idea, but it’s better than nothing -- which, sadly, is what progressives have.

The simplistic Big Idea that defines today’s Republican Party is that taxes are always too high and government spending is always wasteful. Therefore, both taxes and spending need to be reduced.
Conservatives are on a winning streak because they have a Big Idea that serves as an animating, motivating, unifying force. It happens to be a very bad idea, but it’s better than nothing -- which, sadly, is what progressives have.

The simplistic Big Idea that defines today’s Republican Party is that taxes are always too high and government spending is always wasteful. Therefore, both taxes and spending need to be reduced. . . .

[T]he essence of the far right’s Big Idea fits neatly on a bumper sticker: Cut taxes, cut spending. It’s a simple, powerful message that connects with everyday experience. Who hasn’t encountered an example of government waste and inefficiency? Who enjoys paying taxes?

I can think of no greater threat to our nation’s prospects than the GOP’s policy-by-anecdote crusade against government.
And Gene goes on to list some of the obvious ways in which the U.S. "is falling behind other nations in infrastructure, education and health-care indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy," and on to issues like inequality of income distribution and energy research and planning.

The only problem I have with the column is that when Gene talks about "the progressive response," he doesn't mean what we mean by "progressive," he means Democratic, and goodness knows, the only group that's less progressive than congressional Democrats is congressional Republicans. I find this kind of shocking from Gene Robinson, who should know better. Nobody has worked harder than the president to make sure that progressive voice are never heard; as we know now, he considers true progressives far more dangerous than far-right-wingers.

But then, as people like Ian Welsh have been pointing out since before President Obama took office, the even larger danger than his actual policies, bad as they may be, is the discredit their failure will bring upon the progressive brand, even though there's nothing progressive about them. In fairness, there are an awful lot of people out there using the "progressive" label to market a radical centrist agenda. We've already had the word "liberal" shredded by the propagandists of the Right; faux progressives may have done the same to "progressive" on their own.


When I shoved tonight's "Ring Lardner Tonight" piece ahead to 6pm PT -- on the ground that it was already ready to go, and having gotten home with about 30 seconds to spare to be able to make the switch -- I promised an explanatory note. But you don't want to hear about my day (and why I got home with 30 seconds to spare to make the switch), and I've lost interest in talking about it. You've got troubles of your own.

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Ring Lardner Tonight: "You Know Me Al" II, Part 6 -- "Boston is some town, Al"



I'll explain in a post at 9pm PT why tonight's scheduling has been reversed. -- Ken

Before Boston, the White Sox played a series in Cleveland.

"I got a letter from Hazel in Cleveland and she is comeing to Chi in October for the city serious. She asked me to send her a hundred dollars for her fare and to buy some cloths with. I sent her thirty dollars for the fare and told her she could wait till she got to Chi to buy her cloths."
-- from Jack's letter of September 12 from Boston

by Ken

I've already raised the question whether Jack's invariable first impulse to physical mayhem is real or just something in his mind. What's interesting about the stunt he pulls pitching in relief in Cleveland, not only disobeying an instruction from the manager but in the process almost giving the game away, is that even by the time he writes his account to his friend Al he still has no idea what he did wrong, and he still reports that his first response was . . . well, let him tell it --
Anyway the game was over and I felt pretty good. But Callahan don't appresiate good work Al. He give me a call in the clubhouse and said if I ever disobeyed his orders again he would suspend me without no pay and lick me too. Honest Al it was all I could do to keep from wrapping his jaw but Gleason winks at me not to do nothing.

The stop after Cleveland is Boston, and Jack's first visit turns into a big deal for him, with highlights like going down to the wharf to see them unload the fish. ("They must of been a million of them but I didn't have time to count them.")


YOU KNOW ME AL: Our story to date

John Lardner's Introduction (1958): Part 1 and Part 2
Chapter I: A Busher's Letters Home --
Part 1, Preface and Jack's letters of Sept. 6 and Dec. 14 and 16
Part 2, The busher reaches the bigs -- March 2, 7, 9, and 16
Part 3: Countdown to Opening Day -- March 26 and April 1, 4, 7, and 10
Part 4: The busher makes his big-league debut -- April 11 and 15
Part 5: A major development for Jack -- April 19, 25, and 29
Chapter II: The Busher Comes Back
Part 1, The busher comes back -- May 13 and 20
Part 2, Big news for Al -- July 20
Part 3, A surprise for Jack -- August 16 (plus "The real Charles Comiskey")
Part 4, Back in the bigs -- August 27
Part 5, Big doings in Detroit -- September 6


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Austerity Isn't Very Austere... Except For Regular Middle Class Families


Now that the evidence is flooding in that the "austerity" demanded by the world's financial overlords (and well-endowed, shadowy right-wing front groups) is failing miserably in the U.K., the American ruling families are cracking the whip on their political whores to get the job done here pronto. Well... they don't have to crack the whip on the Republicans-- unless they have a whip that creates competence-- but it takes some finessing to get Democrats to go along with a complete sellout of the New Deal and their party's entire agenda. Can they do it? Well, looks like their heavy investment in Barack Obama's campaign last year, is paying off for them. Of course, Obama can't do it all by his lonesome. The Congressional Progressive Caucus would stop him-- if they weren't overwhelmed by the rise of the Austerity Hawk Democrats. I hope Ari Berman took out a copyright on the phrase. He started with a quote from Wall Street's favorite-- if favorite is expressed in campaign contributions-- non-presidential candidate, Chuck Schumer (D- $18,669,941), who bragged that “Our plan includes more cuts," comparing Harry Reid’s debt plan to Boehner’s.
The fact that Senate Democrats are trying to out-cut the cut-obsessed Republicans pretty much sums up the current political debate in Washington. “Harry Reid’s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes,” Adam Serwer wrote yesterday. “It's the austerity party vs. the austerity party,” blogger Atrios tweeted.

President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a “clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won’t), or that the government’s budget is like a family’s budget (it isn’t), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we’ve all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it “the confidence fairy”).

“For the last few months, I and others have watched, with amazement and horror, the emergence of a consensus in policy circles in favor of immediate fiscal austerity,” Krugman wrote on July 1. “That is, somehow it has become conventional wisdom that now is the time to slash spending, despite the fact that the world’s major economies remain deeply depressed. This conventional wisdom isn’t based on either evidence or careful analysis. Instead, it rests on what we might charitably call sheer speculation, and less charitably call figments of the policy elite’s imagination.”

In the last few weeks, the austerity hawk choir has only gotten louder. President Obama has successfully used the bully pulpit to undermine the case for progressive governance. 

Even after the 2010 election, which supposedly was a referendum on government spending, there was little evidence that the public cared about the deficit and a lot of evidence that they wanted Washington to address the jobs crisis. For example, 56 percent of Americans ranked the economy and jobs as their top priority for the new Congress following the election, while only 4 percent named the deficit.

By a two to one margin, according to a July Quinnipiac poll, Americans still believe that reducing unemployment is more important than cutting the deficit. But they only narrowly believe that reducing unemployment is more important than reducing federal government spending, by a 49 to 43 margin. And the public now says that “major cuts in federal spending” would help, not hurt, the economy, a 15 point reversal from March.

Things might have been different had President Obama made an aggressive and sustained argument that the government still has an important role to play in spurring an economic recovery and creating jobs. Instead, the president sided with the austerity hawks and strengthened the elite Washington consensus.

Throughout the debt ceiling debate, Obama keeps touting how he’s bucking the activists in his own party. It seems as if the president wants to run against the Democratic base in 2012 and position himself as the supposedly sensible centrist candidate. As a result, the president’s approval ratings among liberals are at the lowest point of his presidency.

That “triangulation” strategy worked for Bill Clinton in 1996, although he had the benefit of a rapidly growing economy. My guess is the 2012 election will be much more like 2004 than 1996, when the country is fiercely divided about the incumbent leader, unsure of the opposition, and in a politically restive mood. If that’s the case, Obama will need his base to knock on doors, make phone calls and persuade undecided voters who to vote for. That’s how Bush won in ‘04, by ratcheting up Republican turnout in states like Ohio. The more Obama bucks his supporters-- and keeps ignoring the jobs crisis in favor of deficit hysteria-- the dicier his path to re-election becomes, especially if the economy continues to lag.

But let’s forget about the 2012 election for a moment. Right now, the public is being deprived a real and vital debate about how to solve the economic crisis. Obama is governing like a moderate Republican. Republicans are governing like Grover Norquist. The net effect is that US politics keeps shifting further and further to the right.

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