2011 - %3, March

Who is GOP Presidential Candidate Buddy Roemer?

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 3:30 PM EST
Flickr/ dsb nola

The big 2012 news this week (well, other than this) is that former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer is forming a presidential exploratory committee. So who the heck is Buddy Roemer? Politico's Jonathan Martin had a must-read take this morning, but here's a closer look:

A former Democrat: Roemer was a four-term Democratic congressman from Shreveport, but switched parties midway through his first and only term as governor. Although he supported President Reagan's economic policies in Washington, Roemer said the party's lingering racism was holding it back: "The only thing that is keeping me from being a Republican is the Republicans." He finally made the switch in 1991 in the hopes that it would help his re-election chances (it didn't). For his switch, Roemer's critics took to calling him a "transvestocrat."

A New-Age Mystic: As part of a very public mid-life crisis, Gov. Roemer began wearing blue jeans and adopted the slogan, "Goodbye to me, hello to we." Here we'll quote from Charlie Trueheart's 1991 Washington Post story:

"[H]e and his erstwhile Roemeristas (so called because of the much-touted but since-wilted "Roemer revolution") have been reduced to mouthing the ridiculous platitudes of Robert Fulghum and other New Age shamans. Cook reports, "He packed himself and his staff off to motivational treats dubbed 'Adventures in Attitudes,' where they learned to banish negative thoughts by snapping a rubber band against their wrists while uttering 'Cancel, cancel.'"

Not a culture warrior: Roemer's no lefty: He supported chain gangs and presided over the execution of a mentally handicapped man who had murdered a state trooper at the age of 17. But in one of the signature showdowns of his political career, Roemer opposed his base: As governor in 1991, he vetoed a GOP proposal that would have banned all abortions, except in the case of rape or incest—and even then, abortions could only be performed in the first 13 weeks of a pregnancy, and the rape or incest victims had just five days to report the crime. The bill passed into law over his veto, but was later blocked by a federal judge. The National Right to Life Committee called Roemer's veto "a betrayal." Roemer also signed a law legalizing medicinal marijuana in Louisiana, and vetoed a bill that would have restricted the sale of profane music like 2 Live Crew.

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Why No One Cares About Unemployment

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 3:18 PM EST

Chris Hayes explains why Washington elites don't seem to see high unemployment as an urgent problem:

There are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it. The first is 4.2. That’s the percentage of Americans with a four-year college degree who are unemployed....So while the overall economy continues to suffer through the worst labor market since the Great Depression, the elite centers of power have recovered. For those of us fortunate enough to have graduated from college—and to have escaped foreclosure or an underwater mortgage—normalcy has returned.

The other number is 5.7 percent. That’s the unemployment rate for the Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metro area and just so happens to be lowest among large metropolitan areas in the entire country.

....What these two numbers add up to is a governing elite that is profoundly alienated from the lived experiences of the millions of Americans who are barely surviving the ravages of the Great Recession. As much as the pernicious influence of big money and the plutocrats’ pseudo-obsession with budget deficits, it is this social distance between decision-makers and citizens that explains the almost surreal detachment of the current Washington political conversation from the economic realities working-class, middle-class and poor people face.

I'm pretty sure I've made a similar argument from time to time, and I think there's a lot to this. Hell, I'm an employed college grad who lives in an area with a relatively good economy, and I certainly don't fool myself into thinking that I have the same sense of urgency about unemployment as someone in Los Angeles or Detroit.

But I think there's another factor at work here: deep in their hearts, nobody in Washington really believes they can do anything about unemployment these days. Republicans don't truly believe in their "growth agenda," they just want to cut taxes and slash spending on social programs. Democrats would like to believe that fiscal stimulus works, but I suspect the reality is that most of them are pretty skeptical. Ditto for jobs programs, training programs, mortgage cramdown legislation, and much more.

What's worse, even if you do believe these things work, it's pretty plain that no one's figured out a way to convince the public they work. Democrats barely even tried to persuade voters that the 2009 stimulus worked, and ended up getting completely hammered on the subject by Republicans. A few would occasionally mutter on camera that things would have been even worse without the stimulus, but that's a pretty tough sell even if you say it with conviction, and very few said it that way.

In some sense, this is the ultimate triumph of conservatism: no one in Congress, and no one in the electorate, really believes any longer that Washington can do much about the economy. And even if you think otherwise, what's the point of putting your career on the line over further stimulus if you know you won't get any credit for economic improvement regardless of how it turns out?

The public believes that Washington can control inflation. They believe that Washington can control the deficit. And they believe that Washington can control taxes. But they no longer believe that Washington can control unemployment. And neither does Washington.

Bringing Qaddafi to Justice

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 1:52 PM EST

Today International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced that his body will investigate Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and company for possible crimes against humanity. By ICC standards, this is superfast action. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, for example, wasn't indicted until 2008, years after the internatonal community knew about the slaughter in Darfur. This is some of that "timely and decisive" movement we've been looking for from the United Nations since the Libyan crisis began last month. 

So, what now? The court has two months to report back to the Security Council with the results of its investigation. Then the ICC judges will decide whether to issue arrest warrants. The ICC does not have any authority to actually bring in defendants, so if Qaddafi is indicted, someone will have to apprehend and deliver him to The Hague. Maybe some anti-Qaddafi Libyans could get hold of him. Or maybe he will be forced out or step down and then leave the country, and the authorities of whatever country he goes to will arrest him.

Or, maybe not. Plenty of countries aren't members of the ICC—notably the United States, which was one of only seven nations (along with Libya!) to vote against the statute that created the court. Plenty of ICC-indicted criminals have been at large for years because no one will arrest them. And plenty of authoritarian governments have violently smacked down massive protests with no serious consequences. A crazy person with an army can kill a lot of civilians in two months. It would be swell if the specter of an ICC investigation pressured enough of Qaddafi's own people to turn against him, diminishing his ability to kill more. But it would be tragic if the world lazily leaned on the ICC's announcement as an excuse to do nothing else while investigators watch the slaughter.

Where's the Conservative Healthcare Plan?

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 1:31 PM EST

The Wall Street Journal is unhappy with President Obama's support for allowing states to opt out of his healthcare reform law in 2014 rather than 2017. Why? Because to do so, states would have to come up with a plan that offered similar coverage and benefits to PPACA:

So perhaps states could opt out of some consumer or employer mandates, which is a minor release valve. But they would still need to find other mechanisms to achieve the same liberal priorities, which in practice leaves little room to innovate—especially for a straight tax deduction or credit to purchase individual coverage or alternative insurance designs like high-deductible or value-based plans. That's why Democrats had nothing to fear from adding such a provision originally. The Wyden-Brown bill merely moves it forward by three years, to 2014.

The reality is that the liberals who wrote this bill really do think they have a monopoly on good ideas, and they do not include markets. Democrats are more than happy to give the states more freedom, as long as the states use it to impose comparable government control.

Italics mine. If this is the state of the art in conservative thinking, then yes: apparently liberals really do have a monopoly on good ideas in the healthcare arena. As Jon Cohn points out, PPACA does, in fact, allow states to offer high-deductible plans. The table on the right is from the Lewin Group, and it outlines the typical coverage offered by a "Bronze" level plan under PPACA. It's pretty stingy! The deductible for a family is $5,000, the maximum out-of-pocket expense is $11,900, and the "actuarial value" — i.e., the percentage of total medical costs covered by the plan — is only 60%. If conservatives can't come up with a plan that competes with those targets, it means conservatives don't have a plan.

Of course, states would also be required to offer subsidies to low-income residents, and the amount of those subsidies is based on the price of "Silver" level plans. But that's only slightly better, offering an actuarial value of 70%. These just aren't high bars to meet.

If conservatives don't want to make health coverage widely available, they should just say so without the shilly-shallying. But if they do want to make it available — and in public, anyway, that's what they claim — the requirements of PPACA represent the bare minimum of what you can call "coverage" and still keep a straight face. If conservatives really believe they have a better way, PPACA provides both the funding and the minimal requirements to allow them to prove it. They should get busy doing so instead of spending their time inventing feeble excuses. 

A Day Without a Mexican

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 12:17 PM EST

Texas state Rep. Debbie "Terror Babies" Riddle has introduced a new bill that would make it a serious crime to hire an illegal immigrant. But her bill allows one exception:

Under the House Bill 2012 introduced by a tea party favorite state Rep. Debbie Riddle — who's been saying for some time that she'd like to see Texas institute an Arizona-style immigration law — hiring an undocumented maid, caretaker, lawnworker or any type of houseworker would be allowed. Why? As Texas state Rep. Aaron Pena, also a Republican, told CNN, without the exemption, "a large segment of the Texas population" would wind up in prison if the bill became law.

"When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers," Pena told the news giant. "It is so common it is overlooked."

No, this is not from the Onion. It's from a Texas Republican. Though it's getting harder and harder to tell the difference these days.

Defending the Indefensible

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 11:42 AM EST

Good for Joe Klein for pointing out the lunacy of the Republican effort to defund the financial regulation reform bill passed last year:

The Dodd-Frank law was an imperfect remedy....But it did boost the power of the SEC and CFTC to regulate derivatives trading, and it set up a new agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), to protect consumers from the shyster army peddling tricky mortgages, usurious credit-card rates and unscrupulous payday-check-cashing shops. The agencies need larger payrolls to perform those functions, and the Republican House has now stripped much of that money from the federal budget. "It's a back-alley maneuver," says Representative Barney Frank, whose name is on the law. "Unlike health care or environmental regulation, the Republicans didn't try a frontal assault. They hid behind the budget, which means that they're embarrassed by this. They don't want people to know that they're letting Wall Street off the hook."

....And then there's the question of Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who invented the idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and should be its first director. The Administration seems undecided on whether to appoint her, fearing a Senate confirmation battle that could last for months. "The banks are scared to death of her," one Senator told me. "She speaks in clear, simple sentences. That terrifies them."

Which means this is a fight worth having — and a way to dramatize the complicated issues at the heart of regulatory reform. The President should appoint Warren. The Senate should be forced to vote on her, so the public will know who really wants to clean up Wall Street and who doesn't.

No, Dodd-Frank wasn't perfect. In fact, that's being rather too nice about the whole thing. But it was at least a step in the right direction following an unprecedented meltdown of the global economy caused almost entirely by the misbehavior of the American financial industry.

One of the themes of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Winner Take All Politicsavailable soon in paperback! — is that income distribution is far more influenced by politics than most economists think. One of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about the book is that it mirrors my own views, which have become rather more radicalized over the past three years. Think about it: during the aughts the financial industry was so wildly out of control that Wall Street touched off the biggest financial collapse and biggest global recession since World War II — a recession that's required unprecedented government intervention to stabilize; featured massive bailouts of the banking industry; and has caused widespread misery among the working and middle classes, including an epidemic of home foreclosures, plummeting state-level services, and an unemployment rate that's still near double digits more than two years later. And yet, Republicans were not only united in trying to prevent any action whatsoever to re-regulate Wall Street last year, they're making it one of their top priorities this year to defund the very modest bit of regulation that was passed over their near-unanimous opposition.

I don't know how you can watch all this unfold and not conclude that the super rich and their interests are all but politically invulnerable in America these days. It's both wrong and dangerous, and more of us should be pushing the public's nose in it. The whole thing is obscene.

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Mark Meckler's MoJo Vendetta

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 11:19 AM EST

Over the past six months, Mother Jones has published a series of articles investigating one of the nation's largest tea party organizations, the Tea Party Patriots. The stories have not gone over very well with at least one of the group's leaders, Mark Meckler, who ignored repeated requests to be interviewed for the stories.

While he's dodged speaking to me, Meckler has given a couple of comments lately to extremely sympathetic and unquestioning interviewers bashing Mother Jones and accusing me personally of spreading lies and falsehoods about his organization. The most recent appeared in a NewsReal blog post by Walter Hudson, the founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots. Hudson asked Meckler whether he planned to respond to my stories on the group's startling lack of transparency—issues no other news outlet has covered. Here's his reply:

No. I don’t want to give them credence. That’s not journalism. I respect journalists who criticize us. That’s fine. Feel free. And plenty of them do. The only journalist in the world who I won’t speak to is Stephanie Mencimer [the author of the Mother Jones series]. I mean literally. I talk to Dave Weigel, of JournoList fame, who came across as hating conservatives. We still speak, because why? He’s always covered us fairly. He doesn’t agree with us, I don’t think, philosophically. But he’s never lied about us. He’s never mischaracterized anything about us. He’s just critical of us sometimes. I don’t care. Criticize us. That’s absolutely fair. That’s fair game. If we choose to be out there in the public, then people can criticize us. But when you step over the line, when you fabricate, when you accept lies without doing the research, that’s not journalism and I just don’t participate in it.

As Meckler hasn't identified a single specific inaccuracy in any of our coverage of him or Tea Party Patriots, and now that he's called me a liar, here is a follow up question Hudson and others might want to ask him: What exactly were the lies in those stories?

  • Meckler was once a top distributor for Herbalife, a company accused of running a pyramid scheme and sued successfully for injuring people with products loaded with the now-banned herbal stimulant ephedra?
  • Two years after its founding, Tea Party Patriots has failed to file tax returns that would reveal information about how it's spending all its donated money?
  • The group has cozied up with people implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, including former Oklahoma congressman Ernest Istook and Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed?
  • Several former TPP employees report having been offered (donated) money to sign confidentiality agreements to prevent them from ever criticizing TPP or disclosing information about the group's finances? And that people who have asked questions about its finances have been drummed out of the organization?
  • TPP has put a man who owes the IRS more than $500,000 in charge of managing its money as the assistant treasurer? Or that he happens to be married to Meckler's co-coordinator Jenny Beth Martin?
  • TPP hired two GOP-connected telemarketing firms that are harassing tea party activists with fundraising calls, from which the firms will keep 75 percent of any money raised?
  • Meckler and Martin accepted the use of a private jet from a wealthy Montana businessman without disclosing the name of the donor?
  • TPP was spreading false Internet rumors that Sarah Palin would be attending the group's policy summit in Phoenix last month to announce her presidential candidacy?

If there are any errors in these stories Mark, please let us know. We'd be happy to correct them.

Will Democrats Give Away Too Much on the Budget?

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 10:32 AM EST

Though Congress managed to avert a government shutdown for the next two weeks by passing a temporary budget extension, a big political showdown on spending still looms over Washington. House Republicans passed a bill that would slash $61 billion in spending cuts, and some liberal Democrats now fear that the party will end up ceding too much ground to the GOP. Bloomberg reports:

During the March 1 private lunch session, some senators complained that Obama and his aides had offered no concrete plan to counter the Republican budget bill, creating the potential that more short-term funding extensions would be needed that could come at a steep price for programs Democrats care about…

Some Democrats said the president has so far taken too passive an approach in the larger debate on spending, allowing Republicans to set the agenda for slashing federal expenditures and position themselves to gain credit for such moves.

"I would hope that they would ratchet it up big-time," Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Citing such concerns, a handful of liberal Senators voted against the short-term budget extension on Wednesday, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "One way or another, federal spending both for the rest of 2011 and for 2012 is going to decline," concludes The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, who believes that the GOP has already succeeded in pushing both parties to the right on spending. "This is what happens when a party, and its political leaders, spend a generation rhetorically embracing the idea that the government spends too much money. Eventually deeds have to match the words."

And though some Democratic legislators are pointing fingers at the White House, Obama isn't the only one to set the party's parameters for the budget debate. Senate Democrats have already promised to slash some $41 billion from 2011 spending—and there are reports that they're willing to go even further, making cuts to education, innovation, and infrastructure. With 58 percent of the public disapproving of the way that Obama is handling the budget—and only 36 percent approving, according to a Quinnipiac poll—it seems clear that the GOP already has the upper hand, and that the Democrats may be reluctant to face them down.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 3, 2011

Thu Mar. 3, 2011 5:30 AM EST

Spc. Joshua Hutchins and Spc. Ryan Frye thread a Bangalore torpedo through a barrier of concertina wire during a training exercise for combat engineers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team Feb. 23, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The explosive devices are used to clear a path through the “C-wire” for advancing troops. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

The Idiot's Guide to Foreign Wars (Iraq Edition)

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 3:01 AM EST

"Arabs tend to perceive events as isolated incidents...[they] do not generally subscribe to the Western concept of cause and effect...These thought processes could cause Arabs and Arab rhetoric to seem illogical or irrational to Westerners who look for a unifying concept."

"Many Arabs perceive the world in extremes, perhaps due to the harsh, desert environment that Arabs have lived in for thousands of years."

"Arabs appear paranoid by Western standards. Many perceive problems as part of a plot to foil their attempts to make life more pleasant."

"Kurds are distrustful by nature."

Is this a back-of-a-napkin revelation from some 19th-century anthropologist raised in the British imperial womb? A deleted passage from Lawrence of Arabia's memoirs? Nope, it's the modern training manual offered to US servicemembers and military contractors on their way to duty in Iraq. I know this, because I scrounged one in 2008.