2012 - %3, February

Chrysler is Just Trying to Sell You a Car, Okay?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 4:24 PM EST

Matt Yglesias on the Chrysler Super Bowl ad that seems to have Karl Rove and the right-wing outrage machine in an uproar:

Apparently Clint Eastwood is personally upset that some people took Chrysler's "halftime in America" to be a positive commentary on the Obama administration.

This seems totally untenable to me. Whether Eastwood or Chrysler executives like to talk about it, the company—currently enjoying double-digit sales growth—would not currently exist today if not for the Obama administration…Whether you like what he did or not, there's no denying its impact. The automobile industry of the upper Midwest is still with us specifically because Team Obama chose to ensure that it would remain there.

I don't get this. It's yet another one of those things that I see, think nothing of at the time, and then subsequently learn has become a cause celebre.1 To me, this just seemed like an ad for Chrysler, very much in line with their campaign of the entire past year, which revolves around the "comeback" of Motor City and the grit and hard work that made it possible. I don't know if that's a good advertising theme or not, but it's the one they chose.

To say that Chrysler's ad is a commentary on Obama because Chrysler got bailed out is to say that every Chrysler ad is implicitly a commentary on Obama. Ditto for every Citibank ad and every AIG ad. That's crazy. They're ads for cars, bank accounts, and insurance policies. I think Jon Cohn probably has the right take here:

I have no idea whether Rove really believes Chrysler produced that ad in order to do President Obama a political favor.2 But the fact that he and other Republicans are so worked up could mean that they are scared—not of the advertisement itself, but of the themes it contains.

Those themes are optimism and national pride. As Salon's Joan Walsh noted on the Ed Show Monday evening, Republicans have basically owned those themes since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan won an election with them. But lately President Obama has been the one making the case that it's morning in America or, at least, just before dawn. He did it in the State of the Union and he's done it in a series of major speeches since.

…If the recovery continues, Obama will have a pretty powerful claim to reelection: That his economic policy choices, made in the face of fierce Republican opposition, are paying off. Rove knows this as well as anybody. I suspect that's the real reason he's so angry.

Yep. I suspect so, too.

1For the record, this happens to me nearly as often on the left as on the right.

2Actually, I think we do have a pretty good idea. He doesn't.

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Court: Prop 8 Is Unconstitutional

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 3:42 PM EST

equality for allrenedrivers/Flickr

On Tuesday morning, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. 

"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California," wrote Judge Steven Roy Reinhardt in an opinion that quotes William Shakespeare, Frank Sinatra, and Groucho Marx. "Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently."

It's Almost Time to Boost the Economy. Almost.

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 3:16 PM EST

Ben Bernanke told Congress today that the long-term deficit is indeed a problem, but it's a problem for the long term. The best way to address it is to combine future budget tightening with present-day budget loosening, which will boost the economy and produce lower deficits in future years:

Bernanke raised concerns that a sharp, immediate push to reduce the deficit could harm the recovery in the upcoming months. In January 2013, he pointed out, the Bush tax cuts will expire, and the major spending reductions triggered by the Budget Control Act will take effect, absent any further action by Congress. As a result, “there will be sharp change in fiscal stance of the federal government. Without compensating action, it would indeed slow the recovery,” Bernanke told the committee members.

However, Sen. Pete Sessions (R-Ala.), the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, pressed Bernanke to answer whether the country’s current deficit was itself holding back the recovery and discouraging key market players. “They’re not reacting to the current level of debt. What they’re attentive to is the process,” Bernanke said, pointing to the political dysfunction that led to the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the US credit rating last year.

Roger that. But it's still a little too early, I think. If Congress takes action right now, it risks having an effect this year, thus helping President Obama. Better to wait until summer, when a sudden conversion to Keynesian pump priming will be timed perfectly to help the economy in early 2013, when a Republican might inhabit the Oval Office. Timing is everything in politics, after all.

Gay Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional — For Now

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 2:20 PM EST

A district court and now the 9th Circuit court have both ruled that California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional. This is great news. However, I assume that it doesn't really matter much since the case will now go to the Supreme Court, which has a history of not really caring about the opinions of the hippies on the 9th circuit. I further assume that the Supreme Court will be divided 4-4 on this question, with Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote depending on his mood that day. Lately, though, his mood has been conservative, so the betting money says this will get overturned 5-4.

That's pretty deflating, isn't it? But who knows? Maybe I'm wrong. I'm sure serious court watchers will weigh in soon.

Also of note: this was a very narrow decision. Basically, the court said that California already provides same-sex couples with all the rights of opposite-sex couples, and Prop 8 does nothing to change that. All it does is prohibit same-sex relationships from being legally described as "marriage":

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.

....All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of 'marriage,' which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships. Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for "laws of this sort."

In other words, this ruling has no impact at all in states where same-sex couples don't already have all the rights of opposite-sex couples, and the court declined to make a broader ruling that might have addressed that. (Though they say they wouldn't have hesitated to do that if the narrower ruling hadn't been available to them.)

Also of note: the court ruled that the backers of Prop 8 did indeed have standing to defend it in court. They lost on the merits, not because they had no legitimate right to defend Prop 8 after the State of California decided not to.

Republicans Once Again Unleash Reality Distortion Field

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 2:01 PM EST

In 1995, when congressional Republicans grew annoyed that independent reviews of science produced answers they didn't like, they shut down the Office of Technology Assessment. In 2001, when Senate Republicans grew annoyed that parliamentary procedure produced results they didn't like, they fired their parliamentarian. Now, in 2012, congressional Republicans are annoyed yet again with the real world, and their answer, yet again, is to create a new reality more to their liking. Bruce Bartlett explains:

On Feb. 3, the House passed H.R. 3582, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2012. Innocuous on the surface, its long-term purpose is to institutionalize Republican economic policy into the very fabric of budgetary analysis.

The legislation would require that the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation do a “dynamic” analysis of major legislation....The dynamic calculation would be supplementary and not replace the current official scoring methodology, but the obvious long-term goal is to require official revenue estimates to incorporate “Laffer curve” effects in order to make it easier to cut taxes and harder to raise them.

....My concern is that the Republican effort is just a smokescreen to incorporate phony-baloney factors into revenue estimates to justify unlimited tax cutting....It already has a very well-financed Center for Data Analysis that the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, used to analyze his budget plan last year, bypassing the Joint Committee on Taxation and C.B.O.

Moreover, my memory is still fresh regarding the documented Republican effort in 2003 to suppress internal estimates of the cost of the Medicare Part D program. Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, has testified to the pressure that was put on him by a Bush administration political appointee, Tom Scully, which was documented by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Dynamic" analysis has been a hobbyhorse for years among movement conservatives, all of whom are convinced that the CBO is engaged in a liberal vendetta to prevent tax cuts by issuing reports showing that tax cuts will....produce less tax revenue. Sneaky! Dynamic scoring, they're convinced, will show just the opposite, and blow the field wide open for more and more glorious tax cuts.

As usual, though, it's not clear to me what the purpose of this legislation is. Are they seriously trying to get it passed? That seems unlikely. Are they going to use it as trade bait in future budget negotiations? Maybe. Or are they doing it solely because it's a hobbyhorse among the tea party crowd and they want to show that they're truly dedicated to the cause? My guess is Door #3. But you never know. They might actually be serious about this stuff.

UPDATE: A reader points out something I should have mentioned: CBO has done dynamic scoring before on its own, and the results have been pretty undramatic even with a Republican appointee in charge. For example, CBO's analysis of the 2004 budget is here, and the results of dynamic scoring are in Table 16. Result: maybe a bigger deficit than standard scoring, maybe a smaller deficit. And the differences were small no matter what.

Of course, maybe that just means they weren't using the right dynamic model. I'm sure there's a more agreeable one around somewhere.

What Do the Coen Brothers, Jan Brewer, and Huggies Have in Common?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:47 PM EST

Forget The French Connection, Bullitt, or The Italian Job. The best chase scene in modern cinema—bring it on, boo boys—appears in Joel and Ethan Coen's bizarre, pitch-perfect 1987 classic, "Raising Arizona." (It also features the best chase scene one-liner. Mustachioed truck driver to Nicholas Cage with the cops hot on his trail: "Son, you got a pantie on yer head.") Behold:

Why the clip? One of the nation's largest labor unions has drawn on the Coen brothers oeuvre as it wages the latest battle over workers' rights in America.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and state GOP lawmakers have taken a cue from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by taking aim at the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Except Arizona's assault on workers' rights is more extreme than Wisconsin's. The bills introduced in the state senate there would eliminate all collective bargaining for public employees at the state, city, and county levels.

To fight back, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees launched "Razing Arizona." The new campaign rips Brewer and calls Arizona's anti-union legislation "the latest orchestrated attack from extreme right-wing lawmakers, think tanks, and their corporate cronies who are hell-bent on wiping out what’s left of the middle class." AFSCME also released an ad bashing Brewer in the style of VH1's Pop-Up Video:

The Brewer video has been viewed 2,100 times on YouTube. The Razing Arizona campaign has a thousand "likes" and counting on Facebook. And with the Arizona anti-union legislation still wending its way through the legislature, you can plenty more union counterattacks, film-inspired or no, are on their way.

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Your Daily Newt: Touched by an Angel > Ellen

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:38 PM EST
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (left) and Ellen Degeneres.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Conservative activists are freaking out over J.C. Penney's decision to hire Ellen Degeneres to shill for its products. This is because Ellen, star of the now-dormant eponymous sitcom and host of the still-active eponymous talk show, is openly-gay. By endorsing a popular line of clothing, her sexual orientation will now ooze into the very fabric of our society. So to speak. 

Newt Gingrich hasn't called for a J.C. Penney boycott. But he has been less than boosterish on Ellen's public profile. As the New York Daily News reported in 1997, when Degeneres came out on her show that year, Gingrich's response was to double-down on his call for major television networks to rededicate themselves to family friendly programming:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), whose half-sister Candace is gay, said he's miffed the media celebrates the star of "Ellen" for revealing she's a lesbian while ignoring family shows like "Touched by an Angel."

Asked yesterday what he thought about the Ellen-is-gay hoopla, the Gingrich responded, "I didn't think much about it."

"I think that this is a commentary largely on Hollywood and on the people who define what's big," Gingrich griped on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"If you watch the next five nights of all the networks . . . How many times will a person deal with a serious spiritual question . . . as opposed to what hedonism to engage in next or how shallow and trivial can life be?" he asked.

Gingrich seemed to go out of his way not to mention the name of Ellen DeGeneres' ABC sitcom, calling it "the TV show which happened to end up on the cover of a magazine."

He is pushing the networks to devote the 8-to-9 p.m. time slot to family programing.

One week earlier, Gingrich and more than a hundred other members of Congress had taken out a full-page ad in Variety asking executives at the six leading broadcast networks to dedicate the 8 p.m. hour to family friendly programming: "Is it too much to ask Hollywood to voluntarily set aside one hour for families?"

The Komen Foundation's Even Bigger PR Problem

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:15 PM EST

Clara Jeffery has a piece today about the Komen Foundation and what they can do to recover from their Planned Parenthood fiasco, and it's worth a read. But it reminded me of something I've been meaning to point out: one of the remarkable things about this controversy is that a lot of it hasn't really been about the controversy itself. Rather, for a lot of people it seems like it was just a long-awaited excuse to finally blow up over their long-simmering dislike of the Komen Foundation and its seemingly endless commercialization of all things breast cancer related. I don't really have much to say about this since I'm pretty removed from the whole thing, but one PR lesson Komen should learn is that apparently there's long been a helluva lot of unvoiced annoyance/discontent/exasperation/anger/etc. toward the Komen Foundation among a lot of women. And now that it's finally out, it's going to be hard to stuff it back into its bottle. I wonder if they had any idea before this that they were so heartily disliked by so many people who — until now — just didn't feel like it was OK to say so out loud?

Romney's Ever-Changing Birth Control Stance

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:02 PM EST
This is not an abortion pill.

On Monday, Mitt Romney joined the conservative outcry over the Obama administration's decision to require health insurers to cover birth control, denouncing the decision and decrying the requirement to cover "abortive pills" at a rally in Colorado.

"I'm just distressed as I watch our president try and infringe upon our rights, the First Amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice," Romney told the crowd, via ABC News. He's referring, of course, to the administration's recent decision to limit the exceptions to the new birth control rule to churches and other places of worship, rather than exempting any organization affiliated with a religion.

"This same administration said that the churches and the institutions they run, such as schools and let's say adoption agencies, hospitals, that they have to provide for their employees free of charge, contraceptives, morning after pills, in other words abortive pills, and the like at no cost," Romney continued. "Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience."

Romney elided some key facts about the birth control rule. Institutions with a primarily religious mission are exempted from the law. No doctors will be required to provide birth control. No one who believes that birth control is a sin be required to use it. The law is designed to ensure that access to preventative care is not denied to women who want or need it.

But let's deal directly with the "abortive pills and the like" line. What Romney is referring to isn't an "abortive pill"—it's Plan B, also known as the Morning After pill. Although anti-abortion groups might claim that the pill is "abortive," medical science does not back up that claim. Plan B is a heavy dose of the type of hormones in regular-old-birth-control. It is designed to either prevent ovulation or to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus (depending on where the woman is in her menstrual cycle). Medical organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have clearly affirmed that pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg is implanted. Plan B thus cannot be an "abortive pill" as Romney and others claim.

The remark puts Romney in line with the more extreme anti-abortion groups that believe fertilized eggs should be guaranteed the same rights as adult humans. The GOP front-runner has long tried to have it both ways when it comes to the question of whether "personhood"—and all the rights that comes with it—begins at the point when a sperm meets an egg. Although Romney has repeatedly turned down offers to appear at events hosted by Personhood USA, the national group behind the spate of so-called "personhood" measures, he's still flirting with the group's views on the topic—views that would effectively make all hormonal contraception illegal.

This is also, perhaps most notably, a very different view on emergency contraception than Romney held as governor of Massachusetts. As the Boston Globe reminded everyone last week, in 2005 Gov. Romney required all hospitals in the state—even Catholic hospitals—to provide emergency contraception to victims of rape.

Komen VP Blamed for Planned Parenthood Decision Resigns

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 12:04 PM EST
Karen Handel during her campaign for governor of Georgia.

Karen Handel, the anti-abortion vice president for federal affairs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure who was reportedly behind the decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood, resigned from the group on Tuesday and acknowledged her role in ending the grants.

In a letter posted online and sent to the press, the former Republican candidate for Georgia governor both admitted her role in the controversy and denied that the decision had anything to do with "political beliefs or ideology." She maintained that the decision was made because of a change in Komen's grant priorities—repeating one of the many explanations Komen offered last week after the scandal erupted and before it retreated from its original announcement.

"What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision—one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact—has unfortunately been turned into something about politics," she wrote. "This is entirely untrue."

Last week, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker explicitly denied that Handel had anything to do with pulling the plug on Planned Parenthood funding. "Karen did not have anything to do with this decision," Brinker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "This was decided at the board level and also by our mission."

The full letter is below the fold, and Clara Jeffery has more on why Handel's resignation isn't enough.