2010 - %3, August

Quote of the Day: Living in the Tea Party World

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 11:52 AM EDT

From Rep. Bob Inglis (R–SC), a guy with a 93% rating from the American Conservative Union who lost a primary last month to a Tea Party candidate 71%-29%, on meeting up with his constituents during the campaign:

I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there's a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life's earnings, and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, "What the heck are you talking about?" I'm trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, "You don't know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don't know this?!" And I said, "Please forgive me. I'm just ignorant of these things." And then of course, it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff. And now you have the feeling of anti-Semitism here coming in, mixing in. Wow.

David Corn has the full story here. And yes, I know it's South Carolina. Still, for those who occasionally think that tea parties represent just a small extreme wing of the Republican Party, you might think again after reading what Inglis has to say.

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Why Prop 8 Passed

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 11:19 AM EDT

Why did California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, pass in 2008? Obviously some groups voted for it in larger numbers than others, but in the LA Times today David Fleischer takes a look at which groups changed their votes as the campaign progressed:

The shift, it turns out, was greatest among parents with children under 18 living at home — many of them white Democrats.

The numbers are staggering. In the last six weeks, when both sides saturated the airwaves with television ads, more than 687,000 voters changed their minds and decided to oppose same-sex marriage. More than 500,000 of those, the data suggest, were parents with children under 18 living at home. Because the proposition passed by 600,000 votes, this shift alone more than handed victory to proponents.

....One final false assumption by same-sex marriage supporters was that the election was so close that it will be easy to pass same-sex marriage the next time out. It's true that the official election results — 52% to 48% — appeared quite close. But the truth is more complicated. The data we analyzed show that the No on 8 campaign benefitted from voter confusion.

Polling suggests that half a million people who opposed same-sex marriage mistakenly voted against the proposition. They were confused by the idea that a "no" vote was actually a vote for gay marriage. This "wrong-way voting" affected both sides, but overwhelmingly it helped the "no" side. Our analysis suggests that the division among California voters on same-sex marriage at the time of Proposition 8 was actually 54% to 46% — not so close. We are actually 1 million votes away from being able to reverse Proposition 8.

Fleischer suggests that the big turning point came when the Yes on 8 campaign started airing the "Princes" ad ("Mommy, mommy, I learned how a prince married a prince and I can marry a princess!"). Shortly after that, as the chart on the right shows, mothers with young children dramatically changed their views, going from 52%-38% opposition to 50%-38% support.

Anytime an election is close, as the Prop 8 election was, there are dozens of things you can point to as the difference maker. So this isn't necessarily the last word. Still, it's a pretty good demonstration of just how easy it is to demagogue gay marriage, even in liberal California. We're getting closer, but we're not there yet. The full report is here.

Goldman Sachs' Citizens United Vow

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

Corporations have begun stepping off the sidelines to dump cash into campaign ads, courtesy of the new election spending rules under Citizens United. But there are also signs that some of the biggest potential spenders have decided to pass on the opportunity to join the campaign finance free-for-all. Goldman Sachs has taken the unusual step of pledging not to spend any money on the kinds of campaign ad spending that's now allowed under the controversial Supreme Court ruling. From the New York Times:

The investment bank quietly revised its statement on political activities on its Web site last week…“Goldman Sachs also does not spend corporate funds directly on electioneering communications,” the firm said in its statement. Those communications are generally interpreted to mean advertisements on radio and television broadcasts in the run-up to an election.

The decision came after weeks of talks with the New York City public advocate, Bill de Blasio, who has lobbied for greater transparency from companies seeking to sway the outcome of elections...

“This could be one of those moments that determines whether we are going to have a political system literally dominated by corporate money, or some ability by the people at the grass roots to determine the outcome of elections,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Goldman Sachs can still spend money in other ways to influence elections and legislation. But it's still a surprising move, given that the pressure to curb Citizens United election spending is mostly coming from good-government watchdogs and progressive groups like MoveOn, which just called for its supporters to boycott Target in light of the retailer's campaign backing for a right-wing GOP candidate in Minnesota.

Ryan's Roadmap Revisited

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:32 AM EDT

I complained yesterday that Paul Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future" was a fraud: it doesn't really tell us where he'd cut spending, it just places arbitrary caps on various kinds of spending and calls it a day. Ezra Klein says I'm being unfair:

That's how single-payer works, too: It puts health-care spending into a single budget and caps its increase. That's how the Clinton plan worked, what with its global budgets and premium caps. That's how Jacob Hacker's plan for the Economic Policy Institute worked: Inside the exchanges, spending could only grow by GDP plus one percentage point. That's how the strong public option would've worked, as payment could only grow using Medicare's formula, which doesn't permit the cost increases of the private market.

At the end of the day, that's why Ryan's plan is a more honest entry into the debate. For a long time, liberals were talking about the sort of things you would actually have to do to get health-care spending under control while conservatives simply criticized the downsides of those intimidating reforms. And the main thing you have to do is get health-care spending into a single budget and then stick to it.

Fair enough. There's still the fact that Ryan doesn't really fess up to cutting Social Security payouts, doesn't provide any hint about how he'd cut discretionary spending, and proposes a new tax system that's wildly beneficial to the rich. But on healthcare costs, Ezra's point is fair enough.

Up to a point, that is, because there is still a difference. In a single-payer system, there's a pretty good theory about how costs are held down: by using the market power of the government to negotiate lower prices for drugs, devices, medical services, and so forth. What's more, we have the experience of dozens of single-payer systems in other countries to suggest that this works. Plus there's the fact that a single-payer system explicitly gives some government entity the job of deciding which medical services are covered and which aren't. Not everyone likes this idea, but it's there.

Ryan's plan, by contrast, doesn't do any of this. There's not even much of a theory about how it will hold down costs. It simply writes a check to Medicare recipients and then tells them to cut the best deal they can with any approved private supplier. This might work, but I can't really think of a lot of real-world examples where something like this has worked — especially since the bulk of the non-Medicare healthcare system is left unaffected by Ryan's plan. More likely, medical costs will continue to rise and Medicare recipients will either have to settle for crappy service or else simply pony up a whole lot of out-of-pocket expenses on their own.

Needless to say, not everyone likes this idea either. Let's be clear: we've given the private market many decades to show that it can make medical care more efficient and less costly. In theory, this ought to work, but in practice it's failed miserably. Conversely, single-payer plans have a demonstrated track record of providing high quality service while keeping costs well below what we pay in America. That's because single-payer systems have an actual mechanism for controlling costs. You can decide for yourself if you like that mechanism, but it's there. Ryan's plan, by contrast, doesn't have one and most likely won't control costs at all. It will just force Medicare recipients to pay an ever larger part of the bill. Your choice.

Which GOP Will Reclaim Michigan?

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:24 AM EDT

Today, the citizens of hard-hit Michigan—13.2 percent jobless rate, recurring budget crises, educated young people fleeing the state—hit the polls for the state's gubernatorial primaries. The race to replace largely unpopular Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, who's term limited, is closest on the Republican side, with the top three GOP candidates separated by only a few percentage points in the polls. That's the primary you'll want to watch: With an anti-incumbent mood sweeping the country, and an anti-Granholm sentiment as well, whoever wins the GOP's highly competitive nomination today will likely claim the governor's seat in November.

Running neck-and-neck in the Republican primary are wealthy businessman Rick Snyder (26), Attorney General Mike Cox (24), Rep. Pete Hoekstra (23 percent support), and Oakland County sheriff Mike Bouchard (10). Like the Jeff Greenes and Linda McMahons of 2010, Snyder, 51, has drawn on his considerable wealth to spend millions on campaign ads, boosting his stature from relative unknown to frontrunner in the polls. The rest of the GOP crowd are longtime state pols, guys with name recognition who've been around Michigan politics for years.

Freezing Out the Press

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:09 AM EDT

Here is Senate candidate Sharron Angle accidentally telling the truth about why she only talks to Fox News and other members of the right wing press:

We wanted them to ask the questions we want to answer so that they report the news the way we want it to be reported and when I get on a show and I say send me money to SharronAngle.com, so that your listeners will know that if they want to support me they need to go to SharronAngle.com.

Okey doke. Even Fox's Carl Cameron had a little trouble swallowing this, but let's face it: this is the wave of the future. The traditional old school press grilling used to be the price you paid because you needed traditional old school press coverage. Today you don't really need that, so why not skip the whole thing and just appear in places that let you set the agenda and openly beg for money? I expect liberals to follow suit quickly.

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Activists Try to Get Kagan Disbarred

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:06 AM EDT

Just as the full Senate this week starts debate over the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, a group of conservative activists is planning to ask that same court to disbar her. Larry Klayman, the famous Clinton tormentor and founder of Judicial Watch, told WorldNet Daily recently that he believes Kagan's work behind the scenes during the Clinton administration on the partial-birth abortion ban constitutes a "conspiracy to defraud the Supreme Court" and that he intends to ask the court to revoke her license to practice law.

Klayman's disbarment campaign is just the latest call from the right demanding a full investigation into Kagan's work on the partial-birth abortion ban during her years working in the Clinton White House. The controversy began during her confirmation hearings last month when Shannen Coffin posted a story on the National Review's website arguing that Kagan had been willing "to manipulate medical science to fit the Democratic Party’s political agenda on the hot-button issue of abortion."

Coffin, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney’s general counsel, defended the partial-birth abortion ban that passed in 2003 as deputy attorney general during the Bush administration. Citing documents released by the Clinton Library, Coffin claimed that when Kagan was working in the Clinton administration's domestic policy shop, she persuaded the American College of Ob/Gyns to alter the language it used in a statement on the merits of the partial-birth abortion procedure to support the political fight against the ban. Apparently, in an early statement on the procedure, ACOG had said that most of the time, the partial-birth abortion wasn’t essential to preserving the health of a woman. The statement didn’t include any qualifying language suggesting that there may be times when the procedure may be medically necessary.

Coffin quoted Kagan’s memo in which she wrote that ACOG’s original statement on partial-birth abortion "would be a disaster," presumably referring to the impact the medical opinion might have on any attempts to strike down a ban. Coffin then accused Kagan of having meddled with the ACOG expert statement, suggesting that memos in the archives show Kagan encouraging the group to amend its official position in a way that would most benefit opponents of any partial-birth ban. Coffin claimed the ACOG language made it extremely difficult for his office to defend the ban that did finally pass Congress, largely because the courts repeatedly deferred to the medical expertise of ACOG.

Kagan's responses to questions about ACOG during the confirmation hearings apparently didn't satisfy anti-abortion groups, who were remarkably quiet during the hearings. But now they're making one last desperate push to derail her confirmation. Americans United for Life has asked for a full Senate investigation into whether Kagan screwed up American abortion policy and law for more than a decade as a result of her work in the Clinton White House. The group's 50+ page report on the ACOG controversy is also the basis for Klayman's disbarment complaint.

The abortion issues don't seem to have had much of an impact on the vote tally so far in the Senate. Kagan is likely to be confirmed. Whether she could be disbarred is another matter. But the funny thing about the Supreme Court is that there's no requirement that justices even be lawyers, much less bar members. Even if by some miracle Klayman managed to get Kagan disbarred, it wouldn't necessarily get her off the bench.

VIDEO: Even Fox Laughs At Sharron Angle

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 9:48 AM EDT

You know the right is souring on Sharron Angle, the Nevada conservative aiming to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, when even a Fox News interviewer can't help but laugh at the bizarre things that come out of Angle's mouth.

Fox News' Carl Cameron interviewed Angle yesterday as part of the Fox's political primary coverage, and Cameron asked Angle about her, um, media strategy. A quick refresher: Angle is the candidate who has consistently run away from reporters, ducked the media's questions, called one reporter an "idiot," and even left a pregnant reporter, microphone in hand, in the dust of her white Jeep as it sped away from a recent campaign event. When Fox's Cameron questioned Angle about her media run-ins and her relationship with reporters, her answer was so bizarre and amateurish that it left Cameron speechless and laughing. Here's the exchange, with the video included afterward:

Angle: "We needed to have the press be our friend."

Cameron: "Wait a minute. Hold on a second. To be your friend...?"

Angle: "Well, truly..."

Cameron: "That sounds naive."

Angle: "Well, no. We wanted them to ask the questions we want to answer so that they report the news the way we want it to be reported."

Cameron: [laughs]

2010's Most Important Senate Race?

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 9:25 AM EDT

What's the most important senate race this cycle?

Over at Politics Daily, MoJo's David Corn says it's the Rand Paul-Jack Conway faceoff in Kentucky:

As reported by Details magazine, Paul, while campaigning recently in Kentucky's coal country, maintained that there should be no federal regulation of the mining industry: "If you don't live here, it's none of your business." Asked about the Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia, where an explosion killed 29 miners last April, Paul said,

Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are? The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.

I'm not an expert. Don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. Ponder the implications of this. So members of Congress who are not oil industry engineers should not regulate deep off-shore drilling? Actually, by Paul's logic, legislators should not impose any health, safety, or environmental standards on any industry. And the answer to such tragedies as mining disasters is . . . well, nothing. The workers in unsafe facilities can simply quit their jobs—that is, unless they've already been blown apart due to bad company practices. Paul wants to become a senator so he can do nothing.

David's argument hints at what's most interesting about Rand Paul: he's a hardcore economic libertarian. If Paul gets elected, he won't just be the most radical anti-regulation Republican in the Senate. He could also be a sign of things to come. If Paul can win, Republicans might be more comfortable nominating candidates like him in other races. One hardcore economic libertarian in the Senate won't make much of a difference. But what about two or three—or ten? two or three or ten could shift economic policy decidedly rightward. Anyway, read the whole thing

 

What's BP's Spill Tab?

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 9:19 AM EDT

At last, an official estimate of how much oil has been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, though it isn't pretty: 4.9 million barrels, or 205.8 million gallons. That makes the spill almost twenty times the size of the Exxon Valdez, according to a new total released last night.

New figures from the government flow rate team estimate that 62,000 barrels of oil gushed from the hole daily in the initial weeks of the spill, eventually slowing to 53,000 in later weeks. A portion of that flow—800,000 barrels—was captured via capping and siphoning. Some of it was also burned off or skimmed, but the vast majority ended up in the Gulf. (Even if you can't see it because of all that dispersant the company also dumped in the water).

The 53,000 barrel figure toward the end of the spill lines up with BP's own internal estimates, despite the fact that the company was publicly offering a much, much lower figure. At first the company said just 1,000 barrels a day was leaking from the well; BP later adopted the federal government's initial (and woefully low) 5,000 barrel estimate.

Of course, BP had every reason to low-ball the figure. The updated estimate means that, at up to $4,300 per barrel, the company could now owe the federal government $21 billion fines for Clean Water Act violations alone. Factor in the fines for damage to natural resources and all the compensation to injured individuals and businesses in the region and you're talking serious amounts of cash that BP can expect to shell out in the coming years.