Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's never OK when Democrats do it.

Today's Jack Kelly Column about "Emperor Barack I" evokes a weird sense of deja vu. Have we all forgotten the time in the Bush administration maybe 2005, 2006 when John Yoo was talking about the "Unitary Executive" theory, essentially that famous statement immortalized in the movie "Frost/Nixon" - "When the President does it that means it is not illegal"?

I was watching the first season of "West Wing" in the last couple of days (my girlfriend had not seen it, I thought she might like it, so I took it out of the library). It strikes me that the era depicted in that show is currently gone. Now, one can certainly argue that 9/11 justified some of that change. A President at war does need additional powers to prosecute that war. And of course the "global war on terror", being a special kind of war, involved interesting problems in what powers might be needed. After all, the enemy does not have a home country where they can be found (or hold prisoners), wear's no uniform when fighting us so they could be anyone, has the most rudimentary of leadership structure so they are unable to sign the Geneva convention.

But many Americans (maybe even most)(who had an opinion) finally decided that warrant-less wiretaps entirely without independent monitoring of who knows who (supposedly only foreigners, but exactly hard would it be to listen in on Americans). Few Americans who aren't Republicans express unqualified support for the Patriot Act and in fact many (maybe most) Americans opposed it. But there it was, and first Republican Congresses and then a filibustered Democratic Senate was unable to help the American public. Assuming enough of Congress actually agreed that the Patriot Act is a enough of a bad thing.

Now, of course, Republicans now want to block anything and everything President Obama does. Although in some cases Republicans/conservatives seem selective about what they object to. Jack Kelly was at plans to tell us how granting the children of undocumented aliens essential amnesty is the act of an emperor (and then he goes into how political it is, and how Obama wants to steal the election by having illegals vote multiple times). Kelly also talked about Obama's assassination program, the one where Obama can kill even US citizens as long as they are suspected of being terrorists. But Kelly didn't mention the drone attack program, something that Glenn Greenwald has talked about numerous times. Could it be that Obama does something that Kelly approves of, wants to preserve for a potential President Romney?

The Presidency is often about pushing the bounds of power, from (Saint) Lincoln suspending habeous corpus to FDR's infinite Presidential terms (until death clipped that), trying to stack the court, all sorts of things, to Truman trying to nationalize the steel industry. If my liberal friends suggested Republicans do it more (in the last forty years) I would probably tend to agree. I mean, no one ever accused Jimmy Carter of being power mad.

But besides Obama's continuing the Bush administration's coddling of Wall Street and pushing the war in Afghanistan, there is the doubling down on whistle blowers, and the assassination program, which is new. Is it unprecedented? Personally, I don't think so.

I realize I have biases, but I think I can keep enough perspective to say whether something is a significant new precedent or not. Assassination is new, but as long as it is limited to (suspected) terrorists outside the US, even if some fraction are US citizens, then it perhaps more incremental than revolutionary.

Meanwhile, it seems safe to say that Jack Kelly is unconcerned about the concept of perspective; for him there is only a partisan agenda.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kelly tries to make Obama into the liberal characterture of Dubya

Today's Jack Kelly column is a startling study in what information to leave out when you try to persuade your readers of a point of view. I don't believe anything Jack Kelly says (or anything he quotes) is, strictly speaking, untrue, but he leaves out information that would indicate the reverse of the points he is trying to make and, I would argue, tries to persuade us of arguments not supported by reality.

The title of the column plays off the media stereotype of Mitt Romney - "Out-of-touch Obama: The president doesn't understand how the private sector works". Right of the bat Kelly is referencing the soundbite from the President - "the private sector is doing fine". Pretty much everyone knows Obama was making a comparison between a weakly growing private sector and state and local governments that are laying off employees. Yeah, that sentence was a stupid thing for Obama to say, but the point of the entire press conference was not lost on the public, since right after Mitt Ronmney said we have enough teachers and firefighters right now, we don't need any more (maybe in the wealthy suburbs where your three current houses that I know of are).

Actually, starting with that title and in the rest of the column, it really reminded me of the media stereotype of George W Bush. Kelly starts the column talking about how Obama has set a record for fundraising appearances. This is certainly true (I have seen it reported elsewhere), but Jack Kelly omits a couple of interesting facts. First, in a list of the top ten groups that give money to candidates, seven of the ten are industry groups that are now giving to Republicans. The other three are unions that are now giving to Democrats, but they are in the process of shrinking largely because of what is being done to public service unions by Republican governors. The second point is, despite Obama's numerous fundraising appearances, Mitt Romney is now raising more money than him. So when Jack Kelly insinuates that Barack Obama does not understand how bad the economy is for ordinary folks because all he does is hang out with rich people at fundraisers, why shouldn't we think that applies even more to Mr Romney?

Kelly takes throwaway shots at Obama along the way, reminding us of Scott Walker's victory in Wisconsin and how he describes "green" energy projects as "crony capitalism". You have to kind of assume that Jack Kelly's readers know that billionaire businessmen are giving record amounts of money to Mitt Romney and other Republicans, so I guess this constant rant about "crony capitalism" is the far right's attempt to paint the Democrats as worse in this area. It is an attempt to paint efforts to curb carbon emissions as having a financial benefit for the President's pals. This all fits into the greater narrative of the far right, that global warming is an obviously refuted hoax, created to solidify government control of our lives redistribute wealth from the rich to the bureaucrats by robbing energy companies of their income and impoverishing us all. I guess, I don't really follow the sketchy logic of the far right world view (where Jack Kelly lives) all that well.

At this point in the column, Jack Kelly describes the current state of the economy, which is not good. I guess he does this to show that while Barack Obama is out of touch, Jack Kelly (and I suppose by extension we are supposed to think Mitt Romney) is in touch with the pulse of the economy. This could be a risky strategy; on Bill Maher's "Real Time" on Friday night David Frum suggested the hidden message of the Romney campaign is that Barack Obama can't fix the mess the Republicans created.

Jack Kelly then does an abrupt about face, he suggests that in fact Barack Obama is wrong about state and local governments. First Kelly cites an interesting unemployment number (4.2%) for government workers. Honestly I don't know quite why it is so low, but I will say that a) it is for the feds, state and local, and Media Matters takes considerable pains to explain the effect of state and local job cuts. Among others, they quote the Economist magazine expressing alarm about the job cuts.

Kelly then points out that state revenues grew by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012. There are two reason why this statement is so incomplete as to be misleading. First of all, tax revenues starting falling hard in 2008. and didn't start recovering until 2010, and just like the economy at large, tax revenues have not recovered to 2008 levels (hint: part of that is unemployment not having dropped to 2008 levels). So to illustrate the point with totally made up numbers, if tax revenues were at 100 in 2008 (100 percent, perhaps), they might have dropped to, say 75% by 2010, and have slowly grown back by maybe 10 points in 2011 and now by 4 more points in the first quarter of 2012. That's still more than 10 points down from 2008 levels, and there is the state and local debt incurred in 2008 through 2010. The stimulus defrayed some of that in 2009 and 2010, but it was temporary and (now generally acknowledged) too small, so it is no surprise that state and local governments are scrambling to cut jobs - a half million or so in the last couple of years. Add in Republican governors pursuing an anti-union agenda to the mix, and we see a special enthusiasm for cutting government jobs.

Kelly also raises that old canard that government workers are paid 16 percent more in pay and benefits than public sector workers, but that misses the point that many government workers such as teachers pretty have to have at least bachelors degrees in order to teach. Government workers are, in general, better educated and therefore better paid than the private sector as an average. Actually, I have read that government workers are in fact more poorly paid than their equivalents education wise in the private sector (teachers making less than corporate trainers, for example).

But a larger point is that Jack Kelly is making contradictory arguments here. First he is telling us the economy in general and the private sector in particular are doing badly. Then he tells us that the public sector is doing well. Yet how can this be the case if states and local governments have to depend on tax revenues, which we have already indicated are likely quite reduced. Remember, they can only borrow for capital projects, and then only by issuing bonds. Kelly's contention that the private sector is doing well (too big) makes no sense. Which is one of the problems of the Republican narrative as a whole.

Kelly's final snark about Obama being more out of touch than Romney is undermined by Kelly's distortions by omission throughout his column. Maybe Obama is out of touch, but how would the Republicans know when they think a half million laid of workers is a sign of healthy state and local governments? And anyway it is still true that the Republican is building a car elevator in his vacation home.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Republicans and unemployment

Unemployment and its flip side job creation are things that have been bothering me recently. The issue has been important all through Obama’s Presidency, but it also neatly illustrates the depth of Republican hypocrisy.

Right at the beginning when the stimulus was moving through Congress, Republicans were already grumbling that the county couldn’t borrow and spend its way to recovery. Obligingly, Obama and Congressional Democrats made the stimulus some 40% tax cuts (because Republicans love tax cuts), but still no House Republican voted for the Stimulus. Could it be that because the tax cuts only benefited people with incomes below a quarter million that Republicans suddenly weren’t in favor of them.? Of course, three Republican Senators (the two women from Maine and Arlen Spector) did vote for the stimulus, after they had made it smaller (and thus less effective). But essentially the Republican Party as a whole said that the government could not help put people back to work, that temporary jobs (where people could afford to buy groceries, pay rent and not have to declare bankruptcy) would have no benefit to the economy.

After that for about nine months we had health care reform/death panels (and “you lie”). But once the ACA passed, we got close to the mid-terms and all of a sudden Republicans started talking about unemployment, after having tried anything and everything to block health care reform. Republicans found the unemployment message very useful in the mid-terms, and were able to take back the House. So of course in January when the new members took their seats, Congress immediately started to work on their campaign promises to address unemployment, yeah?

Well no, instead the Tea Party dominated House took the United States government to the brink of default and bankruptcy with the debt ceiling fiasco. Where was unemployment in January 2011 and after? Well, the Republicans stopped talking about it and so the media (feckless government watchdogs that they are) stopped talking about it.

After the debt ceiling debacle, the assassination of bin Laden (I won’t say anything about why that was a disaster here now), the Arab Spring and Libyan war, we did hear from some conservatives some occasional snarking particularly about how the Obama administration had (stupidly) said unemployment would not go over 8%, but mostly there was silence since the Republican House was not able to make the unemployment situation any better either.

By now we were getting to the Republican primary season, where the only thing the candidates could agree on was that Obama’s policies had failed, particularly for unemployment. Mind you, the Republican candidates had essentially no proposals of their own to make things better, mostly they pledged to undo what (little) Obama had gotten done, like repealing the ACA and Dodd-Frank.

Now somewhere around this time there was discussion about taxing the rich somewhat more heavily, by about four percentage points. Actually, the discussion really started in December of 2010 when the question of whether to let the Bush tax cuts expire or not came to a head (and Republicans took unemployment compensation hostage). When rich people started to complain aloud about having to fire gardeners and maids, Republican politicians and pundits took over the message and repackaged it by saying the small businesses would be hurt by this tax on the top bracket. You know, they told us, these are businesses so small that they do not become corporations (become incorporated) and thus file just a schedule C subject to personal tax rates, yet these small businesses are so profitable that they have over $250,000 grand in bottom line income (as opposed to 250 grand in revenue, from which expenses – like wages for employees and costs of supplies are supposed to be taken out before you get to bottom line income). Anyway, regardless of the fuzziness of the Republican tax and income logic and math, I think this is where we first started to hear about the wealthy being “job creators”. At least when they were talking about small business men (not persons, Republicans don’t roll that way), it almost made sense. But quickly job creator became a generic term for any and all members of the top 1%.

And when Mitt Romney emerged as the clear candidate, he had a ready made narrative about why he would be a better President that Obama. See, Mitt has business experience and he is a member of the top 1% income/wealth-wise of Americans. He has created jobs as a member of that 1%. And suddenly Republicans were talking about unemployment again.

Except that right around and after the debt ceiling debacle, Republicans were also fretting about the deficit. It is too high, it needs to come down so our children and the private sector aren’t strangled by it. The reason unemployment isn’t coming down, according to the Republicans, is because it is the private sector that creates jobs, not the government.

Wait a minute, isn’t there a point where Mitt is extolled as a superior candidate because of his experience in the private sector, creating jobs. But if the government can’t create jobs … shouldn’t we send Mitt back to Bain capital, since according the Republicans the government can’t … uh …

Just to square the circle, as I said Mitt wanted to run on his record, tell us it is his biggest asset. But when Democrats started to dig up deals where Bain ended up bankrupting or carving up some of the companies they acquired, and putting hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) out of work, Republicans accused Democrats of distorting the record . Still, if a candidate says that he is a superior candidate because of his record, isn’t it fair to look at that record?

Such is the tortured path of Republicans on unemployment as a political issue. Meanwhile, I can’t help bur remember Republican accusing John Kerry of being a flip flopper. I guess it is OK as long as the entire party does it together.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jack Kelly on Wisconsin

Jack Kelly doesn't care.

This week Jack Kelly talks about Tuesday's recall election in Wisconsin. He starts by complaining that a headline from an unidentified collection of news sources "Walker survives recall in Wisconsin," is not vindictive enough. Kelly snarks about Reagan beating Mondale, Nixon beating McGovern, but doesn't say what the headline should have been (kind of weaseling out of actually telling us what specifically he believes).

By the way, Kelly weasels later when he tells us "A caller to a Washington D.C. radio station Tuesday said he was on his way from Michigan in a union-organized four bus caravan to vote in Wisconsin." without any verification or even telling us which radio show. A vague accusation that is impossible to verify, but I strongly suspect it will make the rounds of right wing blogs and Fox News.

But what most impressed me is that Jack Kelly admits Walker had much more money than Tom Barrett, but then says that Democrats outspent Republicans "in last year's recall elections, in their attempt to oust a conservative state Supreme Court justice and in the petition drive to force the election Tuesday.". Jack Kelly doesn't say how much was spent by Democrats or Republicans, or how much was spent in the 2010 general election. And perhaps most importantly, Jack Kelly doesn't mention how much of Walker's money for this recall came from out of state and/or wealthy donors.

Of course, the hidden subtext of this whole discussion is the Obama/Romney fight upcoming. Republicans have learned/verified that they can buy an election, even getting people to vote against their own interests with a candidate less likable than Ronald Reagan. Just barrage the State/nation with six times as much money as raised by the opposition.

The economy is still struggling, and Obama deserves his share of the blame for that. But so too do Republican Senators since 2006 and Representatives since 2010, with their absolute opposition to anything the Democrats propose. Still, States cutting funding for a half million public sector employees when unemployment is so high ... the only way Republicans can spin that is to point out it allows taxes to be cut (in a time of decreased revenue because of the recession!). Of course, we may all remember that the GOP (I believe Paul Ryan) has suggested that the payroll cut for the middle class was not useful at all, what we need is greater tax cuts for the top 1% (even though person income tax rates for the 1% are are at their lowest pretty much ever). Somehow that justifies putting a half million people out of work in this time of high unemployment.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jack vs Gail and Maureen

There have been a lot of newspaper columns recently about Mitt Romney, now that he has clinched the nomination. Who is he, what is he all about? Although it is funny, I can't recall seeing anything about Romney's time as governor, only a piece or two about Bain's effect on that steel company, Romney's barber(ous)) attack on an assumed gay fellow student and Gail Collins continuous mention and occasional explanation of Shamus' car roof adventure. Somehow, the exposes of Romney's closet skeletons end up still being boring.

Maybe it was inevitable pundits attention would turn back to our previous once and future President, the orator who was supposed to help us all talk politely about race. But three years later, as he asks us for another term, we are left wondering what happened. The economy is not fixed, somehow the fixed healthcare system hasn't yet made much of a ripple, and racial issues seem alternatively swept under the rug and popping up inconveniently. Oh yes, and the President recently finally suggested gays should enjoy the same rights of marriage as straight America (which considering our divorce rate is not much of a blessing).

So today Jack Kelly has a column describing in typical detail how the President is losing support. As I thought about this column, I noticed Gail Collins had an interesting column on John Edwards' recent acquittal in court that was not any sort of absolution. And today Maureen Dowd writes her own detailed examination of Obama: "Dreaming of a Superhero", wondering what happen to our once and future President.

Kelly's column talks about George McGovern's 1972 defeat, he wants us to believe a similar defeat is coming. Kelly then goes through various groups, Jews, Catholics and veterans, and how they don't like Obama for a variety of reasons. Now, from what I can see, probably there are some special interest groups (possibly right leaning) that do have a grudge (legitimate, not? you decide), but I am not sure that translates to actual voters (how many voters will base their vote on our Iran policy?). Kelly also mentions the various Democrats who are running away from Obama's attacks on Bain because the party is dependent on Wall Street money (we might see voters turn on those Democrts who defend Wall Street as hypocrites). But the message the title of Kelly's column: "Defecting from Obama: The president is losing ground among 2008 supporters" (which of course Kelly doesn't actually deal with) does seem worth considering.

Barack Obama had an interesting voter coalition in 2008. I do think there was a hard core of racism in America that Obama had to get past. He did that in a few ways, benefiting from the economic collapse, winning some voters over with his oratory skills, bringing a lot of young voters into the electorate (well, even doubling the number of under 24 voters actually is still a pretty small number, but it is something) and John McCain's poor performance in the debates.

Now it is June now, and while it would be nice for Obama if he had a commanding lead now, there is still a long road to the election. However, it is hard to see how Obama can win young people, possibly even the ones who voted for him in 2008. As I suggested above, things have no gotten better faster enough, and while (I think) there are lots of reasons for that, eventually people do blame the President (even as they would (perhaps naively) give him credit when things are good).

Maureen Dowd actually does look at Obama in detail in her fairly fascinating column. Obama showing signs when he is a community organizer of being unwilling to take risks, until he is forced to? Obama in New York, feeling he is too white, and could never find a black woman he would be comfortable with? Obama dreaming of being a super hero? This is interesting stuff. I am not sure whether it would make an average voter more or less likely to vote to keep Obama in the White House, although it makes me want to have dinner with Obama and try to have a frank discussion.

Gail Collins Saturday column did not mention Obama at all, although I have to say he is an unspoken shadow in the column. Collins simply rakes Edwards over the coals and good for her. Conservatives like Kelly like to say that Democrats never police their own, but Collins' column is a dissection in detail of John Edwards, his shallowness on policy compared to John Kerry and Bill Clinton. Make no mistake, John Edwards health care reform proposal dragged Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama toward the left during the campaign (didn't last into his Presidency for Obama), but Collins catches Edwards not knowing about a peripheral policy. Collins doesn't want to see Edwards doing anything public going forward, and I am heartened to say every Democrat I have heard comment on it echoes that message.

Does Dowd's column amount to a similar negative dissection of Obama? I don't think so. It is the sort of thing that would have been good to have had in 2008, but honestly I think it makes him seem a lot more like the rest of us. I think polls say that voters/Americans still like Obama more than they dislike him. Now, the sluggish progress of Obama's may keep voters at home, but I have to wonder, when voters look at the other choice, what will they think? Conservatives like to point out taxpayers get a lot of benefits from the Feds (what is it, half getting a net plus from the government?); will those taxpayers realize Romney wants to take a lot of those benefits away form them?