2010 - %3, February

Are GOPers Deliberately Lying about the Stimulus?

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 12:59 PM EST

That seems to be the case. I outline the reasons for claiming so in a DailyPolitics.com column. Mainly, Republicans, such as House minority whip Eric Cantor, have been declaring—literally—that the stimulus has created no new jobs. Not one. This is ridiculous. One can argue that the money was not used in the most effective manner. But to insist that not one new job has been created is absurdly false. Still, that's what GOPers are doing. Worse, this week, the main narrative within the Washington press corps was that President Barack Obama has lost the message war regarding the stimulus. But is that really the big story? As I noted,

Obama has indeed lost the message war, and he and his crew can be slammed for that. But a more serious matter is how Republican officials are poisoning the national discourse with demonstrably false information -- which undermines policymaking and, thus, the potential for economic recovery. The real narrative is not how Obama has bumbled the politics, but how the Republicans are killing the truth.

And they do appear to be getting away with it.

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CPAC and the Press

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 12:50 PM EST

Why does the press devote so much attention to CPAC every year? Marc Ambinder (sort of) asks the question:

It has become a place to network and cheer at applause lines — nothing more. Leave the hall and end the day, and you've had a good time, but you don't feel fulfilled. CPAC is a guilty pleasure.

....CPAC isn't supposed to be a policy conference, which is fortunate, because policy is almost non-existent. Some of the panels are set up to rehearse the conservative-libertarian divide over certain issue sets, but no ideas get advanced at CPAC. Judging by the exhibitors, conservatives don't care about education, or the environment, or health care, or urban policy — only abortion, Supreme Court nominations, gun rights, campaign finance (Citizens United has a very nice booth) and deifying Ronald Reagan.

Asked and answered! Put on a serious conference that discusses real ideas, and you will get no attention. Put on a show with fake sumo wrestling and lots of outrageous speeches and the media will beat a path to your door. Ambinder thinks CPAC is showing its age, but I think CPAC is actually a perfect symbol of contemporary politics as reality show spectacle. As long as a camera is there, it's all good.

And if you're loud enough, the cameras are always there, aren't they?

Obama and the Public Option

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 12:21 PM EST

Ezra Klein reports that the White House is opposed to the effort to revive the public option and pass it in the Senate via reconciliation. Why? Because they want to appear "bipartisan." Matt Yglesias is unimpressed:

While it’s true that the White House has sought to brand itself “as a bipartisan outpost” you know and I know and Ezra Klein knows and I certainly hope David Axelrod knows that at the end of the day if a health care bill emerges no Republicans will vote for it. And any shine of bipartisanship that Obama may or may not have put on himself is going to go away. So what’s the point in being “sharply opposed” to the public option concept? This is very bad logic, and if true very fishy behavior on the part of the White House.

I think this gets to the deepest, most mysterious question about Barack Obama: does he really believe in bipartisanship? That is, does he actually believe that if he sticks to his guns and keeps pushing away at compromise, eventually Republicans will start to work with him in good faith? Or is this basically a ploy to get public opinion on his side because he knows that the public is deeply in love with bipartisanship?

I hope it's the latter, because even a year ago the former was a belief that only a political naif could maintain. Today, you'd have to be a thoroughgoing idiot. But all evidence suggests that Obama is neither naive nor stupid, so I have to assume that this is basically part of a long-term effort to turn public opinion sharply against Republicans.

Alternatively, I suppose it could be strictly a short-term, inside play to maintain Democratic support for passing a bill. Obama may believe that Dems are so scared, and support for passing anything is so fragile, that bringing back the public option at this point runs the risk of frightening a big chunk of the caucus away for good. Sadly, I can't pretend this is a groundless fear.

Conservatives and the Stimulus

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 11:29 AM EST

Following up on my post yesterday about the stimulus, Robert Waldmann makes a good catch. Reihan Salam had said, "I don't think that anyone doubts that ARRA helped perk up growth," but it turns out that not only is this untrue, it's spectacularly untrue. Here's a CNN poll from a few weeks ago:

So 41% of American adults think the stimulus had no effect or made things worse. CNN doesn't provide crosstabs, but I think it's a pretty good guess that this belief is primarily held by conservatives and right-leaning independents who take their cues from conservative media. In other words, it's likely that upwards of three-quarters or more of conservatives believe the stimulus had no effect.

That doesn't happen unless conservative pundits and politicians are almost unanimously pushing exactly that belief. There might be a few conservative thinkers out there who are offering up judicious, nuanced conclusions about the stimulus, but their effect on public discourse in general is nil. Among the vast majority of conservative opinion leaders, not only is it untrue that few people doubt ARRA helped perk up growth, but apparently virtually everyone doubts that ARRA helped perk up growth.

The Tea Party's Trojan Horse

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 10:45 AM EST

On Wednesday, a slew of prominent conservatives, including Grover Norquist and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, unveiled the Mount Vernon Statement, a declaration of principlesof conservatives, by conservatives, for conservativesmeant to guide the movement forward. The Mount Vernon Statement wasn't actually signed at Mount Vernon, and it's not much of a statement, either: The text could have just as easily been churned out by some sort of "automatic conservative manifesto generator"which, given the slew of conservative manifestos with a 2010 release date, would probably save everyone some time. But while the statement won't show up in the National Archives any time soon, liberals would be foolish to ignore it.

Here's why: By embracing the Tea Party's Founding Fathers meme, it offers a roadmap for how social conservatives plan on piggybacking off of the Tea Party's success to re-engerize their own base. The structure and message of the Tea Party movement is remarkably similar to that offered for decades by the religious right; they share the same heroes, the same literature (The 5000 Year Leap, for instance), and reverence for the same Founding documents; if it weren't for the tri-cornered hats, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the two groups apart. Those similarities aren't lost on social conservative leaders. As Sarah Posner has argued at Religion Dispatches, there are already plenty of indiciations that activists of the Religious Right and Tea Partiers, to the extent that they're actually distinct from each other, have been increasingly linking arms. (Ralph Reed has been pretty obviously trying to do just that with his new Faith and Freedom Coalition.)

Credit Card Fee Blitz Escalates

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 7:30 AM EST

On Monday, the second phase of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009—a major overhaul that boosts safeguards against unfair interest-rate hikes, excessive penalties, and other predatory practices—goes into effect, so of course big banks are doing their best to shift the cost of these new changes onto consumers themselves through higher rates and tricky new fees. Among its many provisions, the Credit CARD Act, as it’s called, will require credit card issuers to offer fair notice of changes in interest rates, ban universal default practices, and let consumers opt in to overdraft protection. The first phase of the CARD Act went into effect last fall; the third and final phase is slated for late August. Not to be outdone, though, banks are ensuring the burden of these new regulations don't fall on them.

Citigroup, for instance, recently sent letters to many of its Citi Card customers informing them of a new annual fee of $60. The only way to avoid that fee, the letter says, is to either spend more than $2,400 each year, after which the fee would be credited back to cardholders, or to pay off your debts and close the account. A Citigroup spokesman said the fee was "necessary given the increasing costs of doing business." The message, of course, is simple: Spend more money through the bank, which in turn increases the likelihood Citigroup will collect late fees and other charges, or take your business elsewhere. As one Citi Card holder told Mother Jones, "What they're doing is getting rid of prudent customers."

And that's just one example of what banks and credit card companies are up to in reaction to legislation like the Credit CARD Act. According to IndexCreditCards.com, a comprehensive site with data on credit card offerings, interest rates for consumers jumped by 0.42 percentage points in the past month, and the average rate offered to new customers, 16.7 percent, is the highest since 2005, with rates for both reward and non-reward cards continuing to climb. "We're clearly seeing one of the unintended consequences of the new law," IndexCreditCards.com founder Adam Jusko said in a statement. "We seem to be going from a marketplace in which a relatively few cardholders got into deep trouble to one in which the misery is more evenly spread."

What consumer advocates hope, however, is that the savings from the CARD Act will outweigh the banking industry’s efforts to pass costs along to consumers. By cutting retroactive rate increases and “hair-trigger” penalty interest rates, the CARD Act could save consumers more than $10 billion a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Safe Credit Cards Project. Pew also is pushing for an overhaul of late fees charged to cardholders, which the organization says are far too excessive right now. “We are seeing instances where Americans are being charged excessive penalties for exceeding their credit limits by even one dollar," Nick Bourke, the head of the Safe Credit Cards Project, said recently. "A $39 fee for exceeding a credit limit by just a few dollars, or for missing a $70 minimum payment deadline by a few hours, is difficult to justify as 'reasonable' or 'proportional' under the factors identified in the new law."

In late August, the Federal Reserve will issue a definition of what "reasonable and proportional" penalties for credit cards should be, which will be the third and final phase of the CARD Act. "We encourage regulators to implement strong rules that directly address disproportionate penalties," says Pew's Bourke.

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Slogans for Sale

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 7:05 AM EST

One afternoon in the late 1980s, I was vegging in front of the tube when a mysterious ad for a new amusement park ride called the Revolution came on. Its coolly contradictory tag line was hard to forget: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised!" Of course, that catchphrase wasn't written by a copywriter but Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and musician who'd originally sung it as a declaration of independence from the very folks who'd take his lyrical manifesto and turn it into a 30-second earworm for pubescent cartoon watchers. How his signature song ended up in a Great America ad, I have no idea. But Scott-Heron, whom Alan Light profiles in our current issue, wasn't the first nor the last musician to have his or her message repackaged for prime time. Some more examples of turning musical rebellion into money: 

1987 Gil Scott-Heron's proto-hip-hop anthem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" goes for a spin in a TV ad for Great America's new ride, the Revolution.

1987 Michael Jackson, owner of the Beatles catalog, lets Nike use "Revolution"—the first Fab Four song to appear in a TV commercial. Yoko Ono says the spot "is making John's music accessible to a new generation."

1995 KRS-One rewrites "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" for a Nike ad. Sample lyrics: "The revolution will not refrain from chest bumping...The revolution is about basketball, and basketball is the truth!"

2000 The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" takes a bow for the new revolution—the Nissan Maxima.

2005 Tommy Hilfiger conscripts Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" ("Got to revolution!") for a spot filled with teen hotties.

2005 Lefty rocker Steve Earle okays the use of his "The Revolution Starts Now" in a Chevy truck ad.

2007 Janis Joplin's anti-consumerist ditty "Mercedes Benz" becomes a feel-good jingle for...Mercedes-Benz.

2009 A British "ethical banking" firm convinces Bob Dylan to lend the rights to "Blowin' in the Wind."

Watch some of the ads below the jump.

 

Need to Read: February 19, 2010

Fri Feb. 19, 2010 7:05 AM EST

 The must-read news from around the web and in today's papers:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 19, 2010

Fri Feb. 19, 2010 7:00 AM EST

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Three paratroopers with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist), move off a drop zone near Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, Feb. 12, as part of a training exercise they hope will lead to combined US-Iraqi training jumps and an enduring strategic partnership. Photo via the US Army.

Obama's Stealth Entitlement Commission

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 3:33 AM EST

Less than a month after the Senate rejected a proposal for a bipartisan entitlement commission, President Obama has created his own version by executive order. It is not, of course, called an “entitlement commission”–that unsavory term has been banished from the political lexicon, since it clearly frightens the geezers. Instead, it is called the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. (Who wouldn’t support that?) The shorthand names are the “deficit commission” and the “debt panel.” This last term is remarkably similar to the much-maligned “death panels”–which seems appropriate, since its primary purpose is to pull the plug on old-age entitlements. Despite protestations to the contrary, the commission exists primarily to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The commission's slant is evident from the choice of its two co-chairs: former Wyoming Republican senator Alan Simpson, a long-time foe of entitlements, and Erskine Bowles, the middle- right former Clinton chief of staff. The rest of the 18-member commission will include 6 Republican and 6 Democratic members of Congress, and four more members named by Obama. They are supposed to make a report and recommendations to the president in December, after the fall elections, and Obama is expected to forward the recommendations to Congress.

In the best-case scenario, Congress will do the same thing it has done with all of Obama’s other proposed reforms–i.e. nothing. Because if it acts at all, it will almost certainly decide to pay down the deficit at the expense of the social safety net. While Social Security may be the proverbial "third rail" of politics, the other debt-reducing options--raising taxes on the rich, or making corporations pay their fair share--will be seen as even more deadly in the current political climate.