2012 - %3, August

Bernanke Warns Congress to Stop Stalling on Economy

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 7:50 AM PDT

In his big speech at Jackson Hole today, Ben Bernanke said that today's weak economy was due not to structural factors, as some conservatives continue to argue, but is "being held back currently by a number of headwinds":

First, although the housing sector has shown signs of improvement, housing activity remains at low levels and is contributing much less to the recovery than would normally be expected at this stage of the cycle.

Second, fiscal policy, at both the federal and state and local levels, has become an important headwind for the pace of economic growth. Notwithstanding some recent improvement in tax revenues, state and local governments still face tight budget situations and continue to cut real spending and employment.

…Third, stresses in credit and financial markets continue to restrain the economy. Earlier in the recovery, limited credit availability was an important factor holding back growth, and tight borrowing conditions for some potential homebuyers and small businesses remain a problem today.

So does this mean that he thinks additional action is necessary? The unwritten rules of being Fed chair say that he can't just come right out and say this, but he came pretty close:

Monetary policy cannot achieve by itself what a broader and more balanced set of economic policies might achieve…The stagnation of the labor market in particular is a grave concern not only because of the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for many years.

…Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.

The truth is that Bernanke has been saying this for a long time. Today he's saying it a little more plainly: The economy is still weak; the weakness is mostly cyclical, not structural; that means we can do something about it; that "something" should include both fiscal and monetary action; and if we continue stalling we run the risk that our problems really will become structural and nearly impossible to solve.

In other words, he's telling Congress to quit being so stingy because tight budgets are holding back the recovery, and he's telling his fellow Fed members to stop making excuses and agree to additional monetary easing. Neither one is as effective by itself as they would be together.

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Paul Ryan's Grim Vision for America

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

It's a struggle to truly explain Paul Ryan. He seems so reasonable. Why, in his speech on Wednesday, he told his audience about all the tough choices ahead but then added, "We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak." How could you dislike a Republican who says stuff like that?

It's hard. And it's hard to convince people that this is, basically, an elaborate and finely honed act. After all, we're not used to politicians getting up on a stage and just flatly hustling us. We give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they speak in sober tones and make a point of sorrowfully acknowledging how tough things are for everyone.

Nonetheless, an elaborate act is what this is. You see, Paul Ryan prides himself on being a numbers guy, and his vision for America can best be seen in his long-term budget plan. Here are the two most important numbers, as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office from Ryan's own plan:

  • Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP): from 2 percent of GDP in 2011 to 1.25 percent in 2030 and 1 percent in 2050
  • Other mandatory spending and all discretionary spending: from 12.5 percent of GDP in 2011 to 5.75 percent in 2030 and 3.75 percent in 2050.

Take a close look at that. Ryan wants to cut Medicaid and children's health care by half. These are not especially generous programs in the first place, but in his long-term vision he wants them cut in half.

But it gets worse: He wants to cut all other spending—aside from Social Security and Medicare—by 70 percent. And even that understates things. He's made it plain that he doesn't want to see substantial cuts in the defense budget, which means that the domestic budget would probably have to go down to something like 1.5 percent of GDP. That's a cut of 80 percent or so and it affects everything. It affects prisons, food assistance, education, the FBI, assistance to the needy, courts, child nutrition, drug abuse counseling, FEMA, rape prevention, autism programs, housing, border control, student loans, roads and bridges, Head Start, college scholarships, unemployment insurance, and job training. Everything. Most of these programs would simply disappear, and the ones that remained would be shriveled and nearly useless.

Nor is that all. Despite his professed concern over the deficit, Ryan also want to cut taxes on America's richest families. The Joint Economic Committee took a look at Ryan's tax plan and concluded that it would most likely raise taxes on the poor and the middle classes and cut taxes on the wealthy.

Let this sink in. This is Paul Ryan's vision for America. This is what Ryan means by "protecting the weak." This is the core of Ryan's tough choices: He wants to cut taxes on the wealthy and cut spending on the poor.

In fact, for all practical purposes he'd like to see most spending on the poor go away completely. But how do you get that across? It sounds so shrill, so hackish. And Paul Ryan seems like such a nice, earnest young man. Surely this isn't what he really proposes?

But it is. There's nothing shrill here, just the plain facts of Ryan's plan. This is Paul Ryan's vision for America.

Carbon Cap-and-Trade Explained in 1 Simple Diagram

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

James WestJames WestEvery year at the Pacific Coast Producers processing plant in Woodland, California, half a million tons of tomatoes are sliced, diced, canned, boiled, and shipped to grocery stores nationwide. The operation is driven by steam, lots of it, which comes from a suite of massive natural-gas-powered boilers. Together, these boilers emit over 25,000 metric tons (about 27,557 US tons) of greenhouse gases annually, which means PCP will be forced to join California's cap-and-trade carbon market, set to kick off in November.

The plan, which officials hope will put the country's most populous state on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, isn't the first carbon trading scheme in the United States: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collective of several Northeastern states (including Massachusetts, which rejoined a few years after being forced out by then-Gov. Mitt Romney), has been auctioning carbon credits, called allowances, since 2008. But unlike RGGI, which applies only to power plants, California's plan extends to all sectors of the economy, which means businesses from paper mills, oil refineries, and universities to pharmaceutical manufacturers, steel mills, and food processors like PCP will have a stake in California's campaign against climate change.

Yesterday, some 150 of those businesses got their first taste, as the curtain lifted on a dress rehearsal of the auction where companies will bid for the allowances (each worth one metric ton of carbon) that determine how much they're allowed to emit, a dry run staged to let companies get comfortable with the system and work out any kinks before it launches for real in a few months. Over the next year, about 150 allowances will be bid on, together worth anywhere from $550 million to $1 billion depending on market forces. Some will be given away for free, to help businesses adjust to the added expense.

"It's like some brave new adventure," said Mona Schulman, a PCP vice president, as she waited for the fall of the digital gavel (the auction is held online) to start bidding. "Everybody's in favor of clean air and the environment being healthy, but there's a lot of uncertainty down the road."

Barring an unforeseen advancement in steam boiler technology, Schulman said, the plant will have limited options for reducing emissions; as the cap gets lower every year, they'll be left with the tough choice of having to cut production, or shell out to other companies for their unused allowances.

Chimps Infected with Human Diseases Pose Possible Risk to Reintroduction Efforts

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

This post first appeared on the Scientific American website.

When a wild animal is rescued from poachers or wildlife smugglers, conservationists usually make an effort to rehabilitate it and return it to life in its native habitat. But what if the animal contracted a disease from humans during captivity that could then be transmitted back to the rest of its species? Should that animal still be released?

A team of scientists working in Africa recently encountered just that conundrum. They were looking for evidence of pathogen transmission from humans to apes at two chimpanzee sanctuaries in Uganda and Zambia, but were surprised by what they found: 58 percent of the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) tested were found to be carrying drug-resistant strains of the staph bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Ten of the human veterinarians working at the sanctuaries also carried the bacteria. The level of infection "mirrors some of the worst-case scenarios in US hospitals and nursing homes," team member Thomas Gillespie, a primate disease ecologist and associate professor at Emory University, said in a prepared release.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, staph can cause potentially fatal infections of the skin or blood. Drug-resistant staph causes more than 18,000 human deaths in the US every year. The strains of staph bacteria at the sanctuaries were found to be resistant at various levels to penicillin, oxacillin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, erythromycin, tetracycline and clindamycin. None of the humans or chimps at the sanctuaries showed any signs of illness from the bacteria.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

Quote of the week

"This is a nightmare for me."
—Former Rick Santorum booster Foster Friess, speaking to MoJo's Tim Murphy at the Republican National Convention in Tampa about the attention heaped on GOP megadonors. "It's too many things going on. I've got like four things to go to. It's just so frustrating," he continued. "I've had enough speeches!" Friess was just one of several deep-pocketed donors in Tampa. Miriam Adelson, wife of casino magnate Sheldon and a megadonor herself, gave a policy talk. Direct-marketing CEO Frank VanderSloot and his wife met privately with Karl Rove; hedge-fund manager Paul Singer also organized a private meeting with Rove. And David Koch "discussed saving America" with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

 

attack ad of the week

American Bridge 21st Century, the liberal super-PAC launched by Media Matters founder David Brock, preempted Thursday night convention speeches by Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) with a web ad pitting Rubio's words against Romney. "For almost all of history, almost everyone was poor," Rubio says. "Only a few people had power and wealth and prosperity." Then, as the video displays quotes critical of the low tax rate Romney has paid, Rubio continues: "And so the people with all the power, the big corporations, the multi-billonaires, they used their influence to get the rules written to their advantage."

 

stat of the week

$450,000: The amount that Florida developer Gary Morse has given to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. Morse owns the Cracker Bay, the unfortunately named yacht Romney bundlers partied on in Tampa. The ship flies the flag of the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven that Romney's not too eager to associate himself with. Other bundlers at the bash included Romney's national finance chairman Ron Weiser, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and real estate developer Bob Pence, who's given Restore Our Future $350,000. (Unlike Obama, Romney has not disclosed the names of all his bundlers.)

 

chart of the week

Here's more evidence of the influence of dark money in the wake of Citizens United: Spending by outside groups has skyrocketed in the 2012 election, tripling the pace set in 2008. The Center for Responsive Politics has it charted:

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Barack Obama Comes Out in Favor of an anti-Citizens United Amendment on Reddit.
"Cracker Bay," Team Romney's Big-Money Party Yacht: Choose where you party carefully, future presidential nominees.
GOP Platform Calls for Nuking What's Left of McCain-Feingold Law: The platform will also oppose passage of new disclosure laws unmasking big donors to dark-money groups.
Bizarre Super-PAC Targets Liberal Icon Raúl Grijalva...and Sheriff Joe: "I know I will make enemies but our country needs an ass-kicking," says the operative attacking Rep. Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

 

more must-reads

• Campaign finance reform groups try to shed light on the dark-money dealings at the RNC. Politico
• A look at how "big business is buying the election." The Nation
• The anti-tax Club for Growth's dark-money machine's latest victory: Helping Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to a Senate primary win. Center for Public Integrity
• Rep. Flake is just the latest of several candidates who have won primaries despite being outspent. Politico
• The Sunlight Foundation has a new app for the iPhone and Android to help viewers debunk attack ads. New Scientist

Corn on "Hardball": Was Clint Eastwood's Speech Political Comedy?

Thu Aug. 30, 2012 11:58 PM PDT

David Corn and Comedy Central's Jared Logan and Mary Phillips-Sandy joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to parse the bizareness that was Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican national convention.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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Final Night Wrap-up: Kind of Blah

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 8:37 PM PDT

I only watched the prime time coverage of the convention tonight, so I saw Clint Eastwood, Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney but none of the other warmup acts.

Clint Eastwood was....about the weirdest thing I've ever seen at a convention. (You can watch it here.) Marian and I were just staring at each other with a WTF expression on our faces most of the time. Gesturing to an empty chair and pretending that he was carrying on an imaginary conversation with Barack Obama? Seriously? And wandering off on Afghanistan? What was that all about? As near as I can tell, he was endorsing the idea that we should pull out of Afghanistan immediately, which I'm pretty sure is not the Republican position. The whole schtick was just sort of embarrassing.

Rubio was fine. He didn't say anything very memorable, but he did a workmanlike job of revving up the crowd and introducing the candidate.

As for Romney, he proved me wrong. He didn't repeat his welfare attack lines at all, not in either a soft soap version or the gruesomely dishonest TV ad version. For the most part, I guess he was OK, but he didn't really seem to have the crowd eating out of his hand. There were several spots where they seemed a little confused and weren't sure if they were supposed to cheer or boo or just wait for an applause line yet to come. There were no teleprompter jokes, and no reference to the Winston Churchill bust, but there was a little jibe about Obama giving "Russia's President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election." I guess that stuff never gets old. But like the teleprompter and the Churchill bust, this is just one of those weird inside baseball conservative obsessions. Outside of political junkies and Fox News groupies, I doubt that one person in a hundred watching on TV got the joke.

Beyond that, the speech felt a little blah to me. More importantly, since my judgment on these things is pretty suspect, Marian apparently found it kind of blah too. About halfway through she started checking football scores on her iPhone. Something tells me a lot of other viewers might have done that too.

Bottom line: there was nothing wrong with tonight's performance (except for Clint Eastwood), but I doubt that it really did much for Romney. There just wasn't enough energy, enough oomph — and the crowd reaction from the convention floor seemed kind of forced and even a little muddled at times. I predict a small bounce for Romney, but no more than a couple of points or so. Overall, it was a missed opportunity.

UPDATE: A few other reactions:

Ed Kilgore: "Biggest indication of the power & originality of this speech is that it didn't even upset me."

Alex Massie: "Eastwood plainly giving the father of the bride speech at a wedding at which he dislikes the groom & does not recognise his daughter."

Andrew Sullivan: "In a word: mediocre, and deeply dishonest as an argument. As a way to soften his awful image: B +."

Jonathan Bernstein: "A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate."

The Corner: An hour after Romney's speech ended, nothing.

Red State: Ditto.

Power Line: Ditto.

Patrick Frey: Ditto.

Hmmm. Conservatives don't seem very energized by Romney's speech. Are there any conservatives with something to say? Wait a second — here we go:

Erika Johnsen at Hot Air: "Sorry to disappoint you, leftists — but Mitt Romney is a straight-up likeable dude."

James Joyner: "If not the 'grand slam home run' that most pundits said he needed, at least a stand-up double, hitting the right note and continuing the process of showing that the Republican nominee is what he is: a good husband, father, and citizen."

Peter Suderman: "I'm not entirely sure what to say about Mitt Romney's convention-capping speech tonight, in part because Mitt Romney appears not to have been sure what to say either."

Joe Klein: "For the moment, he has staked his claim to decency in a country tired of phoniness and rancor. That was the most important thing about the speech tonight."

Josh Marshall: "He’s the underdog and he’s the guy who needs to have a galvanizing introduction to the general public. In those terms, it was a missed opportunity. A pretty big one."

VIDEO: Clint Eastwood's Bizarre "Empty Chair Obama" Speech at the GOP Convention (With Full Transcript)

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 8:00 PM PDT

On Thursday night, Clint Eastwood, the Academy Award-winning actor, director, and screenwriter, delivered one of the most bizarre political convention speeches in American history.

Speaking without prepared remarks, Eastwood carried on an imaginary conversation with an invisible President Obama seated in a chair next to him on the convention stage. I can't even begin to try to summarize Eastwood's rambling address to a bewildered audience and press corps. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, looked less than pleased with Eastwood's speech. And the Hollywood star's invisible Obama skit quickly spawned its own Twitter feed—@InvisibleObama—and a satirical 2012 presidential bid. As well as #eastwooding.

Behold, Eastwood/Chair 2012:

Twitter user @zdrobertsTwitter user @zdroberts

Asked by Politico to respond to Eastwood's speech, Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt replied: "Referring all questions on this to Salvador Dalí."

Here's the full transcript of Eastwood's remarks:

EASTWOOD: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Save a little for Mitt.

(APPLAUSE) I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, what’s a movie tradesman doing out here? You know they are all left-wingers out there, left of Lenin. At least that is what people think. That is not really the case. There are a lot of conservative people, a lot of moderate people, Republicans, Democrats, in Hollywood. It is just that the conservative people by the nature of the word itself play closer to the vest. They do not go around hot-dogging it.

(APPLAUSE)

So—but they are there, believe me, they are there. I just think, in fact, some of them around town, I saw Jon Voight, a lot of people around…

(APPLAUSE)

Jon's here, an academy award winner. A terrific guy. These people are all like-minded, like all of us.

So I—so I've got Mr. Obama sitting here. And he's—I was going to ask him a couple of questions. But—you know about—I remember three and a half years ago, when Mr. Obama won the election. And though I was not a big supporter, I was watching that night when he was having that thing and they were talking about hope and change and they were talking about, yes we can, and it was dark outdoors, and it was nice, and people were lighting candles.

They were saying, I just thought, this was great. Everybody is trying, Oprah was crying.

(LAUGHTER)

I was even crying. And then finally—and I haven't cried that hard since I found out that there is 23 million unemployed people in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

Now that is something to cry for because that is a disgrace, a national disgrace, and we haven't done enough, obviously—this administration hasn’t done enough to cure that. Whenever interest they have is not strong enough, and I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.

(APPLAUSE)

So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?

I mean, what do you say to people? Do you just—you know—I know—people were wondering—you don't—handle that okay. Well, I know even people in your own party were very disappointed when you didn’t close Gitmo. And I thought, well closing Gitmo—why close that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an excuse—what do you mean shut up?

(LAUGHTER)

Okay, I thought maybe it was just because somebody had the stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City.

(APPLAUSE)

I've got to to hand it to you. I have to give credit where credit is due. You did finally overrule that finally. And that's—now we are moving onward. I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that's okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was okay. You know, I mean—you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how they did it—they did there for 10 years.

(APPLAUSE)

But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and I think that, when we get to maybe—I think you've mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question, you know, he says, "Why are you giving the date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?"

(APPLAUSE)

And I thought—I thought, yeah—I am not going to shut up, it is my turn.

(LAUGHTER)

So anyway, we're going to have—we're going to have to have a little chat about that. And then, I just wondered, all these promises—I wondered about when the—what do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. I can't tell him to do that to himself.

(APPLAUSE)

You're crazy, you're absolutely crazy. You're getting as bad as Biden.

(APPLAUSE)

Of course we all now Biden is the intellect of the Democratic party.

(LAUGHTER)

Kind of a grin with a body behind it.

(LAUGHTER)

But I just think that there is so much to be done, and I think that Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are two guys that can come along. See, I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to the president, anyway.

(APPLAUSE)

I think attorneys are so busy—you know they’re always taught to argue everything, and always weight everything—weigh both sides…They are always devil’s advocating this and bifurcating this and bifurcating that. You know all that stuff. But, I think it is maybe time—what do you think—for maybe a businessman. How about that?

(APPLAUSE)

A stellar businessman. Quote, unquote, "a stellar businessman."

And I think it's that time. And I think if you just step aside and Mr. Romney can kind of take over. You can maybe still use a plane.

(APPLAUSE)

Though maybe a smaller one. Not that big gas guzzler you are going around to colleges and talking about student loans and stuff like that.

(APPLAUSE)

Inside the RNC's Poshest Pit Stop: The Adelson Lounge

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 5:15 PM PDT

For campaign-trail veterans, one of the most important things at every convention—along with booze—is figuring out which pop-up lounges you should hit up to charge your batteries, swill some coffee, and grab a (preferably free) bite. Huffington Post has the "Oasis," featuring unpaid massage therapists. CNG, the natural gas giant, has sofas and cafe con leche at the press filing center. Google's lounge, replete with wireless and a gratis coffee bar, has basically been MoJo's Tampa bureau for the last five days. But the award for Most Posh Convention Hotspot of 2012 has to go to the Miriam Adelson Young Guns Pavilion, named for one half of the GOP's dark money power couple and sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's Young Guns Action Fund. (It is probably not a coincidence that the Adelsons gave YGAF $5 million this year.)

As you can see, it's really pink. When I stopped by on Tuesday, volunteers walked through the seating area offering everyone (almost everyone) free hair and makeup. The WiFi is free, the air extra-cool, and the "Woman Up-Tinis" are made special to order. Here's a quick tour:

The Adelson bar.The bar.Up-TiniLady Lemonade.

Adelson lounge A View-style lounge for panel discussions.

broochSwag.

BrooochBling.

Art.Art.

Shoes.Kicks.

The Only Clint Eastwood Video You Have to Watch Before His #GOP2012 Speech

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 4:16 PM PDT
A film declared "fascist" by angry liberal critics. (Eastwood said he didn't mind, so long as they paid to see it.)

Tonight's "mystery speaker" at the GOP convention in Tampa is not hologram Gipper, but the non-hologram Dirty Harry, sources confirmed to numerous media outlets.

After a few days of rabid Twitter-based speculation, the Romney campaign revealed that legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood is slated to speak at the Republican National Convention some time after a musical performace by American Idol Taylor Hicks, but before a speech by Marco Rubio. Eastwood threw his weight behind Romney earlier this month, when endorsing the former Massachusetts governor at an Idaho fundraiser.

Instead of analyzing Eastwood's ideological leanings (which he has described as a blend of Milton Friedman and Noam Chomsky), take a gander at the only footage you really need to see before his convention address. Here he is, with the president of the United States

Full disclosure: I'm an unabashed fan of the 82-year-old filmmaker, whatever his politics. But as the self-professed libertarian and "Eisenhower Republican" is going all-in for Romney/Ryan 2012, it is worth reading this:

Eastwood: These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage? I don't give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?!...They go on and on with all this bullshit about "sanctity"—don't give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.

...right next to this:

Romney: On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage...When I am president, I will preserve the Defense of Marriage Act and I will fight for a federal amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman!

I am not suggesting a supporter must agree with everything his or her candidate believes or says; just throwing it out there.