2011 - %3, July

What Rick Perry Learned From Ron Paul

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 2:25 PM EDT

Libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman Ron Paul has called his state's governor "very much the status quo," but don't tell that to Rick Perry, who has been talking as of late like he's a bona fide Ron Paul Revolutionary. On Friday, Perry earned national headlines (and condemnation from some Republicans) when he said that allowing same-sex marriages in the Empire State "is New York's perogative." And in his new book, "Fed Up!," Perry writes that legalizing marijuana "ought to be California's decision."

While conventional view of Perry as a Bible-thumping arch-conservative holds true, his willingness to condone some liberal-friendly policies outside of Texas puts him in close company with Paul, who has never overtly supported gay marriage or drug use but argued that regulating them should be left up to the states. Perry's position allows him to say that he agrees with conservative voters without pissing off progressive ones too much.  It's smart politics, says conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.  "At some point, you have to trust the voters," she writes, "and if you can't persuade them, then learn to live with the results of policies that you don't favor."

Perry has also taken a libertarian stance on a major national security issue, urging the Texas legislature to pass a bill that would ban the Transportation Security Administration from conducting invasive airport searches. The bill had no chance of passing—the feds had threatened to shut down Texas airports if it did—but it was straight from Paul's playbook. Last year, Paul introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act, an anti-TSA bill nearly identical to the one later introduced in Texas.

Though Perry is still far from a libertarian on many issues, he may see in Paul a model for courting the GOP's small-government and social conservative bases simultaneously. In Texas, a tea party stronghold where both Perry and Paul are better known than in the rest of the country, a major poll last month found that Perry would lose a 2012 presidential race in the state to President Barack Obama but that Paul would beat Obama by 5 percentage points. Texans may be fed up with the feds, or they may just be fed up with Perry, but either way, the Governor clearly has much to gain by becoming Paul's apostle.

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Home Alone

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 1:09 PM EDT

Derek Thompson explains why he chooses to work in an office even though he could telecommute from home if he wanted to:

For me, it comes down to people. The best social technology increases social connections. Facebook keeps us in touch with far-flung friends. Twitter broadcasts our internal monologues to the world. Email, texts, and phones keep us connected even when we're remote. But none of these things forces us to not be with real live people.

Telecommuting is a choice to be alone. It reduces connections between workers. It removes us from the world of work and makes it indistinguishable from the period before and after, which we could simple call life.

This is, by far, the biggest drawback to my job. On the upside, I'm pretty sure that I'm more productive working at home than I would be in an office, and there are plenty of other benefits too: My commute is 30 seconds, I don't have to put up with interruptions, and I can work odd hours on occasion if I need to.

But it's lonely, no question, even for a basically asocial person like me, and Twitter and email and blog conversations don't come close to making up for it. After nearly a decade, I'm still not sure it's worth it.

(Via Sullivan.)

Getting to No

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 12:43 PM EDT

For the past few months President Obama has been open to nearly any proposal to curb spending and raise the debt ceiling. There's only one thing he's said he categorically won't accept: a short-term increase that kicks the can down the road and forces us to replay this entire battle next year. So guess what John Boehner plans to propose?

Mr. Boehner planned to unveil a new debt-ceiling plan later Monday, a spokesman said. Mr. Boehner's plan would cut the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling in two phases—one that would enable the government to cover its bills through the end of the year and a second in January 2012 depending on recommendations from a congressional commission.

Is there any doubt left about what Republican goals are at this point? Boehner has rejected every possible compromise offered to him, and now plans to unilaterally hold a vote on the one thing — the only thing — that he knows Obama won't accept. This is all he cares about. He doesn't want to solve a problem, he just desperately wants to figure out some way to get Obama to say no so that he can make some political hay out of it.

Seriously, how much more obvious can he be? Is there anyone left in Washington who doesn't get this?

A Fresh Idea on the Debt Ceiling

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 12:18 PM EDT

Hey, I have an idea. How about if Congress just passes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and sends it to the president? That would work, wouldn't it? I wonder why no one's thought of this before?

Missing In Action: Michele Bachmann's Fact-Checking Team

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 12:02 PM EDT

As my colleague Tim Murphy wrote this morning, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) finally got sick of the criticism hurled her way by fellow GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty and fired back with an attack of her own. In highlighting the former Minnesota governor's questionable fiscal record, Tim notes, Bachmann is on the mark. But on the biggest issue on the minds of Americans—jobs and the economy—Bachmann is dead wrong again.

In a Sunday email to supporters, Bachmann says, "Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, 'The era of small government is over...the government has to be more proactive and more aggressive.' That's the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan. [emphasis mine]

Let's examine this. First, President Obama's philosophy, and by extension his policies, have not created record deficits here in the United States. As this nifty New York Times graph points out, it was President George W. Bush's policies—the Bush tax cuts, two unfunded wars, a prescription drug bill, and more—that created a massive deficit. Obama inherited a staggering deficit; he didn't create it. Now, there's a whole different debate to be had about the long-term effect of Obama's policies on the deficit, but that's not what Bachmann's saying. She argues that the mess we're in now is Obama's fault. Bzzt. False.

The "massive unemployment" we have today also isn't Obama's fault. Look at the following graph, which tracks the national unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, from when Bush took office to the present.

As you can see, the jobless rate climbed from a low of 4.4 percent in May 2007 to a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009. The bulk of that increase occurred during the latter years of George W. Bush's presidency, when the housing bubble burst and financial markets went into melt down. The reasons for those crises are many, spanning multiple presidencies. But to say, as Bachmann does, that "massive unemployment" is a result of Obama's policies is wrong. (Not that Obama should get off easy; he came into office with an 8.4 percent jobless rate, and it's now at 9.2 percent. Many economists argue that Obama hasn't done enough to stem the nation's jobs crisis, which shows no signs of abating.)

Finally there's Bachmann's claim that Obama's health reform law is unconstitutional. Bachmann would likely back this up by pointing to court decisions this year declaring the law unconstitutional. But there are also judges who have said the opposite, including a federal appeals court judge appointed by a Republican president who clerked under conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. That judge, Jeffrey Sutton, ruled late last month that Obama's reform law is in fact constitutional.

In other words, Bachmann's attacks on Obama are miles from factually accurate. Which makes you wonder: Has Michele Bachmann's crack fact-checking operation gone on vacation?

What's Behind the Deficit Kabuki

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 11:54 AM EDT

This chart is from the New York Times, and shows in lovely, vibrant colors that George Bush was responsible for far more of our current deficit than Barack Obama has been. It's pretty dramatic, and in any case, probably understates the difference since the vast majority of Obama's contributions were specifically designed to be temporary reactions to the recession. Take out temporary recession spending from both sides and the tally is something like $4,000 billion for Bush and $300 billion for Obama. So now you know the facts.

But, really, who cares? Republicans have never really cared about the deficit except as a partisan tool to use against Democratic presidents, and all the charts in the world aren't going to change that. They'll just keep pointing out that the 2011 deficit is bigger than anything Bush ran up — which is true, thanks to the recession he bequeathed to Obama — and then move on. It's enough for a TV soundbite, and that's all that matters. The Pete Petersons and Standard & Poor's of the world will play along for their own reasons, and the nation's editorial pages will mostly cheer them on. (And then, quite possibly in an editorial on the same page, wail about all the jobless and wonder why they've been forgotten.)

But while it's pretty plain that Republican angst over the deficit is just a facade, I think Atrios isn't quite right when he says that Republicans also don't care about cutting spending. They do. In fact, that's the political beauty of pretending to care about the deficit: it sounds fiscally responsible, and it provides cover to cut spending on social programs that Democrats care about. Not defense or, as Atrios says, Social Security or Medicare unless they can get bipartisan cover for it, but pretty much anything else that benefits the poor or the young or the sick. All in the name of getting our fiscal house in order and not becoming the next Greece. Hooray.

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Quote of the Day: How Not to Play an Important Role

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 11:04 AM EDT

From Paul Waldman, reacting to Cornel West's peculiar ideas about making a difference:

If I said, "Last weekend I was at Clooney's, and we ate sushi off Jessica Alba's naked body, then later I gave him some notes on a script he's working on. That's an important role I'm playing," you'd think I was just about the biggest jackass you'd ever met. And you'd be right.

OK, but what if he and Clooney had eaten sushi off Jessica Alba's naked body and then co-written a blog post for the Huffington Post? How about then?

Debtageddon: The Big Point

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 10:31 AM EDT

The gang at NBC News' First Read newsletter reminds us of a fundamental point regarding the debt-ceiling showdown: the Republicans are to blame for this ugly and perhaps dangerous face-off:

*** But remember: Republicans started this fight: All of this finger-pointing, posturing, and politics -- with the U.S.’s credit rating at stake -- have generated a considerable disgust at Washington, at both Democrats and Republicans. But it is important to note that Republicans started this fight by tying deficit reduction to the debt ceiling (when many of these same Republicans have voted for clean debt-ceiling hikes in the past). The president and his party have indicated their willingness to pay the ransom -- with some concessions -- but Republicans won’t accept it. The irony to all this is that Republicans have won the larger argument they started; they just haven't figured out how to declare victory. What seems to upset many Republicans is how the president (using the bully pulpit) got to the right of them on deficit reduction. Of course, now both parties have a lot on the line, the president doesn't want to look like he can't lead, even a broken Washington, and the Republicans want to prove they can govern. 

This is no small matter—and means more than the usual blame-gaming of Washington. The debt ceiling could have been raised routinely, as it always has been done by both parties in Congress, and the titanic fight over spending and taxes could have been waged in other quarters, such as the annual appropriations and budget-drafting squabbles of Capitol Hill. But, noooooooooo. The Republicans had to tie—or handcuff—the two together, and then start running toward the edge of the cliff. It's not clear that the GOP has paid a full political price for this move. President Barack Obama has fared better than congressional GOPers in recent polls. But there's probably plenty of room for him to press this point: reckless GOPers created this mess. It wouldn't be spin. It would be the truth.

 

Bachmann Blasts Pawlenty's Minnesota Budget Mess

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 8:14 AM EDT

The battle between Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has mostly been a one-sided affair thus far. As Bachmann has jumped to the top of the polls in Iowa and Pawlenty has plummeted, the former governor has stepped up his criticisms of Bachmann, arguing that she's never actually accomplished anything during her decade as a legislator. Bachmann has largely stayed mum, but now, perhaps spying a chance to drive a stake through an opponent who's polling at 2 percent nationally, she's gone on the attack. Here's what she emailed to supporters on Sunday:

Actions speak louder than words. When I was fighting against the unconstitutional individual mandate in healthcare, Governor Pawlenty was praising it. I have fought against irresponsible spending while Governor Pawlenty was leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota. I fought cap-and-trade. Governor Pawlenty backed cap-and-trade when he was Governor of Minnesota and put Minnesota into the multi-state Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. While Governor Pawlenty was praising TARP—the $700 billion bailout in 2008—I worked tirelessly against it and voted against it.

Hey, this Pawlenty guy doesn't sound so bad! The cap-and-trade and TARP hits were a given—Pawlenty likes to refer to those positions as his "clunkers"—but the budget criticism is something new, and it's especially noteworthy because Pawlenty's claims of balancing budgets and cutting spending are his top talking points on the campaign trail. On this front, Bachmann is right. As I've reported, Pawlenty balanced Minnesota's budget through a series of tricky accounting maneuvers. He would defer payments or take out loans that didn't need to be paid off until after his term was over. Most glaringly, his push to cut taxes and spending at the state level forced local governments to pick up the slack, so real spending did not actually decline. A little bit of accounting wizardry is necessary sometimes; most governors do it. But it's not what comes to mind when you think of the "tough choices" Pawlenty has promised.

Up until now, though, fellow Republicans have been reluctant to call Pawlenty out on his budget bluster, likely because their own ideas are mathematically flawed to some degree. The Paul Ryan budget (which Bachmann supports) would require raising the debt ceiling (which Bachmann opposes). And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, seen as Bachmann's top rival in Iowa should he jump in the race, recently employed more or less the Pawlenty method to balance the state's budget. As the AP described it, Texas relied on "accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013."

Review: Eilen Jewell's "Queen of the Minor Key"

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

TRACK 11

"Only One"

from Eilen Jewell's Queen of the Minor Key (Signature Sounds)

Liner notes: Best known as an alt-country artist, Jewell (not to be confused with the '90s diva) channels jazz siren Billie Holiday on this torch song, as shimmering electric guitar and organ cast a late-night spell.

Behind the music: Boise-born and Boston-based, the versatile former street busker performs gospel in a side project, The Sacred Shakers, and released a Loretta Lynn tribute album last year. She wrote the songs on Queen of the Minor Key while holed up in an Idaho cabin without electricity or running water.

Check it out if you like: Progressive traditionalists such as Neko Case, Buddy Miller, and Lucinda Williams.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Front page image: Marcel Houweling/Flickr