Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Last Call

Via Greg Sargent, President Obama finally, finally says what he needed to have said 12 months ago to the Firebaggers (emphasis mine).

This notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again. I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for for a hundred years. But because there was a provision in there that they didn't get, that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people, and the potential for lower premiums for maybe 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness, of compromise.
If that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let's face it: We will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are.
And in the meantime the American people are still saying to themselves, [I'm] not able to get health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out. That can't be the measure of how we think about public service. That can't be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat. This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people...
This country was founded on compromise. I couldn't go through the front door at this country's founding. If we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn't have a union.

Damn.  About time somebody said this.  For the record I'm not thrilled with this plan and there are many strikes against it, but the President is right.  We can have a purist, idealist victory and millions of Americans can be screwed, or we can try to actually help people.

And save your anger for the Republicans who "took hostages" as the President mentioned this afternoon.  This speech needed to be said.  those are the bad guys here, not Obama.  In 2012, you want Obama or Palin/Romney/Huckabee/Gingrich/Bolton?

Thought so.

A Sad Day

Facts are scarce, but the media is reporting Elizabeth Edwards died this afternoon after her long battle with cancer. She was a brilliant and graceful woman, and battled her disease publicly and was a role model for many. She famously disagreed with her husband regarding same sex marriage when she stated: "I don't know why someone else’s marriage has anything to do with me. I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage." She also advised Obama regarding healthcare issues, and was an opinionated and practical advocate of women's rights in the workforce and in government.

She will be missed and remembered as a strong woman with a passion for truth.

Special Ed And Hugh Can't Be Serious

Cap'n Ed Morrissey fails at math in his effort to explain why the tax deal is bad for Republicans.

My friend and mentor Hugh Hewitt was outraged at the deal, telling me last night in a hastily-arranged but tremendously fun on-air argument that the GOP had all of the political momentum and should have held out for total victory.  He was most angry about the concession on unemployment benefits, arguing that an extension of 13 months was a ridiculous idea.  After all, these started at 26 weeks, and now we’re putting employers and taxpayers on the hook for 161 weeks.  That will slow growth all on its own, and Hugh is right to be opposed to such an extension. The deal will end up costing around $270 billion over the next two years if one counts tax cuts as part of the cost (which is illegitimate, as those dollars belong to the taxpayer in the first place), which will mean the GOP will have to cut deeper in its first year than perhaps thought.

Hey, um, Ed...you and Hugh might want to get a clue that the 13 month unemployment extension does not give people additional benefits for 161 weeksThe limit is still 99 weeks (even the Freepers figured that one out), and that's actually only for certain states.  What the extension does is allow people to apply for benefits after 26 weeks and up to 99 weeks depending on the state.

If you've already hit your 99 weeks, or would during the next year, you're still screwed.

I wish your scenario were correct, actually.  That would be great if it was.  It's not the actual truth and that is quite unfortunate.  Your scenario is either actual ignorance or willful ignorance used to stir outrage, and neither one makes you look good, champ.

Or hey, maybe it's Hugh who's just, you know, completely friggin' wrong.

Legally Blonde

NY Times - The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal in the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation’s history, one claiming that Wal-Mart Stores had discriminated against hundreds of thousands of women in pay and promotion.

Despite what amounted to whining on Wal-Mart's part, they may have lost a bit of leverage in the long run, which could lead to billions of dollars in damages paid to workers. This could be an important first step in correcting unfairness in pay based on gender. The Republicans squashed a measure recently that could have been key in preventing gender discrimination. Generations have passed since women entered the workforce in large numbers, and yet are still not paid as well as men doing the exact same job under the same conditions.

Washington (CNN) - Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, will offer a "privileged resolution" as early as today calling on the House to investigate the ethics committee for its handling of her case. Almost a year and a half has passed, and she is rightfully asking for her accusers to put up or shut up. Waters claims the principles of basic due process have been violated, and she requests "the task force report its findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives during the second session of this Congress" to force the issue to end once and for all. Some may see a desperate bid to bring a hasty conclusion, but I have to wonder what could be found that 18 months of research hasn't turned up. Innocent or otherwise, she is surely correct in requesting a reasonable grant of time before she is declared one or the other. Anything less would allow for unfounded accusations to linger indefinitely without the burden of proof.

Yahoo! - The first chewing tobacco settlement has officially been reached, with an award of $5 million to the family. This will pave the way for future lawsuits, and could lead to lasting tobacco reform laws. One part of the article will bother me for a long time to come:

Ponvert said his case was bolstered by previously undisclosed letters from the 1980s that the company sent to minors thanking them for their business and sending them free samples. The company even sent a can opener to one child to help open the chewing tobacco, he said.

If that was recently discovered, what else are they sitting on?

Can O' Whoopass, Or Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, No Vote, Pepsi

Remember, we don't have a right-wing domestic terrorism problem in this country, just a whole bunch of entirely unrelated incidents involving "patriots" wanting to cause grievous bodily harm to liberals.

Self-described "patriot" Mark Krause, a 40-year-old Arkansas blacksmith whose home was foreclosed upon, was arrested in Washington state on Friday and charged with placing a bomb made out of a Pepsi can in front of a polling place during the runoff election for the Arkansas Democratic Senate primary.

It allegedly started on June 8, the day of the runoff election for the Democratic Senate primary between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

According to the FBI, poll worker Kay Reed opened the polls at the Osage Baptist Church in Osage, Arkansas at 6 a.m. and found a 12-ounce can of Pepsi soda sitting by the gym door. She reportedly placed the can on the desk of the church secretary.

It wasn't until the next day that somebody noticed wires coming out of the bottom of the can and called the sheriff's office, which told the FBI.

Yeah, first of all this guy had no moral issues placing an IED at a church.  Second of all, he did it on the Democratic primary run-off when only Democrats would be voting (and getting blown up.)  I'm glad the FBI tracked this jackass down, but seriously?  An IED at a polling place is usually associated with, I don't know, Iraq or Afghanistan, not Arkansas.

Hey America?  This guy was trying to kill Democratic voters.

That jives with what Krause wrote on his MySpace page.

"I'm in a transitional period in my life. I'm a patriot. The government worries me. I have a nice shop full of enormous old machines and others I have made," Krause writes. His favorite movies were listed as "V for Vendetta" and "Taxi Driver," and he wrote that he'd like to meet Thomas Jefferson. 

Sure, I remember the Jefferson letter where he totally said IEDs at polling places to kill voters from one political party is cool.

So really, the only reason why a bunch of people didn't get hurt or killed is because this guy flubbed his wiring or something.  Amazing.  Oh, and I can't wait to hear how this guy has to be a liberal, too.  It doesn't matter what his political views were, but he sure was trying to target Democrats.

Going to make 2012's election cycle look like a walk in the park.

Irish Eyes Are Crying, Part 10

Ireland's new austerity plus budget (the plus is a healthy dose of serious pain) is expected to be approved today, as thousands of Irish will be made to pay a dear price for the excesses of the country's banks.

The budget will be the toughest of four austerity plans designed to save 15 billion euros — nearly 10 percent of the country's annual economic output — and get the worst budget deficit in the region back within EU limits by 2014 or 2015 at the latest.

Cowen will push through some four billion euros in spending cuts next year, with social welfare benefits, public pensions and capital projects all set for the chop.

Tax adjustments will make up another two billion euros with roughly half of the additional revenues coming from lowering income tax bands and tweaking tax credits, allowing the government to target the 45 percent of Irish adults, on lower incomes, who did not previously pay income tax.

Some economists have warned that such vicious cutbacks, on the back of two years of austerity, risk tipping Ireland into a prolonged downturn that make its debt targets even harder to achieve.

"This is about the distribution of pain," Michael Lowry, an independent MP, told reporters after confirming he would support the 2011 plan.

Lowry's thumbs up and the expected support of another independent MP mean that Cowen will get his austerity measures through parliament despite having a majority of just two.

And these are vicious cutbacks.  Here in the US cutting 10% of our GDP from the budget would be slicing some $1.5 trillion dollars or so.  Basically it would be the equivalent of submitting a zero deficit balanced budget for fiscal 2012, made up entirely of social spending cuts, Social Security cuts, and eliminating the standard deduction on income tax and getting rid of the minimum limit on taxable income.

Remember, it was Ireland's banks that failed.  The country had almost no public debt until it had to take it on in order to save them.  It wasn't Ireland's taxpayers who were living beyond their means here, but the bankers.  Now Ireland's deficit is some 32% of GDP and it's the average taxpayer there who is going to suffer tremendously to pay this bill off.

Cowen is done for, of course.  But I'm not altogether sure this budget is going to pass.  If it doesn't, it's going to be a hell of an ugly Christmas in the Eurozone.

Moose-tly Missed The Mark

Because she can't get enough of the spotlight, Sarah Palin is now on video shooting a caribou. She misses once, then is successful and still makes both an idiot and an ass out of herself, while killing an innocent animal. C'mon guys... that's just punchline overload.

So, let me get this straight. When Palin gets a chance for fast money, she quits. When she gets all the money she can, she's an opportunist who bites off more than she can chew. But when all else fails and she can't hold her own against the criticism, she shoots an innocent creature. Just to show us how goshdarned normal she is, right? Or is there another reason that I'm missing?

The fact that this spotlight-hogging beast is even given enough attention to survive is beyond me. She's less like a graceful mama bear and more like a bellowing train wreck that has nowhere to go but from bad to worse. At this point, she is on the fast track to becoming a liability, and being destroyed by her own kind. I would feel sorry for her, but then I am forced to bear witness to her stupidity and my heart hardens.

She'll get what she deserves. But seriously, can we be done with it already?

A Great No Hate Prop 8 Update

California's Prop 8 gay marriage ban went before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit yesterday for oral arguments, and the pro-Prop 8 folks got nuked like a pizza roll in a microwave.

The first half of the hearing focused on standing. The same-sex marriage opponents argued that, as proponents of the Prop 8 ballot initiative, they have standing in the case, although according to Mercury News, a lawyer offered no case precedent for that.

Judge Randy Smith, the most conservative of the three judges, suggested the panel ask the California Supreme Court for an opinion as to whether they have standing. Smith argued, according to the L.A. Times, that Schwarzenegger and Brown had effectively vetoed the proposition by not appealing the case -- something they have no authority to do.

The second half focused on the constitutionality of the ban, with both sides making familiar arguments. Same-sex marriage opponents argued that the state has a "rational basis" on which to outlaw same-sex marriage because marriage is basically a vehicle for procreation.

Same-sex marriage supporters, lead by Ted Olson, argued that it's a civil rights issue and that sexuality is not a choice.

Other legal questions in the case include whether the deputy clerk of Imperial County has the standing to appeal the district courts ruling, and whether that ruling affects all of California or just the two counties where the two plaintiff-couples tried to get marriage licenses. 

Standing question aside, marriage is a vehicle for procreation?  That's the best argument you can make against gay marriage?  Are we legislating now that only married couples can produce children and have to do so?  That's the most asinine argument I've heard.  How does allowing same-sex marriage prevent other marriages from procreation?  Condom commando raids?  Drive-by IUD implantation?

Loving v. Virginia should have settled this question years ago.  There's just no rational, legal reason to uphold the ban.

Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

But there's still quite a disturbing correlation anyway between the counties in America that have the highest rates of food stamp usage and the counties in America with the highest diabetes rates.

The poorest counties in central Alabama and Mississippi and eastern Kentucky along the Appalachians are in especially bad shape on both maps, as are reservation counties in the West.  The southern US in general has seen a major growth rate in both food stamps and diabetes.

There's a reason why plans by some states to ban buying high sugar sodas with food stamps is a good idea...and why financing the new Child Nutrition Bill by cutting money for food stamps down the road is such an awful one.

Something Actually Approaching A Deal, Ergo It Wll Die Screaming

Ezra Klein parses yesterday's Applied Centrism For Dummies:

So is this a good deal? It's a lot better than I would've told you the White House was going to get if you'd asked me a week ago. There's some new stimulus in the form of the payroll-tax cut and the expensing proposals. The older stimulus programs that are getting extended -- notably the unemployment insurance and the tax credits -- probably would've expired outside of this deal. The tax cuts for income over $250,000 are a bad way to spend $100 billion or so, and the estate tax deal is really noxious.

It's bad news for the deficit, though the White House and Congress are right to make the deficit less of a priority than economic recovery. And speaking of that economic recovery? This isn't enough, and it's not well targeted. The deal amounts to the White House throwing some bad money after good. But the end result is between $200 and $300 billion more in tax breaks, tax credits and unemployment insurance than there would've been if not for this deal (I say $200-$300 billion because of the uncertainty over what would've been extended in the absence of this package). That's better than nothing -- or to be more specific, better than backsliding.

Most of the money just keeps programs that are currently in effect from expiring, so in some ways, it would be more accurate to say that this money is anti-contractionary rather than stimulative. It's important that the White House doesn't repeat the mistake it made in the original stimulus and overpromise how much this will do for the economy. What you can say about this policy is that, for the moment, it doesn't make things much worse, and it probably makes them a bit better. This is not the government making a major new commitment to the recovery. It's the government not getting in the way, and maybe doing a bit to help, the horribly slow recovery that's happening anyway.

Both sides are relishing the coming fight in 2012 over extending these tax cuts. And the payroll tax cut is actually something I've advocated for, so I am impressed with that. Unemployment benefits will be extended for another 13 months, and Republicans get their heavily marbled Kobe beef tax cuts too.  Jennifer Rubin, at her new digs over at the Washington Post, is already declaring complete victory.  In her true hacktastic style, she's ignoring the facts.

What this does politically is blow a hole in the notion that Republicans give a damn about deficit reduction. This deal will add roughly $300 billion to the national debt by itself. The Tea Party is not going to be happy with this arrangement in the least and they are going to make it painfully clear that anyone who votes for this is waking up with a Lipton bag the size of a beach ball next to them in bed and an instant primary challenger. There's no way they go along with this, the Paul Ryans and the Michele Bachmanns and the Jim DeMints.  I honestly don't think it's going to be the left that kills this.  It will be the right.

As this is a completely reasonable deal and as Ezra said much better than I thought the White House was going to get even as of this time yesterday, I completely expect the Republicans to be split over this and revolt, because a healthy majority of the GOP doesn't want a reasonable centrist bipartisan deal, they want President Obama covered in bees made out of lava and thrown into a vat of acid-breathing wolverines.

And as I said earlier, this kills the "Republicans as deficit hawks" thing cold.  The Tea Party is never going to stand for adding $300 billion to the deficit.  I know all the headlines read "Obama sells out liberals!" but they should be reading "Republican leaders tell Tea Party to go to hell".  We're right back to the famous Cheney mantra "Deficits don't matter".  As such, I think there's going to be enough folks on the left and the right to stop this thing.

The question I'm asking is "What's Obama's Plan B when this thing blows up like a fuel air bomb in a paper mill?". This would be a serious Centrist victory for the President and that's going to be completely unacceptable to a large number of Republicans. There's also more than a few folks on the left who won't accept this deal either.

No way this deal happens. None. Whether or not you like or loathe this deal, it's not going to turn into legislation on the President's desk.

Who will get blamed when this deal falls through? Already the Village is warning that those Dirty F'ckin' Hippies will sink the deal, but

Worst case scenario is that the Republicans run out the clock, absolutely nothing gets a vote, and it's all seen as Obama's fault. In fact I fully expect Republicans to spend the rest of the week denying there ever was a deal in the works.

If I'm the GOP I run out the clock and first thing in January I introduce a permanent tax cut bill in the House and put everything I want in it, then dare the Democrats to kill it. They cave, total victory.

Because I don't see an Obama back up plan here, which should be to put one last omnibus bill on the floor and say take it or leave it. The Republicans know they win if they run out the clock on the 111th Congress. Unless Obama is willing to fight right now, immediately, we're all screwed.

Time for Plan B, Mr. President. Plan A won't survive much longer most likely. Now's the time to wade into the fray.

[UPDATE]  Some clarification:  Why would the Tea Party accept this deal?  Can anyone give me a good reason?  I can't think of one, which is why I believe they will kill this.

[UPDATE 2]  Both Steve M and Betty Cracker argue that the Estate Tax part of the deal is just too good for the Republicans to pass up, even the Tea Party ones.

[UPDATE 3Gaius Publius at AmericaBlog argues the long game and makes the compelling argument that the payroll tax cut will continue to be extended, and as such will make cutting Social Security benefits (which is funded by payroll taxes!) that much easier for our Centrist Dalek Overlords.

[UPDATE 4] David Leonhardt argues this was the right thing to do because it amounts to the only way Dems would get a second burst of badly needed economic stimulus.


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