Kevin Drum - July 2012

Why People Hate Liberals

| Fri Jul. 20, 2012 10:16 AM EDT

From Alex Pareene:

Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals.

There's a (potentially) very good essay to be written called "Why People Hate Liberals." Short answer: we're annoying! We're always telling you that you're destroying the planet, contributing to oppression, killing people halfway around the globe, or just not caring enough about poor people. And you don't want to hear it. You just want to turn on American Idol and relax after a tough day at work.

This essay can't be written by a conservative. (And it really really really can't be written by David Brooks.) It needs to be written by an honest-to-goodness liberal who spends a few months talking to actual people — and then tries to figure out why they hate liberals even though they don't really hate liberal ideas all that much. Somebody get on this, OK?

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No One Wants to be the Second Barclays Bank

| Fri Jul. 20, 2012 9:50 AM EDT

Apparently the shitstorm that engulfed Barclays Bank after it paid a big fine for rigging LIBOR rates has put the fear of God into everyone else on Wall Street. So now they're hoping to avoid the spotlight by teaming up to pay a gigantic joint settlement and hoping that no one pays too much attention to the individual banks who are walking the plank:

The sources told Reuters that none of the banks involved now want to be second in line for fear that they will get similarly hostile treatment from politicians and the public. Bank discussions about a group settlement initially took place before the Barclays agreement, and picked back up in the aftermath.

It is unclear which banks are involved in the potential settlement talks. More than a dozen banks are being investigated in the scandal, including Citigroup, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase. They all declined to comment.

....While Barclays received a 30 percent "discount" on the fines for cooperating fully with authorities, it sustained far more serious damage with the subsequent loss of its top management and a public pillorying at the hands of politicians.

The specter of severe penalties from regulators and the possibility of multi-billion dollar class action suits has hung over more than a dozen banks being investigated worldwide since the extent of attempts to rig Libor became clear in CFTC and FSA documents released with the Barclays settlement.

I suppose this is smart. They all know they're guilty, and they all know they're going to pay up eventually. And the document dumps are likely to be hugely damaging. So why not just avoid all that, fess up (sort of), and avoid the public disclosure of damning emails? It's only money, after all, and they can make that up by furtively raising overdraft fees on all their debit card holders. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

This is Possibly the Stupidest Bit of Faux Outrage of All Time

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 11:40 PM EDT

Dave Weigel explains that "you didn't build that" is a whole new kind of gaffe:

Call it a magic word gaffe—a statement that reveals not what a politician believes, but what you already feared, in your bone marrow, that a politician believes. Democrats still can’t understand why Obama’s speech is supposed to offend anyone. Republicans know that he’s a closet socialist, and that this sentiment only comes out when his energy is flagging.

Yep. The proposition that Barack Obama was actually saying — literally — that business owners don't build their own businesses doesn't make a lick of sense. Unless, that is, you're already convinced that he believes this, and only now has he finally tripped up and admitted it. In that case, it makes all the sense in the world. And what does this contempt for business owners translate into, policy-wise? An increase in the top marginal tax rate from 35% to 39.6%. Apparently this is the rallying cry of today's socialist revolutionaries:

What do you want?

Higher marginal tax rates on income over $250,000!

When do you want it?

At the beginning of 2013, or possibly phased in over time if that's not feasible!

This whole affair is so mind-numbingly stupid that I can only barely stand to keep reading my RSS feed while it's still going on. But I'm a professional, and the show must go on. I hope you all appreciate what I'm doing for you.

Romney's Big Problem: People Just Don't Like Him Much

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 3:39 PM EDT

This is from the latest YouGov poll, and it shows Mitt Romney's big problem in a nutshell: people just don't like him much. He's doing OK among Republicans, and he'll probably do better as the election draws closer, but among independents he's 24 percentage points behind Obama in likeability. You may or may not believe that Americans should vote for the guy they'd rather watch the Super Bowl with, but they do. And right now, they really, really don't want to invite Romney into their living rooms.

Why Pot Is Illegal Everywhere in the World

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 12:38 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias says that legal marijuana would be amazingly cheap:

One key but little-appreciated fact is that, according to persuasive research by Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark Kleiman in their new book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know, is that legal pot would be amazingly cheap. In fact, midgrade stuff would be so cheap that it might make sense for businesses to give it away like ketchup packets or bar nuts.

....This would make pot far and away the cheapest intoxicant on the market, absolutely blowing beer and liquor out of the water. Joints would be about as cheap as things that are often treated as free. Splenda packets, for example, cost 2 or 3 cents each when purchased in bulk.

Probably nobody cares about this, but there's a reason marijuana isn't legal anywhere in the world: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty adopted in 1961. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under this treaty, which means it's flatly, totally forbidden. Countries can decriminalize marijuana use, but no signatory to the treaty can legalize either use or cultivation.

So it's not just a matter of getting either Congress or a state legislature on board for legalization. You'd have to get the United States to withdraw from the 1961 treaty, and that just isn't in the cards. Decriminalization and wink-wink-nudge-nudge lack of enforcement are about the best we can hope for anytime in the near future.

Editing Ben Bernanke

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 11:20 AM EDT

I blanked out yesterday on Ben Bernanke's congressional testimony because it didn't seem like anything interesting had happened. Just the usual "ready and able to step in if needed" stuff that he says every time. But today's New York Times summary has a fine little tidbit that I'm sorry I missed. Republicans, as usual, pounded the table and insisted that Bernanke not so much as consider the possibility of easier monetary policy:

Democrats made no similar effort to convince Mr. Bernanke that he should take additional action. They congratulated the Fed chairman in the manner of people confident that they are speaking with an ally. “I want to thank you for your steadfast commitment to taking action as you deem appropriate,” said Representative Michael E. Capuano, Democrat of Massachusetts. “Thank you for not giving up.”

Representative John Carney, Democrat of Delaware, went one step further. “The Fed is doing everything it can to address the unemployment part of your mandate, is that correct?” he asked Mr. Bernanke.

Mr. Bernanke, momentarily startled, responded that the Fed could do more, and was considering whether it should.

Oh, wait. That's from Scott Sumner's blog. However, an editor at the Times apparently couldn't handle the truth, and that last line now reads:

Mr. Bernanke paused a moment before responding that the Fed “certainly” could do more, and was considering whether it should.

I liked the original better, and I'll bet it's more accurate. Bernanke knows perfectly well that he's doing nowhere near all he could. It must indeed be startling to him that an awful lot of Democrats don't seem to understand that.

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Headline of the Day

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 10:45 AM EDT

I love this headline in the LA Times today. I think we should plate it in bronze and make it our new national motto.

GOP Shamelessness Reaches New Heights

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 10:02 AM EDT

There's a category of political quarreling that I tend to ignore at first, but then slowly get sucked into as the full scale of the hypocrisy at issue becomes apparent. Today we have a fine example: the Republican outrage over waivers recently granted to certain states for their welfare programs. Sure, the waivers were largely requested by Republican governors, and giving states more authority over block-grant funds is usually something Republicans approve of, but it still seemed like a bit of a yawn. Just the usual political nonsense.

But Dylan Matthews of Wonkbook has gotten hold of a letter from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch that makes clear just how stunning this particular piece of hypocrisy really is. Republicans are screaming that the waivers will water down the work requirements of the 1995 welfare reform bill, but it turns out that as recently as 2005 a whole bunch of Republican governors not only supported these kinds of waivers, but signed a letter requesting waivers more expansive than the ones Sebelius just granted. As a public service, I've included an excerpt from Sebelius's letter below, with the names of various Republican notables highlighted — including one Willard Mitt Romney, who I believe was governor of Massachusetts at the time.

I don't doubt that Republicans will invent some reason that the 2005 waivers were entirely different from the waivers Sebelius just granted. That's politics. But it does demonstrate that GOP shamelessness continues to reach new heights. They really just don't care anymore, do they?

Do Swing Voters Care About Mitt Romney's Tax Returns?

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 7:17 PM EDT

Ezra Klein takes to Twitter to write a blog post about Mitt Romney's tax returns:

The Republicans telling Mitt Romney to release his tax returns appear to me to be giving him very bad advice. Consider: 

1) Mitt Romney has much more information than they do about his tax returns. And he doesn't think it's worth it to release them.

2) Most Americans are probably vaguely aware, at best, of the controversy over Romney's tax returns.

3) Folks in the Beltway have spent a lot of time speculating about what could be in the returns, and so, to them, the damage is being done. But that's not true for people in the country.

4) This campaign is really showing the difference between Beltway opinion and campaigns with actual info on voters. See also Obama and Bain.  

5) This campaign has persuaded me that pundits -- myself included -- are the last people we should be asking "what moves swing voters?" The key facts about swing voters are they don't pay much attention to politics and/or don't have strong opinions already. Horserace-obsessed pundits are about as far from the mindset of swing voters as it is possible to get. They are literally the opposite.

I think points 4 and 5 are well taken. However, this cuts both ways: Republicans calling for Romney to release his tax returns might very well be thinking that he's better off doing it now precisely because swing voters aren't paying much attention. But they'll be paying attention in a couple of months, and if Obama can hammer away at Romney's tax returns during the debates, it might very well influence them then. Conversely, if Romney's taxes are "old news" by the time October rolls around, they might have lost their power to influence voters.

Now, obviously, point 1 is true: Romney knows what's in his tax returns and we don't. But consider this too: Romney turned over 23 years of tax returns to John McCain in 2008. He knew that some of them would become public if McCain tapped him, and apparently he didn't think that was a big problem. He seems to be digging in his heels this time around partly out of sheer stubbornness, and it's quite possible that he was thinking more clearly in 2008 than he is now.

Alternatively, of course, maybe his 2009 return has some really nasty stuff in it and it's better to keep it secret and just take the hits. That's for him to decide. But I wouldn't take the calls for him to release his returns as a belief that secrecy is hurting him with swing voters right now. I'd take it as a belief that it will hurt him with swing voters in October.

NOTE: So do I think Romney will release his tax returns? Nope. At this point, he's taken such a strong stand against it that he'd look like he was caving in to the liberal media if he changed course. Standing up to the lefty establishment is a key part of his Mitt 3.0 persona, and he can't afford to damage it.

Typo of the Day: Reveille at the Olympics

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 4:21 PM EDT

Today's award goes to the Washington Post. But I wish it weren't an error. I think a battle of the bugles might make for a pretty interesting opening ceremony.