Monday, January 31, 2011

Neocon Zombies Never Die

Paul Campos at LGM:
Obama invites Elliot Abrams and Robert Kagan to the White House
To discuss what “we” should do about “our” Egypt problem.
The good folks at Commentary are in ecstasy.
These lunatics can never fuck up the world enough to make the denizens of the Beltway stop taking them seriously.

The AP's Mendacious Jihad Against Social Security Continues

Following last week's wildly dishonest editorial-passing-as-a-news-story from the Associated Press, we get this, courtesy of Dean Baker:
A headline of an AP article (featured on Yahoo's website) told readers that: "Social Security posting $600B deficit over 10 years." Actually, the Social Security program is projected to run a surplus in every year of the next decade, adding more than $1.3 trillion to its trust fund, as people with access to the Social Security Trustees Report know.
The story was written by Stephen Olhemacher, who penned last week's op-ed. He's also a repeat offender when it comes to carrying water for the Corporate Right, as I noted over the weekend.

This is simple: the "deficit" described by the AP represents the difference between the tax revenues that will be collected over the next decade and the dollars that will be paid out in benefits over that period.

What they're not including is the interest that will be earned on $2.5 trillion in T-Bills sitting in the Social Security Trust Fund (which came in at 5.1 percent in 2008, and 4.8 percent in 2009). That interest means that the fund will continue to grow for years after current benefit payments exceed current tax receipts -- it's projected to reach $4.2 trillion in a decade.

You've got to be pretty dishonest to omit (or underplay) that in your reporting, but that now appears to be a pattern with Ohlemacher and the AP.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

GOPer: Mubarak's Our Bastard

It was inevitable that those democracy-loving neocons would turn into the most cynical of realists the second democracy-promotion broke out in an allied country led by an authoritarian regime, and they certainly haven't disappointed.

This latest example, via Think Progress, is ... unhelpful, to say the least:
Now, yet another high-profile Republican is disparaging the protest movement and openly siding with Egypt’s dictator. In a statement posted on his website last night, GOP Conference Chair Rep. Thaddeus McCotter wrote that “the Egyptian demonstrations are not the equivalent of Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution” and that “America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform.” He even went as far as to say that “freedom’s radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt” with the demonstrations ...

Worth 1,000 Words

An Arabic-speaking friend translates the text: "From this day there is no government -- I am the government."

Update: And yet another Arabic-speaker tells me that based on the comments left at the site that originally posted the pic, this may not have been taken in Egypt. Oh well -- it's a good picture either way.

HT: Ali Gharib via email.

Finally, a Judge Promises an Independent Investigation into the Crimes of 9/11

Yes, I tricked you into reading about Latin America:
SANTIAGO, Chile - Chilean judicial officials vowed Thursday to investigate the death of President Salvador Allende for the first time, 37 years after the socialist leader was found shot through the head with a machine-gun during a withering attack on the presidential palace.
Allende died during the Sept. 11, 1973, coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who governed as a dictator until March 11, 1990, and died in 2006. Authorities have never before opened a criminal probe of Allende's death, which many believe to have been a suicide.

AP's Wildly Dishonest "Report" on Social Security Was Penned by a Repeat Offender

Here's Monica Potts over at Tapped:
Associate Press reporter Stephen Ohlemacher has a dour piece about Social Security. I'll leave it to AlterNet's Joshua Holland to describe what's wrong with the piece, but I just wanted to point out that Ohlemacher is the same reporter who wrote an awful piece in April about how so many Americans don'tpay taxes. That piece was so problematic because, though it asserted that a two-child family with a mortgage making less than the median income was unlikely to pay any taxes, it ignored the fact that a great deal of that came from temporary tax breaks that were part of the stimulus. At the time, I didn't think there was a particular bias Ohlemacher had, just a bias as to who he talks to.
Update: I realize now that I wrote about that awful report as well.

Wake Me Up When the Next Civil War Begins

The pace at which the Tea Parties' armchair Constitutional scholars are introducing blatantly un-Constitutional legislation is quite impressive.

Here's Ian Millhiser over at Think Progress with a run-down of what should be called Virginia's 'We Never Fought a Civil War Over This Crap Act':
In response to the landmark Affordable Care Act, numerous right-wing state lawmakers have introduced unconstitutional bills attempting to nullify this federal law. Earlier this week, however, the Virginia House of Delegates went even further, passing a sweeping nullification bill that directly conflicts with numerous Supreme Court decisions:

U.S. Has Greater Inequality than Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen

That's according to a post over at Naked Capitalism (which you should book-mark or add to your RSS feed if you haven't already):
Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni protesters all say that inequality is one of the main reasons they’re protesting.
However, the U.S. actually has much greater inequality than in any of those countries.
Specifically, the “Gini Coefficient” – the figure economists use to measure inequality – is higher in the U.S.

Gini Coefficients are like golf – the lower the score, the better (i.e. the more equality).
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45.
In contrast:
  • Tunisia is ranked the 62nd most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of 40.
  • Yemen is ranked 76th most unequal, with a Gini Coefficient of 37.7.
  • And Egypt is ranked as the 90th most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of around 34.4.

Note to Sarah Palin: Your Miraculous Free-Market Donuts Wouldn't Exist Without Public Dollars

Here's Benen, with the recap of Palin's 'WTF' moment:
You know what we need is 'a spudnut moment.' And here's where I'm going with this, Greta.... Well, the spudnut shop in Richland, Washington -- it's a bakery, it's a little coffee shop that's so successful, 60-some years, generation to generation, a family-owned business not looking for government to bail them out and to make their decisions for them. It's just hard-working, patriotic Americans in this shop.
"We need more spudnut moments in America. And I wish that President Obama would understand, in that heartland of America, what it is that really results in the solutions that we need to get this economy back on the right track. It's a shop like that.
And here comes reality to mug the Alaska Quitbull, courtesy of one of Digby's readers:
Palin's quirky invocation of the "Spudnut Shop" here in Richland Washington as an example of American "can-doism" is far more ironic than you and most of your readers likely realize. 
The fact is, the town of Richland was literally built by the federal government as a part of the Manhattan Project. All of the houses that surround the Spudnut shop were built by the Army. To this day, the only employer in Richland of any consequence is the Department of Energy and the contractors that work on DoE contracts at the Hanford site, just north of Richland. As a result, virtually all of the Spudnut shop's customers are paid by tax dollars. Those that aren't are retirees, drawing government pensions and social security. 
Were it not for government spending, the Spudnut shop would be bankrupt in a week.
And one of Andrew Sullivan's readers weighs in as well:
The Spudnut shop Palin speaks of is half a mile from my house in Richland, WA and it's really good (the secret is potato flour in the batter). She may not realize that the federal government buys most of those doughnuts: the annual budget for cleanup of the nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation is more than $2 billion, employing about 11,000 workers, and spudnuts are the pastry of choice at meetings there.
Yes, those public sector workers getting laid off left and right buy donuts, as well as other goods and services that keep private firms like Spudnuts in potato flour.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Wingnut Constitutional Scholar Screws the Pooch

As I argue over at AlterNet today, "Conservatives have come to use the Constitution as a crutch, avoiding debates on the merits of various proposals by asserting, with a broad wave of the hand, that whatever the policy in question may be, it's all illegitimate."

Here's a fine example, courtesy of Think Progress:
In an interview with Streetsblog Capitol Hill, one radical conservative has declared yet another common public good to be unconstitutional: bike paths. In an interview about federal transporation issues, Streetsblog asked Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) about supporting legislation that would support things like bike trails. Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the transportation committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because you have us mandating bike paths, you don’t want either.”
And the punchline:
STREETSBLOG: But you’re OK with mandating highways?
HUNTER: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.
No, I don't even have a clue what he's talking about, but that's OK because the Constitution!

Charles Krauthammer's Wacky Small Government Delusions

The Hammer sums up the prevailing-but-utterly-false conventional wisdom of the Right:
The November election sent a clear message to Washington: less government, less debt, less spending.
A tip of the hat to Steve Benen, who provided this reality-check with a bit of help from the folks at Gallup:
Last week, Gallup asked respondents to say whether they "favor or oppose cutting government spending" in a variety of areas. A majority opposed cuts to everything -- literally, everything -- except foreign aid. A 52% majority even opposed cuts to funding for the arts. A whopping 67% opposes cuts to education -- which happens to be one of the main targets for congressional Republicans.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, 58 percent of eligible voters simply sat out the mid-terms entirely. So "the message" most voters sent is that they didn't trust the two major parties to solve any of the problems facing the nation, which is quite perceptive of them.

And that "mandate" that Krauthammer and his brethren take as a given is based on the votes of 21.6 percent of the eligible population who went for the GOP in 2010. Contrast that with 18.6 percent of those eligible to vote who "sent a message to Washington" favoring the Dems.

So, among the 41.6 percent who got off their butts and went to the polls, the GOP's spread was 3 percentage points: 21.6 to 18.6 percent.

New Column on the Republicans' Unpopular Health Care Mandate

I have a piece over at AlterNet looking at the health-care mandate.
That Republicans are relentlessly attacking the constitutionality of what had long been one of their signature ideas for reforming the health-care system -- the individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty – is a testament to just how far down the rabbit-hole our discourse has gone.
Check it out here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oops, That Was Fast

In the wake of Cablegate, the United States government has drafted a memo detailing strategies to prevent information from being leaked.

I know this, because the memo has been leaked.

HT: Barton Gellman via Twitter.

The Associated Press Packs a Bunch of Lies About Social Security into a News Report

The insidious ways that conservative narratives bleed into our mainstream economic discourse as objective truths is a dominant theme in my book, and this story by the Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher -- ostensibly a piece of reporting rather than opinion -- is one of the most egregious examples I've encountered.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Asian-American Pol Criticizes Limbaugh's Racism, Gets Rewarded with Racist Death Threat

Look, there's nothing wrong with right-wing maniacs spewing hyperbole about how liberals are a cancer eating away at the body politique from within, and it's downright uncivil for you to suggest otherwise.

Oppressive, even.

SF Examiner:

An apparent Rush Limbaugh fan faxed death threats to state Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday morning, according to the senator’s spokesman.
The threats to the San Francisco Democrat came more than a week after Yee asked Limbaugh for an apology for “mocking the Chinese language” and the country’s president on his popular conservative talk radio program, spokesman Adam Keigwin said.
Here, via sfist, is the sweet little note he received, in all it's glory:

Consider, too, just how stupid one has to be to fax a fucking death threat to a politician.

Kucinich Sues Over Brutal Attack by Errant Olive Pit

I love Dennis as much as the next guy, but readily concede that he is a bit of an odd duck.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich bought a sandwich from the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria in April 2008, and bit into it only to find an unpitted olive that cracked a tooth. This month, he sued the cafeteria for selling "dangerous" sandwiches.The complaint is pretty bare-boned: It claims that in April 2008, Kucinich purchased a "sandwich wrap" from the Longworth Cafeteria with an errant olive pit lurking within, and tragedy ensued.

Dennis Kucinich Sues Congressional Cafeteria Over Olive Pit

.... He's suing Restaurant Associates and three other companies involved in running and supplying the cafeteria for $150,000, claiming negligence and breach of implied warranty.

Americans (Including Some Who Might Surprise You) Are Losing Faith in All Major Institutions

At first blush, this seems like one of those opinion polls quantifying the obvious, but it's actually more interesting than getting confirmation of what we already knew.
Americans have grown less trusting of business in the past year, bucking a global trend of rising confidence in companies, governments and other institutions, according to data to be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Home Prices Are Dropping Again as the Markets Head Toward a Devastating "Double-Dip"

I have a quick column at AlterNet today looking at the state of the housing market. Short version: not good.

A taste:
According to analysts, the housing markets have taken a downward turn after rebounding during the first months of 2009. Home prices took a sharp hit in November, and have now declined for 4 straight months.

The American housing market now appears to be heading towards a painful “double dip.”The Case-Shiller index of housing values in 20 metropolitan areas -- the highly respected index that predicted the collapse of the housing bubble years before it crashed -- now stands just 3 percent higher than the trough set in April of 2009, and according to Standard and Poor's, the data suggest that “a double-dip could be confirmed before Spring.” It's already here for many cities.
Read the whole thing here.

We Face a Deep Crisis but the Word "Foreclosure" Didn't Appear in Obama's State of the Union Address

The word "foreclosure" -- and other words related to the housing crisis -- appeared neither in the president's speech, nor in the responses offered up by the GOP and the Very Silly Party (which you can read here).

Of course, pundits griping about how little attention was paid to their favorite issues during the annual SOTU pageant has long been a dull sport. This isn't like that. I'm not complaining about the president saying the wrong things about some domestic policy or ignoring the plight of the people of Tajikistan or wherever.

Friday, January 21, 2011

JP Morgan Profits When Americans Go on Food Stamps, but it Sends the Work to India

Michael at The Economic Collapse:
JP Morgan is the largest processor of food stamp benefits in the United States. JP Morgan has contracted to provide food stamp debit cards in 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. JP Morgan is paid for each case that it handles, so that means that the more Americans that go on food stamps, the more profits JP Morgan makes.
He cites ABC News:

JP Morgan is the only one today still operating public-assistance call centers overseas. The company refused to say which states had calls routed to India and which ones had calls stay domestically.

So they wrecked the economy, which sent poverty, joblessness and pain skyrocketing.

Now they get these tax dollars to service the destitute -- in addition to the hundreds of billions in free and easy money (and guarantees) that we threw at them with the bailouts.

And now they're taking that money and spending it on foreign labor.

But, of course, they also spent plenty on lobbying -- the lobbying that got them the deregulation that allowed them to wreck the economy in the first place, as well as those sweet bailouts and the trade agreements that facilitated offshoring jobs serving America's poor.

Got all that?

David Brooks Rewrites History to Claim Joe Lieberman Saved Clinton from Impeachment

It wasn't long ago that Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex, but David Brooks, the New York Times' cuddly Upper East Side-appropriate Neocon, offered this bizarre defense of Joe Lieberman:

Long before there was an Obamacare debate or the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, Lieberman played an important role in saving Bill Clinton from impeachment. As momentum for impeachment was growing, Lieberman gave a crucial speech on the Senate floor that scolded Clinton for his behavior but resolutely opposed removing him from office.

I know opinion columns aren't fact-checked, but Clinton's impeachment was just 12 short years ago. Surely someone at the New York Times recalls those heady days, no?

Even more ridiculous was the response of the Times' public editor to DougJ, who called the paper on its revisionism:

President Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives, but not in the Senate, where Mr. Lieberman represents the State of Connecticut.

I hope this helps your understanding.

The House impeaches a president, and the Senate tries him (or someday her). That's how it works. The Senate tried Clinton and found him not guilty on February 12, 1999.

Lieberman, whose speech regurgitated every right-wing talking-point on the scandal, didn't "save" Clinton -- he was one of more than 50 senators who voted against convicting the president, and that's it.

Will the Tea Party Congress's Hypocrisy Spark More Anti-Government Violence?

The Tea Partiers' energy swept some of the dimmest ideologues into power, and now they're set up for a crushing letdown as those legislators confront reality and end up reneging on their murkily defined promise to "take our country back."

The next two years will prove eye-opening to the Tea Partiers for a very simple reason: the government doesn't actually spend our tax dollars on what their leaders have told them it does. Only a tiny fraction of the budget is dedicated to foreign aid or assistance for the "underserving" poor. Not only is a lot of "pork" popular -- local projects of various stripes -- but earmarks make up a tiny fraction of the budget. And after several decades of privatization, there's just not a lot of fat to be cut from discretionary spending programs -- hell, non-security discretion spending only makes up around 15 percent or so of the total.

So there won't be $2.5 trillion in budget cuts forthcoming, and if there were it'd be taken out of Social Security benefits and the like -- and 74 percent of Tea Partiers oppose benefit cuts to reduce the deficit (cuts are for thee, not for me!). All they're going to end up getting are minor cuts that piss off liberals -- National Endowment for the Arts, NPR, that kind of thing. And even those modest cuts probably won't get past the Senate.

Add in the inevitable corruption that seems especially prevalent among people who believe government is the problem, and these Tea Party folks are going to be even more disgruntled than they already are.

Now, I enjoy indulging in a bit of Schadenfreude as much as the next guy as Republican leaders twist themselves up in knots when faced with the question of exactly what programs they want to cut. But we should keep in mind that a lot of very passionate right-wingers -- many heavily armed and deeply infused with anti-Government rhetoric -- are no longer going to feel that they have a vehicle for political participation in the Tea Parties.

And that, I fear, may lead to more violence.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Man Wanted for Alleged Rape of Underage Girl Flees to Iraq, Works as a Contractor on Your Tax Dollars

Adam Weinstein at MoJo:

The excellent contracting watchdog, Ms. Sparky, drew my attention to this developing story: A Norfolk, Virginia, man was arrested on a military base in Iraq and brought back to the States in police custody this weekend for allegedly raping a "juvenile female," then hiding out in the Middle Eastern nation as a contractor for the US government.

For seven years.

Norfolk police say Daniel Phillips, 46, was wanted in connection for the rape of an underage girl in 2004 and 2005, but when warrants were issued for his arrest, he secured employment as a military contractor in a computer-related position and left for Iraq...

Read the rest at Mother Jones

The Word "Rhetoric" Doesn't Mean What the Pundits Think It Means

As SEK points out over at Lawyers Guns and Money, it's noteworthy that our punditocracy can spend a week blathering about "violent rhetoric" without defining the term -- indeed, while torturing the definition.

"Rhetoric," contrary to popular belief, does not mean "the words one chooses to use to make a point."

SEK teaches rhetoric, so here's the scoop from a pro:

For [messages] to be rhetorical, as per Aristotle in On Rhetoric, they would need to be intended to persuade. Moreover, they would need to be intended to persuade a particular audience to undertake a particular action. This is the rhetorical triangle:

Note the interconnectedness of the speaker and audience. The general problem with discussing rhetoric in the current media environment is that the particularity of the audience is absent. Anyone can read or watch or listen to anything without regard for their relation to the intended audience and without reference to the action whose commission the rhetor intends...

Pointing out that Keith Olbermann associated Fox News with terrorist organizations foreign and domestic does nothing of the sort because the audience and intended effect of his statements is unclear. How unclear?

If we posit his intended audience is liberals and leftists who believe President Obama is a centrist—which strikes me as a fairly accurate assessment—then we need to ask what the intended effect on that particular audience of associating Fox News with al-Qaeda would be. Keeping in mind that we are currently at war with al-Qaeda, are we to believe that Olbermann is encouraging liberals and leftists to join a military-like organization and wage an Afghanistan-type offensive against Fox News? Given that his audience is composed of people who are, generally speaking, opposed to war, does that make any sense? Or is it more likely that he is simply attempting to create an association of like-with-like in which the likeness is supremely unflattering?

SEK goes on to discuss Sarah Palin's now-infamous target map:

Here the intended audience is those who believe President Obama is a radical leftist and associates itself with the center-right. Unlike the audience of liberals and leftists... this audience is more hawkish and more likely to support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment.

I would contend that this is an example of “violent rhetoric” not because it contains crosshairs aimed at “the candidates” who represent “the problem” in need of “solution,” and despite the fact that talking about “solving” human beings has a rather untoward history, but because its violence is a product of whose imaginations are being stoked and how it is being done.

The intended effect of this image is not to encourage the assassination of candidates; however, the pathetic appeal being made to this particular audience is certainly intended to stoke their imaginations in ways related to their ideological belief in an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Certainly, this is of no consequence to partisan shouters, but it's nice to at least get our terminology straight.

Friday, January 7, 2011

GOP Has No Mandate on Health-Care Repeal, Taxes, Spending or Anything Else

Despite the fact that it was entirely predictable -- one has had plenty of time to prepare oneself for the sanctimony -- the triumphalism coming from the newly ascendant GOP leadership is still stunningly annoying. You can't swing a dead donkey these days without hitting some Tea Partier newcomer to DC saying that the "American people have spoken," or that "the people sent a clear message that they want to do away with Obama-care."

But here's a memo from the real world: according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations*, 21.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for the GOP in 2010. Yes, a bit more than a fifth. Contrast that with 18.6 percent of those eligible to vote who "sent a message to Washington" favoring the Dems.

So, among the 41.6 percent who got off their butts and went to the polls, the GOP's spread was 3 percentage points: 21.6 to 18.6 percent.

For reference, Obama won with the support of 32.6 percent of eligible voters in 2008.

Another 1.5 percent cast votes for various third-party and independent candidates, "sending the message" that they didn't think much of either parties. If you add in the 58 percent who just stayed home, then you have the biggest group of Americans by far -- those who didn't think their vote would make a difference either way (that's the most commonly cited reason for not voting).

That tracks with the latest Gallup party ID numbers. Contrary to those in the GOP who boast of having won some sweeping mandate, fewer Americans identify themselves as Republicans than as Democrats today. But the Dems don't have cause to celebrate -- identification with their party is at its lowest point in 22 years and the greatest number of eligible voters say that they're independents (even though most of them aren't really that independent).

But what about those "divisive" health-care reforms? "Today we are taking the first step in fulfilling a key promise to the American people," said Rep. David Dreier, R-California, as he introduced the bill to repeal. Well, Gallup tells us that 54 percent of the American people aren't down with the GOP's "solution" -- pulling the plug on the new law. 46 percent favor it, 40 percent oppose it and 14 percent are flummoxed by the whole issue and don't know what to say.

But that misses a key part of the story about public opinion and health-care reform. Just a week earlier, a CNN/ Opinion Dynamics poll asked a slightly different question -- whether respondents "favored" or "opposed" the law. They got somewhat similar numbers: 50 percent opposed; 43 percent in favor and 7 percent undecided. But here's the really key point: among those who opposed the reforms, a significant number didn't like them because they weren't liberal enough.

Favor 43%

Oppose, too liberal 37%

Oppose, not liberal enough 13%

This is really important to keep in mind when conservatives start blathering on about the "will of the people" -- a majority either favor the Dems' health-care reforms or oppose them because they're too friendly to the insurance companies, leave millions without coverage and don't do enough to get costs under control. That's anything but a mandate for the GOP.

* I used this projected turnout estimate, along with these exit polls to get the 2010 figures. Obviously, not all the votes have been counted yet. Here are the turnout numbers and the exit polls I used for 2008.

Missouri Republican: Street Signs, DMV Tests Should Be In English Because People Hate Spanish

The GOP's vaunted minority outreach efforts are continuing apace in the new Congress.


Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley wants to end multilingual DMV tests, and state Rep. John Cauthorn agrees: "The average guy on the street hates Spanish, and it is everywhere."

According to Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily-Tribune Tilley (R-Perryville) said this week that he wants the state to require anyone testing for a Missouri driver's license to pass the test in English. He explained: "How many times do you drive down the road and see the signs in other forms than English? I have been all around the state, and people think it is a common-sense issue and that we should institute it, and we are elected by the people to be their voice, and that is what we intend to do."

¡Ay, caramba! These folks are some serious bigots. Entertainingly, Cauthorn represents Mexico, Missouri.

On a serious note, the English-only crowd proves definitively that hard-liners' claim that they're all fine and good with legal immigration and only have a problem with those who break the law is a big, fat lie. Studies have shown that the group that avails itself of government forms in foreign languages more than any other are older, first-generation legalpermanent residents -- these English-only provisions' primary effect is to inconvenience grandmas and grandpas who ae naturalized citizens or hold valid green cards.

It's also worth pointing out that the comprehensive immigration reform proposals shot down by people like John Cauthorn all required proficiency in English as a pre-requisite for legalization. But they demagogued those proposals as "amnesty," thereby working to maintain a pool of over ten million unauthorized immigrants.

Back to the Future: Obama Taps the "MVP" of Bill Clinton's Economic Team

Obama has appointed Gene Sperling, whom Bill Clinton called the "MVP" of his economic team, to head the National Economic Council. The news should bring no joy to the hearts of progressives.

The appointment has drawn some controversy because Sperling was paid almost a million dollars working part-time for Goldman Sachs -- he becomes yet another in a long line of advisors with cozy ties to Wall Street.

But I have to concur with Dean Baker's view that while that certainly looks bad, it's not the primary reason to look at the appointment with skepticism. Baker:

The primary issue is that Sperling thought, and may still think, that the policies that laid the basis for the economic collapse were just fine.

Sperling saw nothing wrong with the stock market bubble that laid the basis for the 2001 recession. The economy did not begin to create jobs again until two and a half years after the beginning of this recession and even then it was only due to the growth of the housing bubble. Gene Sperling also saw nothing wrong with the growth of that bubble. Gene Sperling also saw nothing wrong with the financial deregulation of the Clinton years which, by the way, helped make Goldman Sachs lots of money. And, he saw nothing wrong with the over-valued dollar which gave the United States an enormous trade deficit. This trade deficit undermined the bargaining power of manufacturing workers and helped to redistribute income upward.

In short, Sperling has a horrible track record of supporting policies that were bad for the country and good for Wall Street.

To be fair, I think it's important to acknowledge that Clinton did a number of good things with Sperling's advice. In a 2006 review of Sperling's book, The Pro-Growth Progressive, I noted that "Clinton oversaw an eight-year respite from the [long] assault on working families' wages."

Between 1979 and 1993, the top 20 percent of earners saw their incomes increase by 28.4 percent, while the bottom fifth of the income spread saw theirs drop by 13 percent. But under Clinton, "Those in the bottom fifth saw the largest income growth of 22.5 percent." African Americans enjoyed the highest income growth at 33 percent. By the late 1990s, poverty among blacks and Hispanics was at its lowest point in the history of the republic.

Having said that, I also found that "all of the ideas in The Pro-Growth Progressive are confined by Sperling's uncritical belief in the fundamental soundness of America's socio-economic arrangements, a belief that had [me] hurling the book against the wall."

It started with his title -- are we to believe that there are progressives who are instinctively anti-growth? -- and continued as a through narrative to the end of the book.

There's a fundamental disconnect between Sperling's reality and the reality most Americans live. "The Democratic Party should disband," he writes, "if it ever stops being the party that stands by the little guy, leads the fight against racial and economic disadvantage, sticks by working families when times are tough and takes on those with privilege who don't play by the rules." He doesn't grasp that the Democratic Party has evolved to become a party that, at best, can claim to be slightly less beholden to the corporatocracy than the Republicans.

Sperling has accepted most of the prevailing wisdom inculcated in us by the Chamber of Commerce. He believes the New Economy is a natural phenomenon, he talks about the "inevitability of change" while ignoring the fact that the changes we've seen in the American economy have been shaped by a small number of stakeholders. His test of sound policy is the "most pro-growth alternative" test, which "requires examining how progressive policies can be achieved at every step while maximizing economic growth and minimizing negative unintended consequences for the very workers, employers and investors our policies are designed to empower."

The narrative is: What's good for employers and investors is good for workers. But while one group has been all-too-empowered in the New Economy, the other has been widely disempowered. Nowhere in the book are the words "union-busting." For Sperling, job outsourcing comes from a "management that is facing painful competitive solutions," but he doesn't mention that some of the companies shedding the most jobs do so while posting record profits.

You can read he whole thing here -- the book provided a revealing look at the ideology of a key member of Obama's newly reconfigured team.

Wingnut Steve King "Dethroned" from Immigration Subcommittee

According to The Hill, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, will not continue to serve as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration panel, as was widely anticipated. Instead, Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, announced that California Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) would head the Immigration and Enforcement panel.

Gallegly is a hard-liner just like King, but without the outlandish rhetoric that has made the latter one of the House's premier wingnuts, vying with the likes of Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.

The move to replace King as subcommittee chair came as a surprise. It's indicative of the tough corner into which the GOP has painted itself with its rank demagoguery of immigrants. The tea-bagger caucus has to juggle the desires of its activist base -- which takes a much harder line than Republican voters as a whole, never mind the broader electorate -- against the reality that Latinos and Asian-Americans are the fastest growing voting blocks in the United States, and will be for the foreseeable future.

But Frank Sharry, director of America's Voice, an immigration reform group, said in a statement that despite the optics, "the choice actually reveals that the new Republican majority in the House is still bent on pursuing a costly and ineffective mass-deportation approach to immigration policy."

Steve King was dethroned because even the House Republican leadership must realize that comparing immigrants to livestock and suggesting we keep them out with an electric fence is offensive to Latino voters. But, he's simply been demoted from king to prince, and together, with Lamar Smith and Elton Gallegly, will lead the deportation caucus in the House. Until the Republican Party actually changes position on immigration, their ugly faces will still define them.

Cross-posted from the day-job.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The War on Coffee ... er, Terror

NPR (HT to Liliana Segura):

A pilot's spilled coffee accidentally triggered a hijacking alert and caused a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany, to make an unscheduled stop in Canada.

A Transport Canada report said United Flight 940 was diverted to Toronto late Monday and landed safely at Pearson International Airport. The coffee spill caused distress signals to go out, including code 7500, which means hijacking or unlawful interference.

The report said Canada's defense department was notified, but that with the help of United dispatch staff the flight crew confirmed it to be a communication issue and not a hijacking.

The report on Transport Canada's website said the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration reported that United's corporate office had indicated that the pilot "had inadvertently squawked a 7500 code after spilling coffee on the aircraft's radio equipment, which interfered with the communications equipment.''

"The flight crew had advised that they had communication problems and subsequently reported that they had some navigation problems as well and from there the pilot in the command diverted the flight onto Toronto,'' Maryse Durette, a Transport Canada spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that one of three cockpit crew members caused the mishap by spilling a drink.

"It was a beverage. During light turbulence one of the crew members beverages spilled which then caused issues with the airplanes communications equipment,'' Johnson said.

Like any Good American, this makes me feel safe. I am nonetheless glad that they didn't shoot the fucker down.