Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jack Kelly decides which laws *he* cares about ...

Today Jack Kelly calls the President a lawbreaker. Well, anyone reading my posts knows I have been referencing Glenn Greenwald so in some sense I agree with Kelly. But Kelly starts his column suggesting that Obama is the biggest lawbreaker since Richard Nixon, and that's where I immediately diverge with Kelly. We had a President immediately before this one whose advisers invoked the concept of the "Unitary Executive", virtually making the President a king.

Now, Greenwald might agree in general with Kelly, although I suspect he would scoff at Kelly's details. Apparently all Presidents generally consider the War Powers act to be unconstitutional in its details. Never the less, I suspect most Americans now, having suffered through ten years of Middle Eastern war, feel that maybe it is time to invoke the War Powers act and rein in those wars. So it is a complicated issue, but most everyone would have to agree that President Obama has violated the letter of the law in US action in Libya.

Past that, Kelly starts picking and choosing his attacks on Obama, complaining that Obama is issuing illegal instructions to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency not to aggressively pursue college students or immigrants with relatives in the military. Also Kelly complains about civil rights enforcement issues, the General Motors bailout, whatever moratorium on offshore drilling may or may not actually exist or had existed and finally waivers granted for the healthcare legislation. Now, I am not a lawyer and am not so familiar with these situations that I can say categorically that these are or are not a case of a law being broken. I will say I think Kelly is blowing smoke up our collective ... um, behinds.

What Kelly doesn't say about Obama is Obama's continuation of Bush's domestic surveillance programs and the Obama Justice Department's strong attacks on whistle blowers. I assume that's because Kelly is not willing to complain about these things because doing so would also indict Bush. You know, healthcare waivers could be important, but I think people get really upset if they think the government is spying on them 24/7, or that if they see a (financial) crime and report it, that they might end up going to jail instead of the boss or co-worker that committed the crime.

It seems to me like a lot of Presidents skirt the edge of the laws on various issues. Obama has done his share of this, and they may hurt him politically (along with other things like his seeming willingness to compromise/cooperate with Republicans), but I think comparing Obama to Nixon ignores the other elephant in the room, George W Bush. Interesting who Kelly chooses to ignore.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Palin as victim ...

I am not much of a fan of conspiracy theories. I mean, I acknowledge the things that are, like that Congressional rooming house run by a conservative christian group (mentioned on 2PJ) and this "The American Legislative Exchange Council" (also mentioned on 2PJ). But I don't see these things as larger or more organized than they are.

I do not think that Jack Kelly says that there is a vast left wing conspiracy against Sarah Palin. However, I can't help but think that Kelly wouldn't mind if you connected dots and drew that conclusion. Translation: Jack Kelly hopes you are stupid.

Meanwhile, Kelly treats the notion that Palin was a reformer (of sorts) who took on members of her own party and oil companies as news to us (because of the recent release of Palin emails from her term as governor). I remember reading about these things back in 2008 when she was chosen as John McCain's running mate. I also remember reading she made some clumsy moves in her various jobs in Alaskan government, things like inquiring about possibly removing books from the Wasilla library and conducting investigations not only into other Republicans but also into subordinates (when she didn't simply fire subordinates). Sarah Palin was largely a popular governor, she was capable enough to take a state that has incredible advantages and do a decent job as governor.

At the same time, it was Sarah Palin who did the Katie Couric interview. Now, I will admit, I am not sure how it would have played if Palin has said she reads very few national magazines and newspapers (although if she had said she is very busy as the governor of Alaska, people (independents) might understood and forgiven her that). But Palin chose to tough out the interview, and ended up pretty obviously painting herself into a corner. Palin was the one who resigned the governorship (with an incoherent speech), and has made all the comments and tweets. In point of fact, Palin's mis-statements might well serve a purpose, fitting into the Tea Party anti-intellectual theme (as expressed in their declaration of whatever). Interestingly, Kelly plays it cleverly, describing Palin as damaged by the negative press. He suggests that it will come out (because of these emails) that Palin is so much more competent than she is made out to be, and that her "adversaries in journalism" will be shown to be partisan. Kelly casts Palin as the underdog, in fact explicitly bringing up Reagan at the end of his column. Thus if Palin does not get the nomination or chooses not to run, the media can be blamed for it. But if she wins, it will be another case of the superiority of conservatism.

It doesn't hurt that Palin was the original darling of the Tea Party.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

There are irony and lies, if you look for them ...

There's irony in the world if you look for it. I happened to "like" something on Facebook called The Urban Commuter. They mentioned that tomorrow is national "Dump the Pump Day", an attempt to make a statement about how we waste gas in commuting by car (save us some money and save the country some oil). Meanwhile, even as we are trying to wean ourselves from our cars (a bit), Maureen Dowd has an opinion column on how Saudi women are trying to achieve some small increase in their rights. Among other things, she mentioned that Saudi women are being encouraged to participate in a national "drive in" on Friday. We are stepping out of our cars as Saudi would like to step in. Well, I guess they have enough oil to run the things.

I have to say I think that there are counter arguments to make when liberals (unfavorably) compare American health care to that of other industrial nations (Europe/Japan/Canada/Australia/New Zealand and probably some others). Maybe a case can be made that other countries government run health care con only exist if there is a US for profit health care system to handle their most expensive cases. Maybe. But you can't reasonably just ignore the existence of the health care systems of these other countries, and the fact their public health stats and costs are better than ours.

Unless you are a Republican named Paul Ryan. (To be fair, I suspect all Republicans and even at least a few Democrats would cheerfully ignore other countries health care successes). (I came by this thing via Paul Krugman's NYTimes blog)

I still think about the conservative commenter on 2PJ's who complained that liberals/progressives are not serious, and conservatives can not have a discussion with them. Apparently it works the other way as well.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Adult conversation? ... Not quite convinced

So this weeks' Jack Kelly column seems like he might be trying for an adult conversation. However, just like Tim Pawlenty's economic proposal (really just like it), Kelly's version of an adult conversation requires you to be half asleep.

Kelly starts his column by noting and then attacking a recent Obama speech in Toledo about the state of the auto industry. Kelly delights in the fact that the Washington Post "fact checker" found what he considered to be various inaccuracies in Obama's speech. I would suggest they might be closer to caveats, in any case I would suggest you read the piece for yourself, including the linked White House response. In any event, Republicans (or in Kelly's case, a conservative pundit) coming back to talking about unemployment is at best ironic. The Republicans made great noise about unemployment last summer leading into the midterms, and then abruptly stopped talking about it. I am aware of no bills coming out of the (Republican controlled) House of Representatives that address unemployment, unless you count Paul Ryan's fantasy budget (I wouldn't). Late in his column Kelly mentions an unnamed "corporate CEO" who tells Yale Law professor Stephen Carter (sitting next to him on a flight) that demand for his company's products is up, but the CEO will not hire new people, because he doesn't know what they will cost in some indeterminate future. This should be a huge red flag. First of all, CEO's have lost a lot of credibility in employment matters since their average salaries have ballooned so much compared to what ordinary workers make. Second, any intelligent observer of current American politics knows that with the House currently in the hands of the Republicans, there are not going to be any new radically strong government regulations of business; any uncertainty on the part of business is just posturing. Which leads me to my final point, business (in the form of the Chamber of Commerce person on "ABC's This Week" last Sunday) has taken up the Republican's talking points, essentially removing any credibility they might have had. Business is indeed refusing to hire people, forcing their current employees to work that much harder to keep up with rising demand and pushing profits for a number of industries to higher levels. To me, this is the Republican version of patriotism.

But to me what is worse than Kelly's essentially encouraging business to sabotage the economy is Kelly's discussion of taxes and tax rates. Kelly sort of barely broaches the idea of raising taxes to address our deficit and debt before pivoting to attack new business regulation (which I will come back to), I guess to establish his "adult" status and that conservatives are far more willing to compromise than those evil Democrats. But even before that, he responds to an Obama statement that current taxes are lower than they were in the Reagan administration. Kelly goes into detail about how by the time Reagan left office, there were only two tax brackets, 15% for incomes up to $17,850 and 28% for incomes above that. Since Kelly rarely goes into detail in any matter (most Republican proposals can't stand too much scrutiny), I suspect his departure from his usual form is no accident, especially since I believe Tim Pawlenty also recently proposed reducing the tax brackets to just two, very similar to the 1987 setup. We may remember that the first George Bush pledged not to raise taxes when he came into office, and then decided he had to anyway (presumably not because of overspending on social programs by Saint Reagan, those were the years when Congress could easily raid the Social Security trust fund).

I guess Republicans sell these simpler and fewer tax brackets by playing on the difficulties average voters have in filling out and filing their taxes. Also, fewer tax brackets would make our income taxes less "progressive" (a tax term meaning that the poor are not hit so hard by taxes), anytime the Republicans can make something less progressive I imagine their hearts must sing. But the real reason for trying to insert this two bracket tax system into our consciousness is that the top bracket of 28% is lower than the current top bracket of 35%. Sure, the real beneficiaries would be people making over 250 grand a year (500 grand for married filing joint), but those are the people who feel they are paying too much in taxes already. They would rather give Republican Congresspersons five grand for campaign funds than give the government an extra ten grand in taxes. That the poor and middle class would pay more in taxes, and also pay more percentage wise on total revenues is o more than incidental.

Finally, the idea implied in the title of Kelly's column that business is too regulated is truly laughable at this moment in history. Given what happened in the housing market and with the banks, it takes true brass balls to insist that industry is too highly regulated right now. The main stream media is now asking (in polling questions) whether people expect another great depression to occur soon, and the number who do is going up. Yet Republicans actually think they can sell us on the idea the less government is the solution for that and all other problems. This is doubly laughable when we remember the spending orgy during the Bush administration.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

How serious are we?

You might know I comment on a couple of blogs around Pittsburgh. On one blog (an unabashed liberal one), a particular conservative commenter complained that he wanted to a have a discussion of policy and ideas, but that liberals do not want be serious, they just make fun of people like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum (who are, one has to admit, easy targets). Well, fair enough, I say, but when we talk about policy and ideas, what common ground are we using? Republican or Democratic talking points? Or perhaps economics? Whose economics, one might reasonably ask. Isn't there some level of economics we could reasonably agree on, such as the texts written in the 1970's by Paul Samuelson or William Baumol? The thing is, those texts would say that government spending during the Great Depression helped ameliorate that Depression and revive the economy. Which means that Republicans either have to say those icons of economic thinking (Samuelson, Baumol) were/are wrong, or concede that Obama and the Democrats had the right approach with the stimulus.

So we have these twin notions, whether we are going to talk about actual issues, and whether any Democrats can be serious. Into this conversation comes a man who has a big soapbox. Jack Kelly's column today is about the Anthony Weiner scandal, and then he turns to a peripheral point in the discussion of the Republican assault on Medicare. The Republicans may not like the fun Democrats have talking about Palin, Santorum, Trump, Gingrich and Bachmann, although it is not the Democrats fault that the Republican base makes people like that popular by paying attention to them.Yet the Republicans also want to claim to be the adults in the room, taking serious stands on government spending and the economy. Well, if you turn around and want to talk about Anthony Weiner's tweet of his erection, then you want it both ways. And saying the Democrats did it first is kind of the opposite of being the adults in the room.

Meanwhile, I have no idea about the comment that Kelly says Debbie Wasserman-Schultz made about Paul Ryan's plan. I assume that he is telling the truth, that she suggested insurance companies would be able to deny coverage and drop them for pre-existing conditions. Why wouldn't private health insurance companies be able to do these things? Could it be the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act"? The one passed by the Democrats in Congress, and signed by President Obama? I can see where Republicans would want to stress how silly it is for Representative Wasserman-Schultz to be saying that, after all, its not like the Republicans want to repeal the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act"...

Jack Kelly has no respect for his readers, he actually thinks they're (you're) stupid. He undermines any thought of having an "adult" conversation about what Republicans claim are important matters. The issues they are using to justify laying off thousands of public employees.

To me, the real story about Ryan's plan is the performance of the private health insurance corporations when they were contracted by Medicare to administer Medicare plans on behalf of the government (they ended up costing more than regular Medicare). I am sure that conservatives/Republicans will talk about that in the 2012 campaign...

In today's PG Forum pages, there is also an interesting piece on taxes by Bruce Bartlett, sort of the exact opposite of Kelly's column. Bartlett worked in the Reagan White House and for Bush one, but apparently is interested in how the economy really works. So his essay on taxes is a good reminder of how a "progressive tax" structure really works. To use income taxes as an example, let's say you make thirty grand a year as a single person. The first $8,500 is taxed at 10% and the dollars from $8,501 to $30,000 are taxed at 15%. The effective tax rate ends up being 13.5%. Bartlett argues that current US corporate taxes are at a historic low, and share the lowest rate with Turkey among OECD nations. Based on that fact and Republican rhetoric, our economy should be roaring instead of limping along with 9% unemployment (not counting the long term discouraged unemployed) and a 2.6% growth rate (negative last year, zero the year before).

I am sure that conservatives/Republicans will discuss the difference between our actual tax rates and our lack of strong economic performance (as predicted by their talking points) as they press their calls for lower taxes ...