National Review's Robert Costa interviews rising right-wing attack dog Marco Rubio:

Rubio tells us that he will respond to Obama’s recent press conference, where the president reveled in class-warfare bluster....“Talking about corporate jets and oil companies,” Rubio says, missed the point. “Everybody here agrees that our tax code is broken,” he says, and he is open to discussing tax reform. “But don’t go around telling people that the reason you are not doing well is because some rich guy is in a corporate jet or some oil company is making too much money.”

Watching Obama brandish such talking points made Rubio wince. “Three years into his presidency, he is a failed president,” he says. “He just has not done a good job. Life in America today, by every measure, is worse than it was when he took over.”

“When does it start to get better?” Rubio asks. “When does the magic of this president start to happen?”

Today is one of those days where I hardly know how to react to things anymore. Part of me shrugs at this stuff: politics is politics. Of course Republicans are going to call a Democratic president a failure. What else would they do?

But then, for about the thousandth time, my mind wanders over the past ten years. Republicans got the tax cuts they wanted. They got the financial deregulation they wanted. They got the wars they wanted. They got the unfunded spending increases they wanted. And the results were completely, unrelentingly disastrous. A decade of sluggish growth and near-zero wage increases. A massive housing bubble. Trillions of dollars in war spending and thousands of American lives lost. A financial collapse. A soaring long-term deficit. Sky-high unemployment. All on their watch and all due to policies they eagerly supported. And worse: ever since the predictable results of their recklessness came crashing down, they've rabidly and nearly unanimously opposed every single attempt to dig ourselves out of the hole they created for us.

But despite the fact that this is all recent history, it's treated like some kind of dreamscape. No one talks about it. Republicans pretend it never happened. Fox News insists that what we need is an even bigger dose of the medicine we got in the aughts, and this is, inexplicably, treated seriously by the rest of the press corps instead of being laughed at. As a result, guys like Marco Rubio have a free hand to insist that Obama — Obama! The guy who rescued the banking system, bailed out GM, and whose worst crime against the rich is a desire to increase their income tax rate 4.6 percentage points! — is a "left-wing strong man" engaged in brutal class warfare against the wealthy. And Rubio does it without blinking. Hell, he probably even believes it.

We are well and truly down the rabbit hole. The party of class warfare for the past 30 years is fighting a war against an empty field and the result has been a rout. I wonder what would happen if the rest of us ever actually started fighting back?

Is DSK Innocent?

The New York Times is reporting that the prosecution's rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is "on the verge of collapse" because the hotel housekeeper at the center of the case has lied repeatedly and now has some very serious credibility problems. Serious enough that, if true, this would not be a case of DSK getting off on some kind of technicality. He'd be getting off because it's at least plausible that the housekeeper made up her entire story. Jeralyn Merritt asks:

It sounds like this case will be dismissed. Cyrus Vance will have much deserved egg all over his face. (I'm glad I supported his opponent.) The DA's sex crime unit was apparently in such a hurry to detain DSK they did no homework and took the accuser at her word. All they had to do was conduct a proper investigation, and if her account panned out, get a sealed indictment and arrest him the next time he came to NY. DSK would have been none the wiser. Instead they staged a perp walk, and DSK became the biggest pariah and media sensation since Bernie Madoff. The buck stops with Vance.

....How does DSK get his reputation back? You may not think he deserves it, after all the post-arrest media stories about his womanizing. But he had one until his arrest, and those stories would never have been published but for the arrest. Not only did he lose his IMF job, but his chances of running for President of France were obliterated. All because of an accusation, that according to the New York Times, the prosecution is now willing to dismiss. The DA's office isn't Emily Littela, they shouldn't just get to say, "Never mind." There should be serious consequences for this kind of recklessness.

As with the original charges, I'll wait to see how this pans out. But if everything the NYT reports is true, Vance and his prosecutors do indeed have some explaining to do.

There's a fair amount of guesswork involved in this, but Stuart Staniford takes a look at Saudi oil production over the past decade, compares it to the number of active rigs in the Kingdom, and comes to a gloomy pair of conclusions:

  • Saudi Arabia currently is producing at capacity, which has eroded from 9.5mbd [million barrels per day] in mid 2008 to 8.8ish today.
  • If that's right, then oil production will not go to 10mbd by July. Thus the IEA is going to be disappointed in its hopes, and world leaders will have to decide whether to keep draining the SPRs or not.

The official line from the Saudis has always been far more optimistic: they say they can produce 10-11 mbd right now and are building capacity to increase that significantly within a few years. And maybe they can. But the actual facts on the ground have never been very friendly toward this claim. I'd say they still aren't.

From AFRICOM spokeswoman Nicole Dalrymple, commenting on U.S. involvement in our non-hostilities in Libya:

As of today, and since 31 March, the U.S. has flown a total of 3,475 sorties in support of OUP [Operation Unified Protector]. Of those, 801 were strike sorties, 132 of which actually dropped ordnance.

But don't call it a war. These are merely support operations that also happen to be dropping bombs on people.

Via Doug Mataconis.

"Tax expenditures" are special deductions, exclusions, exemptions, and credits in the tax code — basically ways of spending money by reducing taxes instead of directly funding a federal program. In the current issue of the Washington Monthly, Suzanne Mettler says we should cut them way back:

The broader goals of progressive politics are undermined by tax expenditures. Reducing them is a goal we should embrace. The problems start with their redistributive impact.

Most Americans assume that U.S. government social programs aid primarily the poor and the middle class, but tax expenditures generally shower their most generous benefits on those in the upper reaches of the income spectrum. To be sure, there are exceptions—most notably the EITC, which genuinely aids the working poor, and Clinton’s HOPE credit, which targeted the middle class. But in the main, such policies are upwardly redistributive, despite rhetoric to the contrary....In 2004, 69 percent of the benefits of America’s home mortgage interest deduction were claimed by households with incomes of $100,000 or above—the top 15 percent of the income distribution. That same group also reaped 55 percent of the benefits emanating from the tax-free status of retirement benefits and 30 percent of those from employer-provided health benefits.

OK, I'm sold. For the most part, tax expenditures are lousy policy, they hide the actual size of government programs, they're poorly targeted, and they create intractable political problems. Still, you know what I'd like to understand first? Just how big a problem are they? Here are three different estimates:

  • Based on figures from the Center for American Progress, I estimated a few weeks ago that tax expenditures had decreased from 8.1% of GDP to 7.0% of GDP between 1982 and 2010.
  • Mettler says tax expenditures have grown from 4.2% of GDP to 7.4% of GDP between 1976 and 2008.
  • The Congressional Research Service says tax expenditures have grown from about 5.8% of GDP to 7.2% of GDP between 1974 and 2011.

I'm guessing that the CRS numbers are pretty reliable, and their recent report includes a chart that shows the entire tax expenditure picture instead of cherry picking just a couple of years. Here it is:

Like I said, I think there are lots of good reasons to reduce tax expenditures. At the same time, this chart doesn't really suggest that they're some kind of skyrocketing, out-of-control problem. There was a big rise in tax expenditures in the early 80s that was reined in by the 1986 Tax Reform Act, and aside from that temporary bump they've held pretty steady for the past four decades aside from a modest increase as a result of the two Bush tax cuts. If we just let the Bush tax cuts expire, we'd be back to 1974 levels.

So go ahead and whack 'em. But take with a grain of salt any suggestion that tax expenditures have been soaring in recent decades. Most of the big ones have been around since World War II or longer and they've been hanging around ever since.

Bloomberg is reporting that Tim Geithner might resign as Treasury Secretary after the debt ceiling fight wraps up. Ezra Klein thinks he's going to be almost impossible to replace:

I’m not saying that because he’s done such a bang-up job, or because he’s got such a winning personality. I’ll leave those questions for a future article. It’s because the confirmation process is broken. As Slate’s Dave Weigel reported, “the time between nomination and confirmation votes has nearly doubled since the Reagan era, when the sclerosis really started. It took Reagan 114 days for nominees to get confirmed; it takes Obama closer to 200 days. By the White House’s own count, more than 200 nominees are in limbo.”

Many of those nominees are non-controversial. The Treasury Secretary won’t be. The economy is the central political issue right now, 2012 is an election year, and Republicans have sufficient votes in the Senate to mount a filibuster. Under those circumstances, it’s very difficult to imagine them permitting the confirmation of any Treasury Secretary.

I think there are two reasons that this is probably not right:

  • Treasury Secretary isn't a controversial appointment. Think about this from the perspective of Republican senators: it's not a lifetime appointment; Obama is almost certain to nominate a sober, moderately liberal, establishment-approved kind of personality; and in any case, the truth is that the Treasury Secretary has only modest power that's independent of Congress's authority. Geithner's successor would be very unlikely to seriously affect deficit negotiations, spending priorities, budget battles, or Obama's reelection chances.
  • Our nomination process is indeed broken, but it's broken only for the less visible class of appointments. This is important: Republicans have routinely held up circuit court judges, ambassadors to medium sized countries, agency heads, deputy and assistant cabinet positions, and so on. But they haven't held up Supreme Court appointments, cabinet secretaries, or other highly visible appointments such as Fed chairman, head of the CIA, or chairman of the Joint Chiefs. These kinds of nominations get too much attention, and that's exactly what Republicans don't want. They want their obstructionism to fly below the radar. Holding up a Treasury Secretary for anything other than a slam dunk reason would make their obstructionism far too public and would risk engaging the normally jaded DC press corps, which treats the obstruction of lesser appointments as just garden variety partisan politics.

I know this seems counterintuitive, but just take a look at the record: all of Obama's major appointments — the kind that get front page treatment — have been approved without all that much fuss. Republicans just don't want to practice their usual brand of obstructionism when the spotlight is shining. It's only the lesser lights that get filibustered for months on end.

It is, obviously, perfectly OK for Christians to hold prayer rallies. Just as obviously, Christian prayer rallies will feature Christian speakers, not Muslims or Jews or Buddhists. That's the nature of the beast, and it's hardly unusual for an American politician to attend such events.

But Tim Murphy reports that "The Response," a Houston prayer rally funded by the American Family Association and supported by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is a wee bit more muscular than that:

With this prayerfest, Perry is associating himself with rather radical folks. The American Family Association's issues director, for instance, has said that gays are "Nazis" and that Muslims should be converted to Christianity. Another organizer, Doug Stringer, has said that 9/11 was God's punishment for the nation's creeping secularism. And then there's Jay Swallow, whose endorsement is trumpeted on The Response's website, and who runs "A Christian Military Training Camp for the purpose of dealing with the occult and territorial enemy strong holds in America" (his description). Consequently, it's not much of a mystery why only one of the nation's other 49 governors has so far accepted Perry's invitation to attend the event (Perry invited all of them)—arch-conservative Sam Brownback of Kansas.

So does this mean that Perry is running for president? Maybe! Tim explains more at the link.

So who's benefited and who hasn't from the current recovery following the Great Recession? I think you know the answer already, but just to make it official, here's a report from researchers at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies:

Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, real national income in the U.S. increased by $528 billion. Pre-tax corporate profits by themselves had increased by $464 billion while aggregate real wages and salaries rose by only $7 billion or only .1%. Over this six quarter period, corporate profits captured 88% of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1% of the growth in real national income. The extraordinarily high share of national income (88%) received by corporate profits was by far the highest in the past five recoveries from national recessions.

Here it is in table format, in case you want to see comparisons to previous recessions and recoveries:

Plainly, what's needed to address this crisis is tax cuts for corporations and reduced federal spending on workers. But who will speak up for our downtrodden corporate sector? It is a vexing problem.

Via Economix.

The Constitution states that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law....shall not be questioned." Bruce Bartlett suggests that this trumps the debt ceiling, which means the president can simply ignore Congress if he wishes and keep spending money even after the debt ceiling has been reached. To back this up, he quotes George Washington University law professor Michael Abramowicz:

A requirement that the government not question a debt’s validity does not kick in only once the time comes for the government to make a payment on the debt. Rather, the duty not to question is a continuous one. If as a result of government actions, a debt will not be paid absent future governmental action, that debt is effectively invalid. The high level of generality recognizes that instead of referring to payment of debts, the Clause bans government action at any time that affects the validity of debt instruments.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but it strikes me that this doesn't come close to implying that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional. What it really suggests is merely that the public debt is the only untouchable part of the federal budget. The government is required to dedicate its tax revenue first to paying off any debt that's due, but once that's done the Constitution is silent. If the debt ceiling has been reached, and there's not enough money left to issue Social Security checks or buy more aircraft carriers after current debts have been paid, then Social Security checks get reduced and aircraft carriers get put on hold. The constitutional argument for ignoring the debt ceiling would only come into play if for some reason things got to the point where it literally interfered with paying off current bondholders. We're not even within light years of that happening.  

I don't really like this conclusion, and I'd like to see the statutory debt ceiling go away entirely. It's an archaic budgetary vestige that makes no sense at all anymore. Still, it exists whether I like it or not, and I don't really see how it offends the Constitution as long as creditors keep getting paid.

Mark Halperin is one of my least-favorite political analysts, a reliably unimaginative weathervane of conventional wisdom. Today, on Morning Joe, he gave his considered opinion of Barack Obama's press conference performance on Wednesday: "I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday."

Halperin didn't quite realize he was on the air when he said this, and when he did he immediately apologized and was later suspended by MSNBC. However, this is of zero interest to me. If Halperin thinks Obama is a dick, it's fine with me if he says it publicly. In fact, I'd rather he say it publicly. A mild reproach from MSNBC management for offending the delicate sensibilities of Morning Joe viewers would have been sufficient apology.

Needless to say, what's actually interesting here is that Halperin, in fact, thinks Obama is a dick for getting slightly combative yesterday. And this is interesting precisely because Halperin is an unimaginative weathervane of conventional wisdom. It presumably means that a fair-sized chunk of the DC press corps also thinks Obama was a bit of a dick yesterday.

If this is the case, all I can say is that the standards for dickitude have become alarmingly low in Washington, DC, these days. I mean, Republicans have spent several consecutive months holding the country hostage to their tea-party base, pretending to negotiate a budget deal when they obviously had no intention of ever agreeing to any kind of compromise, all but chortling publicly at their own cleverness, and dressing down Obama in front of the TV cameras at every opportunity. But after putting up with this for months, it's Obama who's a dick for finally pushing back a bit against these guys? Seriously?

As I was writing this, I knew I'd shortly hear from one of my regular readers who's a close student of Halperin. His comment just popped into my inbox:

In many ways, Obama really is in a box with the Republicans and the media right now. Part of it, I'm sure, is his press operation's lack of messaging. But by far the most significant part of it is the right's mastery of the media. It's not just John Boehner vs. Obama, by which the playing field would be more fair, but it's virtually every conservative senator, congressman, pundit or voter who cares to spout something outrageous or inciteful vs. Obama. Not vs. the Democrats. Obama.

....If Obama cannot get past this, if provocation of the right is forbidden, then Obama has no option other than to deal — and according to Halperin, that means cave and move on. If this really is the view, then Obama's re-election is doomed as are those of liberal Democrats.

Yes indeedy. And Republicans are keenly aware of this. Whatever else you can say about Obama's performance or lack thereof over the past few months, it would be nice if his Democratic colleagues in Congress figured this out and started to fight back too.