Kevin Drum - October 2010

Meaningless Polls, Part 897

| Tue Oct. 12, 2010 9:59 AM PDT

From the latest Bloomberg poll:

The Republican “Pledge to America” is viewed as a good idea by 48 percent of likely voters, compared with 39 percent who term it a bad idea.

Are they seriously trying to tell us that 87% of likely voters have heard of the Pledge to America? Please. Here's the actual question:

All this poll tells you is that if you vaguely ask people if they're in favor of cutting taxes and reducing some government spending, about half will vaguely say they are as long as nothing is cut that actually affects them. It's hard to think of a more meaningless poll question.

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Liberal Branding Revisited

| Tue Oct. 12, 2010 9:31 AM PDT

Bob Somerby thinks that liberal branding isn't as hard as some of us think:

For ourselves, we think it’s very easy: The people, not the powerful! You have to explain where things go from there, of course.

Yep. You have to explain where things go from there. But that's the whole problem, isn't it?

Dumb and Dumber

| Tue Oct. 12, 2010 9:00 AM PDT

And now, from the annals of political cluelessness:

In a potential sign of Democratic unease with the White House midterm political strategy, some of President Obama's allies have begun to question his sustained attack on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has long claimed bipartisanship but is being increasingly identified as a GOP ally.

....Democrats expressing reservations have worked on behalf of moderate candidates with business backing. They recalled past attacks on former President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for receiving foreign money and warned that White House charges now could lead to GOP reprisals, particularly if Republicans gain control of the House.

"The White House may reap the whirlwind," said one top Democratic staffer. "What are we going to do next year if a Republican Congress is making baseless claims about President Obama? We'll want the media to hold them accountable to the facts and the evidence."

Maybe you think the president's attacks on the Chamber of Commerce are over the top. Fine. Maybe you think it's making life hard for some centrist Dems. Fine. But worrying about "reprisals"? Worrying that it will leave Dems helpless if Republicans start making "baseless claims about President Obama"? WTF? What planet do some of these guys come from? Are they still under the impression that Republicans might not make baseless claims about Obama if he plays nice? Or that the press is going to hold them accountable if they do?

Holy cats. Maybe they really do deserve to lose.

A Chicken in Every Pot

| Tue Oct. 12, 2010 8:10 AM PDT

More evidence that the recession is over!

Pay on Wall Street is on pace to break a record high for a second consecutive year, according to a study conducted by The Wall Street Journal.

About three dozen of the top publicly held securities and investment-services firms — which include banks, investment banks, hedge funds, money-management firms and securities exchanges — are set to pay $144 billion in compensation and benefits this year, a 4% increase from the $139 billion paid out in 2009.

There's some speculation in the article that Wall Street pay might "level out" as profits flatten in response to financial reform, but if that happens "analysts and experts expect that Wall Street will lay off employees in order to keep bonus pools high." So it's all good.

The GOP's Shadow Banking System

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 10:10 PM PDT

The recent hubbub over the Chamber of Commerce taking money from foreign sources may be a little overblown, but at least it's serving to shine a spotlight on an issue that really is important: the growing tidal wave of anonymous cash that funds American elections. The New York Times reports:

The American Future Fund, organized under a tax code provision that lets donors remain anonymous, is one of dozens of groups awash in money from hidden sources and spending it at an unprecedented rate, largely on behalf of Republicans. The breadth and impact of these privately financed groups have made them, and the mystery of their backers, a campaign issue in their own right.

....The surge of anonymous money is the latest development in corporate America’s efforts to influence the agenda in Washington, following rules enacted several years ago banning large, unregulated gifts to political parties....Now, as new laws and a major Supreme Court decision have removed barriers to corporate giving, Republican operatives have embraced the use of nonprofit issue groups that can keep donors’ identities secret.

....The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which does not identify its corporate members, spent $10 million over the last week on advertisements, mostly against Democrats, records show. The chamber will most likely meet its fund-raising goal of $75 million, more than double what it spent on the 2008 campaign, Republican operatives say.

Democrats tried to bring this tsunami of interest group spending into the light by passing the DISCLOSE Act earlier this year, but the results were unsurprising. It got a grand total of two Republican votes in the House and zero Republican votes in the Senate, and ended up being filibustered to death. Corporate special interests prefer to work in the shadows, and the GOP is happy to oblige their preferences.

The bulk of the Times story is about the American Future Fund, which, upon investigation, turns out to have been started by a wealthy ethanol producer. This is probably pretty typical. A lot of the donors to these anonymous funds are probably just the usual rich folks who have given money to Republican campaigns in the past ("reliable Republican contributors who helped elect George W. Bush and support Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" in the Times' words), but quite a few others are newbies with an agenda who don't want their customers or anyone else to know that they're taking partisan stands:

When [Karl] Rove and Ed Gillespie, the former Republican chairman, began their efforts last spring, they first helped set up a group called American Crossroads under a tax-code provision that requires the disclosure of donors. It took in several seven-figure contributions from high-profile donors, including Trevor Rees-Jones, president and chief executive of Chief Oil and Gas, and Robert Rowling, chief executive of TRT Holdings.

Then in June, Mr. Rove and Mr. Gillespie helped organize Crossroads GPS under the provision that allows donors to give anonymously. A Republican operative who speaks frequently with Mr. Rove said the public donations, revealed over the summer, were used as “a way to energize others to give large amounts anonymously.”

The operative added, “It has worked like a charm.”

I'll bet it did. The vast sums of money spent by corporate interests on American elections is bad enough, but vast sums of secret money is far worse. This is not a healthy develpment in a supposedly open democracy.

Buyer's Remorse on Wall Street

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 12:09 PM PDT

A sad story from the Wall Street Journal:

Securities firms dangled big bucks to lure thousands of brokers away from rival companies during the past two years. Now those signing bonuses are causing an epidemic of buyer's remorse.

Some of the star financial advisers who were promised six- or seven-figure payments to jump ship have been huge disappointments, failing to generate profits for their new employer. Others quickly abandoned the brokerage firm that wooed them.

Brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it?

In other, totally unrelated news, there might be more to the honeybee colony collapse story than the New York Times told us a few days ago. Details here.

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Thinking Small

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 10:37 AM PDT

Infrastructure is the word of the day:

President Obama called on lawmakers Monday to back an ambitious initiative to modernize the nation's crumbling roads, railways and airports, saying the strategy would not only improve the economy in the long run but create good jobs now.

....The Rose Garden statement capped a series of White House activities intended to highlight Obama's infrastructure initiative, unveiled a month ago as the White House came under increasing pressure to address unemployment before the Nov. 2 congressional elections. The proposal would create an infrastructure bank to prioritize projects of national importance and fund it with $50 billion generated by eliminating certain tax benefits for oil and gas companies.

Well, I'm all for this, but the effect would be so minuscule that it's hard to get really excited about it. It's fully funded, so it doesn't really provide much in the way of stimulus. It works out to $8 billion per year, so it would have only a small effect on construction employment. And, as Annie Lowrey says, "Congress has proved intransigent." So it's unlikely to ever see the light of day.

We're just stuck. It seems likely that the Fed is going to provide some additional quantitative easing in the near future, which will probably be helpful, but it would sure be a lot more helpful if it were matched by something serious on the fiscal side. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be good for Republican electoral chances, so it's not going to happen. Welcome to 1937.

Paging Glenn Beck

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 9:26 AM PDT

Dana Milbank, Media Matters, and Steve Benen are promoting the idea that Glenn Beck bears some responsibility for Byron Williams' recent shootout with highway patrol officers on a freeway near Oakland. After all, Williams later said he was planning to kill people at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU thanks largely to things he learned from watching Beck's TV program. Here's Steve, for example:

I continue to strongly believe criminals are ultimately responsible for their crimes, but Beck is whipping up a confused and easily-misled mob into a rage, lying to them with deranged theories, and pointing them in a direction. That's legal and his speech is protected by the First Amendment. But the sooner Beck, his network, his sponsors, and the media conglomerate that signs his checks show some restraint, and take some responsibility for dousing a simmering flame with lighter fluid, the safer we'll be.

This is carefully hedged, but it still goes too far for me. Beck is a conspiratorial loon, but he's just not responsible for a guy like Williams. Full stop. No more than environmentalists are responsible if some crackpot takes a shot at the CEO of Exxon or Keith Olbermann is responsible if one tosses a bomb onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

If Beck were advocating violence, that would be one thing. But he isn't and hasn't. Ever. Fox ought to take Beck off the air, but they should do it because he's crazy and promotes ignorance, not because Byron Williams says he learned about the Tides Foundation from him. This is not a game that liberals should start dipping their toes into.

UPDATE: This isn't a very popular post. I'm disappointed, but not surprised. Unfortunately, the general attitude of the anti-Beck commenters is, "There are lots of unstable folks out there, so you should be careful what you say." I don't find that a very persuasive argument from the left, and I promise not to find it a persuasive argument the next time it comes from the right either. Not from Pam Geller aimed at Muslims, not from Andy McCarthy aimed at NSA whistleblowers, and not from Ari Fleischer saying that Americans need to "watch what they say, watch what they do." Sorry gang.

Atrios says he generally agrees that media figures aren't responsible for the actions of the mentally deranged who listen to them, but "Having said that, it is the case that Beck really is getting close to, and crossing, that line by using obvious violence-endorsing rhetoric even as he disavows the violence part." OK. But he needs to cross the line first.

UPDATE 2: Steve responds:

I know Kevin's right. Really, I do. But to augment an old metaphor, I feel like Beck is close to the point at which he's in a crowded theater shouting, "Fire! But try not to trample anyone. There's a fire right here in this very theater that may kill you! But there's no need to make a mad dash for the exits."

Baggage Fee Blues

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 8:59 AM PDT

A maker of fashionable traveling vests got his ads booted from Delta's inflight magazine last month:

The proposed ad read: "The most stylish way to beat the system. Scottevest travel clothing has specialized pockets to help you stay organized and avoid extra baggage fees."

Scottevest founder Scott Jordan claims the ad got nixed because Delta Air Lines didn't want to bring attention to those annoying baggage fees. In the second quarter this year, Delta collected $256 million in baggage fees — the most of any airline in the industry.

You know, there's another way Delta could avoid attention being directed at their annoying baggage fees.....

Peter Diamond Wins Nobel, Not Fed Seat

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 8:38 AM PDT

I see that Sen. Richard Shelby (R–Ala.), in addition to just being an all-around prick, is now responsible for blocking the appointment of a Nobel prize winner to the Federal Reserve. Nice work, GOP!

At this point, I'm increasingly open to the idea of a constitutional amendment limiting the Senate's confirmation authority to, say, 50 executive branch positions. They can pick whatever 50 they want. But surely having veto power over the 50 most important spots is enough? Aren't they supposed to spend most of their time considering legislation, after all?