2011 - %3, July

Advice for John Boehner

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 11:35 AM PDT

Chad Orzel talks to his daughter about the process of creating art:

She went on to explain that the car had been inside the marker, but then she took the top off the marker, and put it on the paper, and the car came out. Which is pretty impressive. She's just about to turn three, and she's already got the Artist-as-conduit-for-something-external line of patter down. I look forward to the next time we get out the Play-Doh, when she'll explain how she looks at a blob of it and then takes away all the bits that aren't an elephant.

Perhaps she could give John Boehner some pointers on how to write a debt ceiling bill. I envision two alternatives:

  • "The debt ceiling bill is inside your pen. Just take off the top and put it on the paper and the debt ceiling increase will come out."
  • "Get a big pile of words and then take away all the words that aren't a debt ceiling increase. Done!"

Either one of those would be better — and more family friendly — than my advice.

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Koch-Backed Group Buys $150K in TV Time for Wisconsin Ad Blitz

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 11:13 AM PDT

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy group founded by David Koch and funded by a roster of right-wing think tanks, has purchased $150,000 in TV air time in Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee, three of Wisconsin's biggest media markets. The ad buy comes in the run-up to Wisconsin's big recall elections, which are just over a week away. If spent on pro-GOP recall ads, the buy brings AFP's overall political spending on the recall races to more than $500,000.

The August 9 recall elections pit six under-fire state Senate Republicans against Democratic challengers. The six GOPers were targeted by voters after they backed Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-union budget "repair" bill, a piece of legislation that sparked weeks of protests in Madison, the state capitol. Walker won the battle over his bill, which curbed collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions in the Badger State, signing it into law in March. But soon after it was blocked by a district-level judge, who claimed GOPers violated the state's open meetings act in the passage of the bill. The bill eventually wound up before the state Supreme Court, where a three-justice conservative majority upheld the bill.

It's not only Republicans who have faced blowback for their actions during the battle over Walker's budget bill. Three Democratic state senators were targeted by conservatives for recall for fleeing the state in February to block a vote on Walker's bill. In July, one of them, Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen won in a landslide in the first general election of the recall season. Democrats need a net gain of three seats in the state senate to take control of the chamber.

Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive group One Wisconsin Now, called AFP's new ad blitz "the granddaddy of corporate, big oil special interest money" and a last-ditch effort to salvage the GOP majority in the state senate. "The Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity has now dumped over $500,000 to pollute Wisconsin airwaves about the failed agenda of Scott Walker and the Senate Republicans—and they may just be getting started."

Huntsman: "I'm Not Ashamed To Be a Conservationist"

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 10:31 AM PDT

Jon Huntsman may be emerging as the only GOP presidential candidate willing to whole-heartedly endorse climate science. As I noted a few weeks ago, he has been the most straightforward in his assertion that politicians should defer to the scientific community on the question of whether the planet is warming. Yesterday, he went a step further, suggesting that future generations will judge the GOP on the issue of environmental stewardship.

From the Associated Press:

"We will be judged by how well we were stewards of those (natural) resources," said Huntsman, a veteran of three Republican administrations who until this spring was President Barack Obama's ambassador to China.
"Conservation is conservative. I'm not ashamed to be a conservationist. I also believe that science should be driving our discussions on climate change," he added.
Polling on the issue gives Huntsman little reason to embrace — or promote — his position or his moderate environmental record while governor.

Among the 2012 GOP candidates, Mitt Romney has also made the radical assertion that we should perhaps reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But now his campaign is busy quibbling with reporters about whether or not he thinks greenhouse gases are "pollutants," which isn't the greatest sign that he's serious about the problem.

Rick Perry Gets Cold Feet On Gay Marriage

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 9:53 AM PDT

Remember last week, when Texas Governor Rick Perry sounded a lot like a gay marriage supporter? Well, nevermind. All that talk about how states should be allowed to decide for themselves about allowing same-sex matrimony might have been great national press fodder, but it was too good to last. Yesterday, Perry appeared on the radio show of the Family Research Council to set things straight:

The real fear is states like New York will change the definition of marriage for Texas. That is the reason the Federal Marriage Amendment is being offered. It's a small group of activist judges and really a small handful, if you will, of states and these liberal special interest groups that are intent on a redefinition, if you will, of marriage on the nation for all of us, which I adamantly oppose. Indeed, to not pass the Federal Marriage Amendment would impinge on Texas' and other states' right not to have [gay] marriage forced upon them.

Of course, the Federal Marriage Amendment would also prevent any state from legalizing gay marriage at home. Which means that Perry thinks gay marriage "should be New York's perogative," except when it isn't.

H/T Texas Freedom Network.

Inflating Away the Debt

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 9:51 AM PDT

Tyler Cowen points today to John Hussman saying something that's been in the back of my mind for a long time but never quite made it onto the blog:

Here in the U.S., [debt held by the public] amounts to about 60% of GDP and rising, due to recent budget deficits of about 10% of GDP annually. This is presently manageable since so much of that debt is of short-maturity and is being financed at very low interest rates.

....Still, it's precisely that short average maturity that makes the debt problematic from a long-run perspective, because it can't be inflated away easily. In the event of sustained inflation, the debt would have to be constantly refinanced at higher and higher yields. Contrary to the assertion that the U.S. can easily inflate its debts away, it is clear that sustained inflation would create enormous risks to our long-run fiscal condition by driving interest costs to an intolerable share of revenues. At that point, any shortfall in GDP growth or government revenues would result in a rapid spike in debt-to-GDP (as Greece and other peripheral European nations are experiencing now). Prior to embarking on an inflationary course, the first thing a government would want to do is dramatically lengthen the maturity of its debts.

This is true, isn't it? I keep hearing repeatedly, from tea partiers and assorted tea party leaners, that the real danger we're running isn't that the United States will literally default on its debt in the future, but that it will try to inflate away its debt. Sort of a soft default, if you will.

But that's not even possible, is it? The vast bulk of U.S. debt matures in three years or less, which means that a bout of inflation would simply raise the cost of borrowing. Virtually all debt holders would roll over their holdings long before inflation had any serious effect on them and the government would gain nothing. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the new debt issued would be about as expensive as the old debt.

So where does this whole "inflating away the debt" meme come from? Is it just the gold bugs, or is it coming from somewhere else too? What's the deal?

Economy Update: Still Sucking

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 8:54 AM PDT

GDP grew last quarter at a rate of 1.3%. That's pretty sluggish. What's worse, as Matt Yglesias points out, GDP for the previous three years was revised substantially downward at the same time. So to summarize:

  • The Great Recession was worse than we thought.
  • The recovery was slower than we thought.
  • And the economy continues to sputter badly.

To address this, our current plan is to shut down the government and produce economic chaos for no reason whatsoever. Thanks, tea party!

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Why Is Obama Such a Wimp?

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 7:48 AM PDT

There's a fair amount of armchair psychoanalyzing here, but Bruce Bartlett has an interesting theory today about why President Obama continually thinks that pre-emptive compromise will bring Republicans to the table: it's because he never had the pleasure of negotiating with either the Soviet Union or Big Labor, a pair of opponents who could very quickly disabuse presidents of the idea that nice guys finish first:

Consequently, Obama has really been caught flat-footed by the Tea Party era Republican Party. He believed it would respond positively if he offered it half a loaf on just about every issue.

For example, some 40 percent of the 2009 stimulus legislation consisted of tax cuts even though his economic advisers knew that they would have almost no stimulative effect....Obama offered Republicans another half-loaf by putting forward a health reform plan almost identical to those that they and conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation had proposed in the 1990s....Last December, he caved in to Republicans by supporting extension of the Bush tax cuts even though there is no evidence that they have done anything other than increase the deficit....Foreseeing that Obama lacked leverage in the debt negotiations that everyone knew were coming, I tried to give him some by explaining why the 14th amendment to the Constitution gave him the authority to disregard the debt limit if the Treasury runs out of cash, as it will next week....But on July 7, the Treasury Department publicly ruled out the idea.

....I think if Obama had the sort of experience that Cold War presidents had in dealing with the Soviet Union or that corporate executives and union leaders had in negotiating labor contracts he wouldn’t have been so naïve about the Republicans, who have never hidden the fact that their only objective is defeating him next year regardless of the cost. It’s not too late for Obama to play hardball, but I fear that it is just not in his nature.

Maybe there's something to this — though I'd note that neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush had any experience with communists or union leaders either. My biggest objection, though, is that I'm not sure it would have mattered. If Obama had negotiated with nerves of steel, would he have gotten better deals throughout his presidency? I don't think so. Unlike labor bosses and Soviet bosses, who could be pressured because there were things they wanted that a president could provide, Republicans — and especially tea party Republicans — want nothing that Obama can feasibly give them. If Obama had been tough as nails, they would have followed a path of total obstruction and nihilism anyway. Maybe some details here and there would have changed, but on the whole it just wouldn't have made any difference.

So I guess I'm open to this idea, but not sold on it. Tougher negotiation with centrists in his own party might have moved the needle a bit, but I doubt that Obama ever had any real leverage over Republicans. So, since banging his shoe on the lectern wouldn't have worked, he decided to give compromise a try. It didn't work, but I'm not sure he really lost anything by it.1

1And electorally, it might still be a winner. Obama believes that his reelection depends on votes from independents, and he further believes that independents react well to a conspicuous display of reasonableness. He might be right.

No, Tea Partiers Are Not Really Targeting Allen West

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 6:54 AM PDT

On Tuesday evening, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) announced to the House Republican caucus that he would "drive the car" on Speaker John Boehner's bill to raise the debt ceiling. On Thursday, even as it became painfully clear that Boehner didn't have the votes to push his plan through, the freshman tea partier stood by his Speaker. And that, according to a handful of tea party groups, is a betrayal they won't forget. The Hill's Alicia Cohn reports:

Tea Party leaders announced Thursday they are targeting Republican Reps. James Lankford (Okla.), Allen West (Fla.), Mike Kelly (Penn.), and Bill Flores (Texas), all four freshmen and declared yes-votes for Boehner...

However, Tea Party-affiliated organizations Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Founding Fathers and United West indicated Thursday that their members will not tolerate a vote for the Boehner plan.

Tea Party leaders want West and the others to know they consider voting for Boehner's plan "caving in" and it could mean losing the support of the Tea Party in 2012.

Well, no. This would be a big deal—tea partiers revolt against tea partiers!—if any of these groups really had any power or a membership base. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer explained yesterday, many of the "tea party leaders" who find themselves quoted in the press really aren't the leaders of anyone at all.

The Tea Party Patriots American Grassroots, which isn't listed in that particular story in The Hill but is frequently cited as a leading tea party organization, held a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday to show their opposition to raising the debt ceiling. Thirteen people showed up. If Jim DeMint and Americans for Prosperity start taking potshots at West, he might want to take notice. But these smaller groups pose about as much of a threat to the bomb-throwing congressman as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Update: West was asked about this just now on Laura Ingraham's radio show, and he's not backing down, insisting that abandoning Boehner would give Democrats what they want. Here's his—surprise!—military analogy: "It would be just the same as if you're in a combat operation and you're supposed to be attacking in a certain direction and you refuse to attack or you just attack in a different direction and you split your force and you create a gap by which the opposition can defeat you." The segment ends with Ingraham promising to campaign for West.

Update II: And now things just got weird. Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips just blasted out an email denying that his organization, such as it is, had ever threatened a primary challenge against West: "The group that put this press release out used Tea Party Nation's name without our permission. No one at TPN was shown this press release in advance. Had we been shown that press release, we would have vetoed the use of our name." So, once more: No, tea partiers are not really targeting Allen West.

Which GOP Candidate is the Worst on Reproductive Rights?

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 6:49 AM PDT

Which of the Republican presidential candidates vetoed legislation that would require doctors to provide emergency contraception to rape victims?

It was then Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (The state legislature went on to pass it over his veto.)

Which 2012 GOP contender signed a similar measure into law? It was actually two of them—Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota in 2007 and Jon Hunstman in Utah in 2009.

These are among the facts in an assessment of the Republican presidential wannabes released by NARAL, the national pro-choice advocacy group. The organization examined the records of 12 candidates—some announced and some still teasing—and though a few have occasionally made moves slightly supportive of women's reproductive rights, all of the candidates received a failing grade. This was no shocker.

"They're all unacceptable for pro-choice voters," said Ted Miller, NARAL's communications director. He declined to rank them.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have consistently voted against abortion and family planning measures in national office. Romney and others have waffled. Then there's Rudy Giuliani (still potentially considering another run), who has declared himself pro-choice but also stated that "it would be OK to repeal" Roe v. Wade.

Abortion and other reproductive rights issues didn't factor very prominently in the 2008 or 2010 elections, when the talk was mostly about jobs and the economy. But given the once-again raging battles across the country over abortion rights and the recent scuffle in Congress over family planning, NARAL expects that abortion as a campaign issue will be back, big time, in 2012. "I can't imagine that women are going to forget that in the next year before elections," said Elizabeth Shipp, political director at NARA. "And certainly I think it's our job to make sure they don't."

Why Texas is the China of the West

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 5:21 AM PDT

As Americans lose ever more jobs and economic clout to China, the pressure's mounting for us to become more Chinese. Enter Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose 2012 presidential campaign slogan might as well be, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." In many ways, Texas is the China in our own backyard, a big, brash upstart that's created thousands of jobs by playing economic hardball. Admirers of the Lone Star State have dubbed its economy the "Texas Miracle," but maybe a better name would be the "Texas Tiger." 

 

Jobs for the taking:
China: Since joining the WTO, it has taken or caused the loss of more than 2.4 million US jobs.
Texas: Home to half of all US jobs created since 2009. Perry travels to other states to poach major employers.

Red states:
China: Deflates the value of its currency by 40 percent to subsidize exports and job creation.
Texas: Since 2003, has doled out $732 million in tax credits and subsidies to companies that relocated to the Lone Star State.

Labor on the cheap:
China: About 10 percent of the population still earns less than a dollar a day (pdf).
Texas: Tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of workers that earn the minimum wage or less.

Eco-impunity:
China: World's top carbon emitter would rather burn cheap coal than sign a climate treaty.
Texas: Nation's top carbon emitter was only state to refuse to comply with new federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Tea party:
China: Effective corporate tax rate of 16.6 percent is less than half the US rate.
Texas: Top corporate tax rate of 1% is fourth lowest among US states. Bonus: No personal income tax.

Toxic torts:
China: Tainted milk, poisonous toys, glow-in-the-dark pork: Product scandals are common. Court convictions, not so much.
Texas: "Hurt? Injured? Need a lawyer? Too bad!" writes Texas Monthly, pointing out that the state's tort reforms force everyone from the hospitalized to homebuyers to fend for themselves.

Of rice and men:
China: Suffers from "a lack of adequate (even basic) social protection for a large portion of its 1.3 billion population," according to the International Social Security Association.
Texas: Ranks 46th out of 50 states in per-capita spending; new budget slashes another $15 billion from social services such as Medicaid, mental health centers, and legal aid for the poor.

Free-market cronyism:
China: "Princelings" such as vice-president Xi Jinping and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai have gotten rich by trading on their connections.
Texas: "Good ol' boys" such as corporate raider Harold Simmons and real estate mogul Harlan Crow have gotten rich by trading on their political donations.

Pray for rain:
China: Encroaching desert consumes a million acres of land a year.
Texas: The worst drought in history has turned large parts of the state into a moonscape.

40-gallon hats:
China:                                               Texas: