News Roundup for 4/29/11

Hatch plays piano
Orrin Hatch

-Headline of the day-
"Hatch scrubs his website?"

The birthers are all riled up over President Obama's long-form birth certificate. It's fake! And they can prove it (but only by completely misunderstanding how PDFs work). So the birthers are even more crazy than they were before.

Well, there's one GOP Senator who's not planning on getting caught without his finger in the wind. According to the report, "Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) -- anxious about a possible conservative primary challenger in 2012 -- has scrubbed evidence on his website of ever having supported repealing the requirement that presidents be natural born."

See, way back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the GOP flavor-of-the-month, Orrin Hatch got the idea that he'd make the perfect presidential candidate -- with the only problem being that Ahnoldt was born in Kenya Austria. So this was something that needed to be fixed. It didn't go anywhere, but who cares?

Hatch pulled any mention of the sponsorship of a constitutional amendment repealing the "natural born citizen" requirement from his website. He says it's because his website was redesigned. Of course, I've redesigned my blog a couple times and lost absolutely nothing, but that's just me. I'm not a big-money web design firm, so I probably did it wrong.

In any case, Hatch's office assures us that this has nothing to do with the fact that his amendment would've allowed a SECRET MOOSLIM TERR'IST to become president and that the birthers wouldn't like that.

Case closed. (Politico)

-The next "controversy"-
Can the Obama administration survive?

Click for full comic

I never really trusted Hawaii. (Bad Reporter)

-Bonus HotD-
"Tirade Of Profanity: Donald Trump Drops F-Bombs During Speech At Las Vegas Casino."

Or, "How to keep generating headlines after Pres. Obama made a complete fool of you." (Mediaite)


News Roundup for 4/28/11

Birther sign
"Not those two -- the other one!"

-Headline of the day-
"Overnight poll: More than half of Republicans still unpersuaded Obama was born here."

Don't pretend to be surprised, but after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, a Survey USA poll finds that "More than half of Republicans still aren't buying Obama's story. 18 percent of them told Survey USA that they consider the long-form a forgery, and another 33 percent say they still have doubt. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of Republicans say that they either still consider Obama's birthplace to be open to debate or aren't sure, and 33 percent claim that the president was "definitely" or "probably" born elsewhere. (Among all respondents, 77 percent say that Obama was "definitely" or "probably" born in America.)"

Of course this was a pretty quick poll, so -- according to the report -- "62 percent of Republicans" hadn't "yet seen the long-form themselves." Which of course means that they'd come to their conclusions based on pretty much the same info they'd had before -- which is none. And every conservative knows that, in the face of a lack of all evidence, the wisest course of action is to believe wholeheartedly whatever some wild-eyed lunatic tells you. Think I'm exaggerating? Here's a dinosaur with a saddle, because the no-evidence idea of creationism just makes so much damned sense.

Still not smacking your forehead against your keyboard? Try this: in explaining why some Republicans still think birtherism is the way to go, the report tells us that "since Obama is their 'enemy,' some Republicans may feel compelled to provide negative answers to any and all poll questions about him."

Oops! You got a little bit of the G key stuck to your forehead there... (War Room)

-Cartoon time with Mark Fiore-
Hey kids, want to know why all this "birther" is out there? Check out the Power of Crazy and...

The United States of reality TV
Click for Animation

I'm guessing we'll look back at this cartoon as eerily prescient... (MarkFiore.com)

-Bonus HotD-
"Who Said It’s Over? Fox's Eric Bolling Questions Authenticity Of Birth Certificate."

It. Just. Never. Stops. (Mediaite)

An Anti-Offshore Drilling Argument From... Wait, Exxon?

With gas prices rising through the roof, some aren't sweating the increase.


Oil platformExxon Mobil said Thursday that first-quarter profits jumped 69%, helped by a spike in the price of crude oil.

The world's largest publicly traded oil company said it earned $10.7 billion, or $2.14 per share, in the first three months of 2011. That's up from $6.3 billion, or $1.33 per share, in the same period last year.

Analysts had forecast earnings of $2.06 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

"Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson said the performance reflects higher crude oil and natural gas 'realizations,' using industry jargon for prices," the report goes on. Higher prices, bigger profits. Duh.

But when is good news not entirely good news? When it's bad PR. There's talk in Washington of cutting oil subsidies -- which, you've got to admit, are looking pretty unnecessary right now -- and even of instituting a windfall profits tax. The Justice Department is investigating the possibility of price manipulation.

So off Exxon goes to... their blog. There Exxon VP Ken Cohen makes a lot of arguments -- not all of them relevant -- and, in the process, shoots down an argument the industry and the Republican Party have been making for years.

Oil is a commodity; prices are set in the global market
Crude oil is a commodity, and like all other commodities -- such as corn, wheat or sugar -- the price is determined by buyers and sellers in a global market. Buyers are paying more for oil because the global economy is strengthening, and demand for products derived from crude oil is on the rise. Political instability in some oil-producing nations is also contributing to uncertainty about future supply. Oil markets are well supplied today, but uncertainty about tomorrow's supply is reflected in prices today. Finally, the U.S. dollar is at a three-year low against other currencies -– accelerated last week after a warning by Standard & Poor's about the country's $14.3 trillion debt and relative economic weakness. The weaker the dollar, the less it will buy –- meaning more is spent for the same amount of a commodity, whether it's crude oil or nearly all of the commodities in the chart at right.

This is actually about the truest thing in the entire post. Basically, oil prices were high before the global economy crashed and it was the resulting decline in demand that brought the price down. Now that the economy is recovering, gas prices are going back to about what they were before. Gas prices aren't really inflating, they're just going back up to where what the Bush administration laughably called an "energy policy" had left them -- i.e., gas prices are recovering to what we'll call the "Bush normal."

But the fact that the economy's in recovery is not the argument I was talking about. If it's true that crude oil is a commodity, that this commodity is "well supplied," and that "uncertainty about tomorrow's supply" (i.e., speculation) is responsible for rising gas prices, then the industry's and the Republican's argument for offshore drilling just died. Increasing supply in an already well-supplied market doesn't do squat, since oil is a commodity that doesn't spoil -- there's no rush to sell it before it turns green.

As Cohen says, "the price is determined by buyers and sellers in a global market." It helps to think of all the oil in the world going into one big vat and then anyone who wants to buy some draws it from the same spigot as everyone else. You drill off Florida, it goes into that big global vat and there's no way to know if it goes to St. Louis or to Beijing. Even if an overabundance of oil could bring the price down, it wouldn't; because US oil production is incapable of making a dent in that global supply with increased production. There's just too much in the total to make our contribution the price-setter. Further, even if there were a danger of US production bringing prices down, OPEC could simply scale back production to get it where they want it again. You probably haven't noticed, but that's kind of what they do. It is, in fact, OPEC's entire reason for existing.

So go ahead and bookmark that post at Exxon's blog. The next time "drill baby, drill" becomes a campaign slogan, you can use Exxon's own argument to shoot it down.



News Roundup for 4/27/11

Obama birth certificate
Birthers never let a little thing like reality stand in their way before...

-Headline of the Day-
"Birther Legislator in Texas Not Convinced by Long-Form Certificate."

See? It's like a religion now. No amount of proof can ever put a dent in faith -- which should make you wonder about the real-world value of faith. Like climate change denial and the belief that Glenn Beck's a straight shooter who makes a lot of sense, birtherism is now a deeply held belief unsupported by any evidence. In fact, with the birthers it's worse, since the evidence they said they would accept is now being dismissed as insufficient.

One such dismisser of its suffiency is Leo Berman, a Texas state legislator and author of a birther bill. Sharon Guthrie, Berman's legislative director, says what President Obama released today simply will not do. ""What I've seen online, what they produced today, still says certificate of live birth across the top," she says. "We want to see a 'birth certificate.' The one that we have that says 'birth certificate' is from Mombassa, Kenya, with his footprint on it. He has still not produced an American birth certificate."

Does that thing about Mombasa sound like ridiculous bullshit? That's because it is. Guthrie is referring to a forgery used in an internet hoax.

So, for those keeping score -- an obvious forgery from a (then) non-existent Kenyan city is convincing proof, while an official document from the United States is not. In related news, up is down, backwards is forward, and "birther" is defined as anything other than "an incredibly stupid and gullible ass." (Weigel)

-Atlas Just Fucking Gives Up-
The Most Important Movie in Cinematic History is being panned by critics and producer John Aglialoro has had enough. Just because Atlas Shrugged is unbearably blowful is no reason to give it bad reviews. It is, after all, The Most Important Movie in Cinematic History. And, if the critics don't knock it off, he's not gonna make another one... and then they'll be sorry.

"Critics, you won," he says. "I'm having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2."

"Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?" Aglialoro asks. "I'll make my money back and I'll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike."

This is an interesting word choice, because Atlas Shrugged is about rich people going on strike, after which civilization collapses because only rich people know how to do anything.

So clearly, if Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 isn't made, civilization -- or at least, the film industry -- may be doomed.

Speaking for myself, I'm willing to take that chance. (Los Angeles Times)

-Bonus HotD-
"A Children's Treasury of Brand-New Birther Theories To Explain Eveything."

Wonkette puts together some seriously desperate attempts by birthers to stay true to their faith and it's really fun to see. But one paragraph jumped out at me:

"Jerome Corsi is releasing a book through WND's press in a few days. It's called Where's the Birth Certificate?. (The answer to this title: on the front page of every news site today.)"

Perfect. (Wonkette)


News Roundup for 4/26/11

Cartoon birthers - 'Some black guy broke into the White House!'

-Headline of the day-
"Fact-Checking's Got Nothing To Do With It."

With Donald Trump reinvigorating the "birther" conspiracy theory, news people are looking again at the evidence and discovering the obvious -- reality hasn't changed recently and Barack Obama was still born in Hawaii. CNN looked into it and confirmed it. Even Fox News -- which would be the remaining place a birther might expect to find refuge -- has closed the book on the issue. "Fox News can confirm the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States," foxbot Shep Smith told his audience. "Period."

But these are not the voices of reason. No, that title would fall to The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wonders why the media even bothers.

"Expect [CNN's] investigation to convince about four people, total," he writes.

"People, very often, believe what they want and then attach those 'facts' which help them along in those beliefs," he explains. "If you believe CNN is just another tool of the corrupted lamestream media, why would you believe any of their 'investigations?'"

According to Coates, a better question to ask than whether or not Obama is a citizen would be, "Why does a large swath of America, virtually all of it conservative and white, believe that Obama isn't a citizen?"

I can take a stab at that: Racism... And stupidity. And gullibility. And craziness. And talk radio. And fear. And a complete lack of anything remotely similar to critical reasoning skills. And heavy drinking.

I guess the answer's pretty complicated. (The Atlantic)

-Atlas Sucked: Part II-
The awfulness of Atlas Shrugged is quickly becoming legendary. And the nearly universally bad reviews are making things even worse. According to the report, "at some locations, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures will be writing checks to theaters to cover the difference between receipts and operating expenses" in order to keep the film running on their screens.

This could either be seen as a bribe or as renting an empty theater -- you pick. (New York Post)

-Bonus HotD-
"Why No Feminist Praise for 'Atlas Shrugged'?"

Andy Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog would like to know the answer to this, because the movie has a female hero, which automatically qualifies it for Feminist Movie of the Century.

If you ask me, I think feminists aren't praising it for the same reason everyone else isn't.

It sucks. (Big Hollywood)

There's a Reason Why "Compromise" and "Reasonable" are Two Different Words

House on fireIt's an argument that I bring up often on this blog; that compromise for the sake of compromise is not a good thing, but a bad thing. Especially when that compromise is between two positions at opposites end of a spectrum. If your house has termites, you might call an exterminator. Or you could listen to your crazy Uncle Stan and burn it down. Only burning half your house down does not qualify as a reasonable compromise -- no matter how insistent Stan's arguments are that it's the only solution. A bad idea is a bad idea. Infusing it with a portion of good idea doesn't improve it, it only ruins the good idea. Some compromises should never be made.

In politics, compromises also suffer from a misperception of the center position. There's the Washington middle and the American middle. The Washington middle -- being a town inhabited by a larger than normal proportion of lunatics -- is almost never where the American middle stands. These days, it's far, far to the right. Where Uncle Stan's idea is to burn the house down, the Republican solution would be to burn the house to the ground, then salt the Earth so that nothing ever grows there again. The "compromise" in Washington would be to embrace Uncle Stan's lunacy wholeheartedly.

Of course, I'm just some guy with a blog. No one's going to listen to me, no matter how solid my arguments are. So maybe if someone like Robert Reich were to make the same damned argument...

We continue to hear that the Great Budget Debate has two sides: The President and the Democrats want to cut the budget deficit mainly by increasing taxes on the rich and reducing military spending, but not by privatizing Medicare. On the other side are Paul Ryan, Republicans, and the right, who want cut the deficit by privatizing Medicare and slicing programs that benefit poorer Americans, while lowering taxes on the rich.

By this logic, the center lies just between.


He goes on to point out that the American middle isn't just close to the Democratic position, it is the Democratic position -- in fact, somewhere to the left of it. He points to recent polling that shows 78% oppose cuts to Medicare, 72% support raising taxes on the wealthy, and that these opinions are held not only by liberals, but "68 percent of Independents and 54 percent of Republicans."

"In other words, the center of America isn't near halfway between the two sides," he writes. "It's overwhelmingly on the side of the President and the Democrats." The Washington middle is in the center of Crazytown. The political center has been dragged far, far to the right by the extremist positions of people like Paul Ryan. If he were anywhere else but in congress, his political ideas would be considered eccentric -- if you wanted to be polite about it. This is the person we're talking about compromising with. Crazy Uncle Stan.

Reich goes on:

Which is why I get worried when I hear about so-called "bipartisan" groups on Capitol Hill seeking a grand compromise, such as the Senate's so-called "Gang of Six."

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, a member of that Gang, says they're near agreement on a plan that will chart a "middle ground" between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by the President.

"Watch your wallets," he warns. Unfortunately, it's probably good advice. The "Gang of Six" will probably come out with a "reasonable compromise" that only requires us to burn down half the house. Or worse, to burn the entire thing down, but refrain from poisoning the soil with salt. Because that's the "reasonable" thing to do. That's where the Washington middle lies.

Yay for compromise! Huzzah for cooler heads prevailing! Now grab a torch. We've got to do the sane, ever so serious, grown-up thing and burn this house down.



News Roundup for 4/25/11

Barack and Michelle with the Easter Bunny
Barack HUSSEIN Obama, shown hating Easter with a Muslim bunny

-Headline of the Day-
"Even for Fox, a Cheap Attack."

Fox News is breaking the super-important news that President Obama "failed to release a statement or a proclamation recognizing the national observance of Easter Sunday, Christianity's most sacred holiday."

Why? Probably because he's a secret Muslim terr'ist. Obama issued proclamations recognizing "Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha" -- all crazy Moozlim holidays -- but nothing for Easter. He also "failed to release a statement marking Good Friday," which is the worst thing ever.

"George W. Bush was in office for eight years," comments Steve Benen. "How many Easter proclamations did he issue? Zero."

Dear Sweet God... Dubya was a secret Muslim terr'ist too! In fact, it's worse than that. Charles Johnson looked back further and found that "Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush -— none of them issued official Easter proclamations."

Reagan? A terr'ist? By now, the US is obviously a secret caliphate!

America is clearly doomed. (Political Animal)

-And Mittens is the "serious" candidate-
The GOP presidential field is made up mostly of attention whores and teabagger frootloops. Which makes Mittens Romney kind of stand out. He's the "not crazy" one.

Well, that branding isn't going to work in today's Republican Party, so Romney decided to fix the perception that he's an elitist (i.e., someone who knows what the hell he's talking about).

In an op-ed for the New Hampshire Union Leader, Mittens wrote that President Obama is engaged in "one of the biggest peacetime spending binges in American history."

There ya go. He's no longer handicapped by the embarrassing appearance of competence. (Plum Line)

-Bonus HotD-
"Walker: Too Many Recalls 'Makes It Very Hard' To Get Things Done."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker simply does not care for recall elections.

For the record, this opinion is a fairly recent development. (Talking Points Memo)

A Free Ride for Corporations and the Wealthy

It's a terrible thing to be a wealthy person in America. In addition to having to associate with the rabble occasionally, one must also pay taxes. The taxes in America are incredibly high, especially on the wealthy, very wealthy, and stupid wealthy. People with piles of money are an oppressed minority, scorned by the public and taxed to near-starvation. Woe be unto the corporate boardroom set, for their lot is misery and affliction their companion.

Consider this chart showing the terrible tax burden the very wealthy carry, courtesy of Dave Gilson at Mother Jones:

Top 1% lightly taxed

Look at how much the rich are paying in... Oh wait, that says "savings." Never mind.

In fact, to dial in a little bit, here's a comparison of what the average resident of the Park Avenue Helmsley Building -- who earns $1.2 million a year on average -- pays and what a janitor in that building might pay:

Janitor taxed at 24.9%, millionaire at 14.7%

So, the guy living at a posh Park Avenue address pays a lower percentage of his income than the guy vacuuming the halls.

Now, the most common argument here is that the millionaire is a "job creator." But the fact of the matter is that it's consumers, not employers, who create jobs. Where the janitor likely spends most of the money he earns -- creating demand and with it jobs -- the millionaire doesn't. You could argue that what money the millionaire spends is probably more than the janitor spends and you'd probably be right. But there are a lot more people in the janitor's tax bracket than in the millionaire's -- taken as a whole, the janitors are going to create a lot more jobs than the millionaires ever will. So giving the biggest tax break to the rich guy makes no sense. There's a logical reason for progressive taxation and the current tax code sets that logic on its ear. Not only is this as unfair as you likely believe it to be, but it's also counterproductive.

And corporate taxes? Let's take a look at one last chart:

Yes, the US has a corporate tax rate of 35% -- on paper. The fact is that there are so many loopholes, dodges, and credits that no one actual pays that rate. If you want to discuss reality, then the effective corporate tax rate in the US is somewhere around seven or eight percent -- stupidly low. The next time someone complains about the high corporate tax rate, go ahead and point out that they're a moron. In the real world, corporations are barely taxed at all in this country.

Which is again counterproductive. Corporations are consumers, but they're reactive ones; their consumption is driven by your consumption. If everyone's spending more money, corporations spend more money to meet your demand. If everyone's spending less, the opposite is true. Again, we're putting the greatest tax burden on the people who actually create jobs and giving the lightest burden to those who only react to demand. This makes no damned sense at all.

Not only are we increasing deficits with this insane, bass-ackward tax code, but we're holding the economy back. The time to kick supply-side economics to the curb has long since passed.



News Roundup for 4/22/11

Down the memory hole

-Headline of the day-
"Sen. Kyl Erases His False Statement On Planned Parenthood From Congressional Record."

Note to pretty much anyone who's dealing or ever will deal with Sen. Jon Kyl; he's super easy to rattle.

After getting called out for saying that 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion, Kyl's office "fixed" the problem by telling everyone that it was "not intended to be a factual statement." This went over about as well as you'd expect. Ridicule rose and jokes flew and, before you knew it, Kyl was looking pretty silly and feeling pretty embarrassed.

But, finally, the whole thing blew over. "Republican says stupid thing" doesn't have much of a shelf-life, because you never have to wait long for another Republican to say another stupid thing and know the first stupid thing out of the headlines (send Donald Trump a thank you note, Sen. Kyl).

Did I say the whole thing blew over? I should've said the whole thing would've blown over if Kyl wasn't so easy to rattle. Still embarrassed by the whole thing, Kyl can't seem to get out of damage control mode and quit poking at the problem. As a result, his attempts to force the whole thing behind him guarantee that the story stays alive.

See, congress critters can "edit the transcript of their floor remarks before publication in the daily record or the permanent record," according to the Library of Congress. You'd assume this would be used mostly to correct simple errors like, "I meant to say 'Frank,' but it came out 'Hank.'" In Kyl's case, you would be assuming wrong.

According to the report, "On April 8, Kyl said that, 'If you want an abortion you go to Planned Parenthood and that's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.' Following the change, the Congressional Record now reads, 'If you want an abortion you go to Planned Parenthood and that is what Planned Parenthood does.'"

So Kyl's statement is in the news yet again, because he's trying so damned hard to jam it back in his mouth.

That should work out well for him. (Talking Points Memo)

-Maybe this is the problem...-


I'm sure Jon Kyl can relate. (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

-Bonus HotD-
"O'Donnell Blames Software for Bad Finance Reports."

Remember that witch who ran for Senate a while back? Christine O'Donnell? Yeah, her fundraising reports are all screwed up and inaccurate, which could lead to criminal charges -- or not. Who knows?

Anyway, Christine says it's not her fault, it was bad software. I'm guessing it's really bad wetware. (Political Wire)

Red State = Welfare Queen

Missouri welcome signYesterday, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a piece comparing two states: Wisconsin and Missouri. For the most part, Missouri didn't come out well in the comparison. In only one category -- small business survival -- did Missouri surpass Wisconsin (at a glance graphic here). On that point, Missouri is 19th in the nation, while Wisconsin is 33rd. On everything else, Wisconsin won.

Why pick Missouri for comparison?

[Wisconsin State Journal:]

Missouri, perhaps more than any other Midwestern state, provides a long-term prototype of policies championed by Walker: a state government that's less lucrative for public workers but more friendly to businesses and tax-averse citizens. A look into Missouri's past could provide a glimpse into Wisconsin's future.

Some of the predictions being made by Walker's opponents haven't proved true in Missouri. For example, weaker public-employee unions has not led to Republican domination at the polls that some have predicted for Wisconsin.

But Missouri does lag Wisconsin in many quality-of-life indicators that unions and their Democratic allies claim is the trade-off for lower taxes and lower pay for public workers.

In fact, it's not much of a trade-off and proves one cornerstone of Republican economic theory wrong -- a rising tide does not lift all boats. If Missouri has a better climate for business -- including small business -- it hasn't helped the economy any. The median income is lower than the Badger state's by $5,000, the state's life expectancy is 38th in the nation (Wisconsin is 18th), and Missouri's incarceration rate is 509 per 100,000 (Wisconsin's is 369). Good for business is good for you? Sure doesn't look that way.

One measure that WSJ didn't look at was deficit reduction -- which is supposedly a big worry for Republicans. It's a proven fact that, on average, red states take more federal money than they pay in, while blue states pay more and see less return. To put it in Republican terms, red states are the greedy welfare queens getting a free ride, while blue states are the responsible citizens taking up their tax burden.

In this comparison, Missouri performs poorly. While Wisconsin paid a buck for every eighty-six cents returned in federal money in 2005, Missouri paid a buck and got $1.32. The Republican idea of "fiscal responsibility" at the state level is a drain on the federal government. All spending has to come from someplace, so while states like Missouri are cutting taxes -- to very little effect -- they're doing it by depending on federal tax money coming from other states. If liberals are "tax and spend," Republicans are "tax out of state and spend even more."

You see the problem here, right? All of these Republican policies are propped up by blue state money -- which means that, as more states become Republican, fewer tax dollars will be available to make up the shortfall. If Republicans are as successful at the state level as then want to be, then eventually this house of cards will collapse. Cutting spending in Washington, fewer states to make up the difference, deficit hysteria in the media, all line up to a Great Red State Unraveling as federal funds dry up and there's nothing to plug up the budget holes anymore. It has to happen. It's just math. What happens to Missouri when it doesn't have Wisconsin's fourteen percent to play around with anymore?

If Republicans have their way, their own "success stories" will come down around their ears. The gravytrain will stop, because there will be no states left to take up the slack. When the smoke clears and all the mirrors are broken, Republican policies will finally be shown to be failures -- at great cost to economies on both the state and national level.

And all to maintain higher incarceration rates, lower wages, and poorer education. Not the best deal, when you actually sit down and look it.



News Roundup for 4/21/11

Charlton Heston as Moses
Average Texan

-Headline of the day-
"Texas Gov. Perry Orders Up Rain Prayers."

Maybe you've been getting a lot of rain lately, but Texas has been dry as a bone. So something needs to be done (short of some sort of water management plan). Science predicts global warming, so clearly there are no answers there -- on to hocus-pocus. Like the Great Georgia then-Gov. Sonny Purdue before him, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is asking citizens to pray for rain.

Perry procliams "the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life."

Here's my question: if Texans can just pray their problems away and set the state right, what the hell do they need a governor for? (Wall Street Journal)

-Cartoon time with Mark Fiore-
Hey kids, it's been a while, but we're getting another visit from...

Little Green Man
Click to for animation

Earth is a very strange place... (MarkFiore.com)

-Bonus HotD-
"Sean Hannity To Host Special Report On Media Bias For Fox News."

This will be followed by a special on celebrity meltdowns hosted by Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. (Talking Points Memo)

GOP Candidates Must Walk the Line Between Too Crazy and Not Crazy Enough

Walking a tightropeAt this point, it would be unrealistic to expect polling on the 2012 presidential race to be predictive. The elections are nineteen months away, give or take a few weeks, and anything could happen between now and then. If you looked at a poll now and said, "This is definitely who's going to win," being right would be as much a matter of luck as anything. It would barely be a better informed choice than using the numbers in your mother's birthday to play the lottery.

But one cliche about polling that's inarguably true is that they're snapshots of a moment in time. It shows you where people's heads are at; what they think is important, what they seem to want, what misconceptions they hold, etc. If not predictive, polls can still be informative.

So looking at a New York Times/CBS News poll out today can tell us a lot about Republican primary voters, even if it doesn't tell us much about who will win that primary. This poll, like a recent CNN poll, finds Republican voters unimpressed with their choices. The NYT poll finds that "nearly 60 percent of Republicans cannot point to a single candidate about whom they are enthusiastic," while CNN's showed "No opinion/No one" in the lead, with 45% of respondents.

But Steve Benen finds a useful bit of information within the text of the Times reporting of their poll; Republican candidates will have to walk a fine line if the hope to become president. And that line is drawn between "crazy enough to win the primary" and "not too crazy to win the general election." Looking at the facts, it seems that line may not actually exist, but rather there's an overlap between the two.

[The poll] showed that Republicans who are considering making presidential bids will have to woo a party that largely identifies with the Tea Party movement -- more than half of Republican voters said they considered themselves Tea Party supporters -- and has questions about President Obama's origin of birth.

A plurality of Republican voters, 47 percent, said they believed Mr. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was born in another country; 22 percent said they did not know where he was born, and 32 percent said they believed he was born in the United States.

These are the voters GOP candidates must impress -- and then go on to impress general election voters. "[T]he effort not to believe the worst about the GOP base is a tough sell," Benen writes. "When 47% of Republicans, literally years after the birther garbage was debunked, believe the president was born in another country, it reinforces the notion that there's a deeply ugly strain of madness that runs through Republican politics."

And of course there is. If you want a good idea of what a voter in the GOP base looks like, you don't have to look farther than Michele Bachmann. Bachmann seems to be entirely driven -- and "informed" -- by rightwing talk radio and wingnut blogs. The vast, vast majority of the things shes says are completely untrue and -- if you forced me to guess why -- I'd say it's because the vast, vast majority of things she believes are untrue. This is a party suspicious of educated "elites" and so relies on a folk mythology to make up their history and their reality. They aren't political adherents, they're religious fanatics, complete with a strict orthodoxy.

But even Bachmann recognizes that birtherism -- as much as it's a part of that orthodoxy -- is a losing position. Her advice for birthers: "Move on."

Still, other issues betray that "deeply ugly strain of madness." That Barack Obama is a secret Communist, that the UN is basically the enemy, that cutting taxes always raises federal revenues and reduces unemployment, that global warming is a massive conspiracy, the xenophobic belief that the religion of Islam and the existence of immigrants constitutes a threat, and the strangely anarchist/authoritarian belief that government is evil, unless it's used to force women to remain pregnant against their will. That craziness, that fizzing, bubbling undercurrent of lunacy, will guide the GOP primary as surely as conjurations of Reagan's ghost will dominate Republican debates.

There will be insanity, because the base will demand it.



News Roundup for 4/20/11

Ryan looks sad
"Paul Ryan, welfare-state success story" was not the way the narrative was supposed to go

-Headline of the day-
"Paul Ryan already benefited from the Social Security fund he now wants to gut."

There are a lot of things you can say about Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, but you can't say he's a welfare queen.

Oops, scratch that. Paul Ryan is a welfare queen.

See, according to the report, "From the age of 16, when his 55-year-old father died of a heart attack, until he was 18, Ryan received Social Security payments" which he used to save up for college. He then used that degree to get into politics, eventually becoming the GOP's budget guru. Since Social Security is a deficit exploding entitlement (it's not, but don't try to tell him that), this makes Paul Ryan -- acolyte of the Great Ayn Rand -- a welfare queen.

"Ryan's so-called Roadmap for America's Future budget plan proposed machete-like cuts — most notably to social services like Medicare and Social Security," the report goes on. "Paul's idea was to invest portions of Social Security funds in Wall Street, essentially forcing future recipients to make unsecured investments with with money they'll later need for retirement -- and endangering survivor benefits like the ones he received."

That's right, following the greatest market collapse since the Great Depression, Ryan thinks it'd be a great idea to make every gamble their benefits on the stock market -- because that's so much safer, I guess. Not surprisingly, this plan isn't going over real well.

But hey, he's just being consistent with the Republican Party motto: "I got mine. Screw you." (Raw Story)

-Trumping Trump-
With Donald Trump taking birtherism mainstream, hardcore birthers are forced to step up the crazy to stay ahead.

Bearhters group questions if Obama was born on Earth
Click for full comic

For updates on this and all your Obama/outer space news, tune in to Fox News... (Bad Reporter)

-Bonus HotD-
"Are You Kidding? Sarah Palin Aide Complains About Not Enough Media Coverage."

Attention-whore Palin is starting to get jealous of better attention-whore Trump.

It was fun while it lasted, but it looks like all the cool kids have moved onto The Donald and Sarah's yesterday's fad -- like the Spice Girls.

Call her "Shooty Spice." (Mediaite)

Are the GOP's Recall Petitions a Bust or a Success?

Forward statue with 'Recall' signBy five o'clock central, we'll know whether Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg will ask for a recount in her close race against incumbent David Prosser. The deadline is today. As it stands now, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board took a look at the Waukesha County vote total -- which put Prosser in the lead after the County Clerk found some 14,000 uncounted votes -- and found "no major discrepancies" in the totals. If you're wondering what a minor discrepancy is, join the club. The board didn't elaborate.

Whichever way that election goes, it's bad news for Governor Scott Walker and Republicans. Before Walker's attempt at union-busting, the incumbent was set to win reelection in a walk. It wasn't even going to be a contest. After only a few weeks of organizing time, pro-worker people narrowed the margin to a statistical dead heat -- if Prosser wins, he'll win by less than 0.5% as the numbers stand now. That's down from a 30-point lead in the primary. If everything goes David Prosser's way, Walker and Republicans will undoubtedly publicly claim they've been vindicated. But privately, they'll be sweating bullets. The final vote tally, even if their guy wins, will not be a good omen for the future.

However, it probably tells us very little about how recalls will go. The Prosser-Kloppenburg race was a statewide contest, while recall elections will be fought at a more local level. In some districts, Prosser ruined Kloppenburg. In others, Kloppenburg had Prosser for lunch. Looking at the state Supreme Court race to divine the outcomes of recalls is almost certainly a fool's errand.

As things stand now, Democrats have the signatures to file four recall petitions against Republicans. The GOP has so far filed none. According to Dave Weigel, this may be about to change.

How are the conservative activists doing? According to David VanderLeest, head of the campaign to recall Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen, activists have surpassed the 13,852 signature goal.

"I believe we're going to go and drive the petitions down there to Madison by the end of the week," said VanderLeest. "We've surpassed the total by a couple of thousand. We're just doing the administrative work now."

I've got calls out to other campaigns and will report how close they are. Don't be surprised to hear about a rush of petitions to recall Democrats in the next seven days.

If this is true, you've got to wonder about the strategy here. At times, it's seemed Democrats have been running to the press to announce every new signature, while Republicans have apparently been keeping their numbers under their hats. As a result, GOP voters have been watching Democrats set up target after target, while the Republican efforts have seemed to go nowhere. Right now, it really is four to zip, with Democrats leading. It has to be disheartening for voters on the right.

On the other hand, maybe they're hoping to time their announcement with a "Prosser wins!" announcement, holding on to their news on the chance that Kloppenburg won't ask for a recount today. Given the state of the race before Walker's moves energized it, a Prosser victory would be embarrassingly slim, but a win is a win and the perception of momentum can sometimes become momentum. If this scenario is the case, expect to see a lot of "the tide is turning" talk, no matter how manufactured this turning of the tide may be.

If there's one thing we can count on, it's that the press will always allow Republicans to set the narrative -- either nationally or at the state level. If they say, "the tide is turning in Wisconsin!" then the media will ask, "Is the tide turning in Wisconsin?"

Bet on it.



News Roundup for 4/19/11

Child with pistol
Praise Jesus!

-Headline of the day-
"Texas Kindergartner Exercising 2nd Amendment Rights At School Hurts 3."

An unnamed six year-old Second Amendment Hero exercised his God Given Right all over a Texas lunchroom today. He wounded himself and two other children, although none were seriously injured.

According to the report, the "six-year-old kindergartner's loaded gun fell out of his pocket in the school cafeteria and fired," sending glorious Bullets of Freedom throughout the cafeteria and no doubt scaring the bejeezus out of any hidden terr'ists looking to institute Sharia law there.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is said to be considering the child for a medal. (Wonkette)

-Ask the base-
Igor Volsky of the Center for American Progress asks actual 'baggers in New Hampshire what they think of the satanic gay marriage law in their state. Ooooooh, he's gonna get an earful!

They are just super-fired up about the issue, aren't they? (Wonk Room)

-Bonus HotD-
"House sets $500K, $520-an-hour contract for DOMA defense."

Tell me again how it's Democrats who throw money away... (Politico)

John Boehner (Almost) Creates One Job

Republicans have their eye on jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. You know this because they keep saying it. Which is good, because if they didn't keep saying it, you'd never know. Apparently, creating jobs comes after firing everyone at NPR and Planned Parenthood on the big list of GOP priorities. And beginning to privatize Medicare in 2012. So 2013, I guess, after the elections. That's when Republicans plan to work on getting people jobs.

One person who won't have to wait to get a new job is a former Bushie, who Speaker Boehner thinks employing right now is the most important thing ever.


Paul ClementEarlier today, Speaker John Boehner’s (R) office announced that American taxpayers would pay former Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement to defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Clement, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, is widely viewed as one of nation’s leading appellate attorneys. He is also one of the most expensive...

Clement is on track to make $5 million a year, the report tells us, so this guy's not going to come cheap. But congratulations Speaker Boehner, you're now on track to create one job. That is, if we're generous. The guy already has a job, but you're still throwing work his way.

See, back in February, President Obama announced that his administration wouldn't defend the Defense Of Marriage Act -- which bars the federal government from recognizing same sex unions -- because he believed the law was unconstitutional. Republicans, who'd been making a lot of noise about states' rights and the Tenth Amendment, decided this was the worst thing ever. Apparently, Republicans feel the same way about states' right as they do about all their other of their basic, core beliefs -- they're for them until they're not. State governments can bust up unions and deny their citizens healthcare, they can outlaw abortion and decree that brown people show their papers on demand, but if two men or two women want to get married, then states' rights go out the window -- who needs them? Apparently, states only have the right to oppress their citizens. If state governments start expanding freedom and recognizing new rights... Well, clearly something must be done.

And Boehner, being newly concerned about deficit spending, has a plan to both pay for this big-money lawyer and punish the administration for recognizing the Tenth Amendment.

[The Hill:]

Speaker John Boehner asked House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's for her support to cut funds for the Department of Justice and use them to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a letter sent to Pelosi (D-Calif.) Monday, Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote that the funds Justice would have used to protect the law should be used by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to protect the act.

"The burden of defending DOMA, and the resulting costs associated with any litigation that would have otherwise been born by DoJ, has fallen to the House," Boehner wrote. "Obviously, DoJ’s decision results in DoJ no longer needing the funds it would have otherwise expended defending the constitutionality of DOMA. It is my intent that those funds be diverted to the House for reimbursement of any costs incurred by and associated with the House, and not DoJ, defending DOMA."

Justice won't be defending DOMA, because that's a waste of time, which means they won't need the money for other things which aren't a waste of time -- like, you know, fighting terrorism and stuff. Can you imagine how the right would've reacted to Pelosi wanting to cut funding for the DoJ under Bush? "Siding with terrorists!" would've been the phrase of the month.

And is Boehner defending the will of the people, who don't want same sex couples marrying their sweethearts? Not if you ask the people. The last poll on the issue -- taken almost a month ago to the day -- found that a clear majority (53%) supports marriage equality, while only 44% oppose. This is a trend toward marriage equality that's been going on for some time. It's not going to turn around. So Speaker Boehner wants to cut funding from federal law enforcement to pay for a big-money lawyer, who'll then defend a law that most people don't want.

At least he can say he created a job with a straight face. Well, almost anyway...



Celebrities For Prosperity: Sarah, Andy, and the Professional Protest Crew Put on a Big Show

Check out this video from the big Tea Party "rally" in Madison this weekend, where a group of rightwing celebrities -- headlined by Sarah Palin -- parachuted in from out of state to take Wisconsin back from... well, Wisconsinites, I guess.

Ah, the sweet smell of astroturf.

As you can see, things didn't go quite according to plan. If you check mainstream media, however, you learn it was a tremendous success. Which doesn't explain why Andrew Breitbart -- after complaining about the lack of civility -- told the booing crowd to "go to hell."

Almost nothing about this rally was real. The only thing grassroots about this was the boisterous counter-protest. The stage, the PA, that big plasma screen monitor for the people in the back, even the crowd, were all paid for by Americans For Prosperity, a Koch-funded front group.

You'd think that after Gov. Walker's embarrassing "Koch call" incident, the Koch brothers would be keeping a low profile in the state. Yet "Americans For Prosperity" was plastered over everything. Tea Partiers like to say they aren't affiliated with any corporations, but where do they think the speakers and the buses and the plasma screen monitors and the PAs and the stages come from? You just sign a petition and these things just show up by magic? Do they believe they're supplied by the power of prayer? I'm at a loss to explain the chumpishness of your average 'bagger.

But if the evidence of corporate influence was everywhere, it was ineffective. Have polling numbers switched the other way now? There's been no polling done since the Saturday infomercial for Koch Industries, but I feel pretty safe in answering no. I mean, Andy Breitbart jets in, tells Wisconsinites to go to hell, jets out, and that's supposed to change something? Palin's big speech lasted all of fifteen minutes; this is a game-changer?

After weeks of sustained protests, AFP manages to bus a modest crowd in for an afternoon and you really have to wonder why. I'm being on the level when I say that it seems like a waste of money to me. Because, in the end, I doubt it changed a damned thing. And Sarah Palin's fifteen minute star turn blew a portion of that quarter-hour attacking Barack Obama. Anyone who's been paying attention knows that the president has been largely absent from this fight. President Obama literally had nothing to do with anything -- as any union-supporter will tell you -- so why waste time attacking him in this half-hearted effort to "save" Wisconsin?

Of course, part of this had nothing to do with Wisconsin, it was merely a photo op meant for 'baggers in the rest of the country, who've been convinced that Madison is a dangerous place filled with violent thugs and communist party members. Sarah, Andy, and the rest of the Celebrities For Prosperity walked bravely and brazenly deep into enemy territory to TELL THE TRUTH about Liberty and Freedom and Tea Bags and insert-buzzword-here. It's a wonder they weren't killed by the New Black Panthers and the Muslim Brotherhood.

And the fact that the state was used as a prop gives you an measure of how much these people care about Wisconsin. Sarah Palin cared so much she flew in, spoke for fifteen minutes, then flew out. Breitbart cared so much he told us to go to hell. Without the guarantee of cameras and coverage, neither would've shown up, because neither gives a damn about the state. All they care about are the electoral votes in '12. And, apparently, they don't even care much about those, since the effort put into this whole thing was so weak as to make the event no more than symbolic.

And, if you were in that bused-in crowd, trying to cheer louder than all the boos, know this: the Celebrities For Prosperity don't give a damn about you, either.



News Roundup for 4/15/11

Kyl adjusts tie
I tell ya, Jon Kyl don't get no respect...

-Headline of the day-
"Kyl Aide: My 'Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement' Statement Was Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement."

You might remember that Sen. Jon Kyl caught some flack for saying that "well over 90%" of what Planned Parenthood does is perform abortions. Turned out that wasn't so much true. In fact, it was Bizarro-world not-true -- well over 90% of what PP does not do is abortion. Only 3% of Planned Parenthood services are abortion services.

So, Kyl said in a statement that his figure was "not intended to be a factual statement" -- which is fancy-talk for "Hey, it was a lie, OK?" Everyone thought this was the stupidest non-defense we'd ever heard and we all enjoyed laughing at Sen. Jon Kyl.

Well, Kyle doesn't like that much. He's a serious man who pulls serious figures out of his serious butt. Laughing at him will not be allowed to stand! So he did what all serious Heroes do -- he threw his spokesperson to the wolves.

"Senator Kyl misspoke when he incorrectly cited a statistic on the Senate floor last week regarding Planned Parenthood," says Kyl spokesperson Ryan Patmintra. "Rather than simply state that in response to a media inquiry, I responded that his comment was not intended to be a factual statement; a comment that, in retrospect, made no sense. Senator Kyl neither saw nor approved that response."

Obviously, this still leaves the question -- was it intended to be factual or wasn't it? Or, to put it as the question we so often ask about Republicans: is Jon Kyl lying or just stupid? Americans demand to know and, by addressing the ridicule without addressing the underlying cause for the ridicule, Kyl and company leave the question unresolved.

Don't worry guys, you'll dig your way out of this hole yet. Just keep plugging away. (ThinkProgress)

-Altas Sucked-
Sure, the House GOP passed Paul Ryan's fantasy-economics porn today, but no one actually believes it's going any farther than that. All that's been accomplished here is the groundwork for "Rep. ___ even voted to privatize Medicare!" campaign ads the next time around.

No, the big news is that a movie version of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged hit theaters today -- and it stinks out loud. You'd think a barely-disguised political screed with all the actual literary value of Peyton Place could only be improved upon, but you'd be wrong.

"Out of the 16 critics who have reviewed the movie on the website Rotten Tomatoes, just one has given a positive review with 15 negative reviews," according to the report. "The critics are nearly universal in slamming the movie for lack of talent, cinematography, and direction."

"Let's say you know the novel, you agree with Ayn Rand, you're an objectivist or a libertarian, and you've been waiting eagerly for this movie," writes Roger Ebert. "Man, are you going to get a letdown."

For myself, I'm in heaven. My absolute favorite form of literature is a bad review -- so I am going to have so much fun! And the fact that a movie made by and for people who claim to really understand how markets work is going to be a box office bomb? Even better.

Did I mention that Paul Ryan is a huge Ayn Rand fanboy?

It just keeps getting better. (Examiner)

-Bonus HotD-
"Trump's a Joke."

Y'don't say? (The Cook Report)

Insurance Companies to Paul Ryan: We Don't Want the Medicare Business

Paul Ryan and his budget planThe Republican-controlled House will vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan today, despite the fact that this thing is dead in the water. The support from some House Republicans has been noticeably weak to nonexistent and high-profile Senate GOP are now arguing deficit reduction can't be taken seriously if the party is unwilling to even discuss tax increases.

So bad news all around for the future of Paul Ryan's fantasy-economics porn. Even if it gets past all these hurdles, President Obama will veto it and that'll be the end of it. The votes aren't there to override. It's been fun pointing out how ridiculous this thing is, but it begins the process of dying today.

But that's not going to stop me from piling on. Because Ryan's plan is the perfect expression of principles of today's Republican Party -- socialism in reverse, a seeming disgust with the unemployed and the struggling, and a complete and total misunderstanding of even the most basic economic principles. It isn't a budget proposal, it's a big "screw you!" to the very notion that government should serve the people and a slap in the face of the idea that we're all in this together.

So, as it heads off toward its doom, there's no shame in giving the plan one last kick on the way out. If there was ever a set of economic policies from an American party that deserved it more, I can't think of it. Cruel and necessarily delusional -- i.e., the delusion is necessary to justify the cruelty -- it should be framed and put in a monument in DC, under a huge plaque that reads, "THIS WE SHALL NEVER DO!"

With that in mind, let's get that one last shot in, shall we?

[Talking Points Memo:]

At first glance, Paul Ryan's plan to send millions of seniors into the free market with dwindling vouchers in hand might seem a boon to the private insurance industry. But would companies even want to participate?

Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that millions of young and healthy Americans purchase insurance with government subsidies, the Paul Ryan plan would instead bring the oldest, sickest, and least profitable demographic to the table. And with the CBO projecting that the average senior would be on the hook for over two-thirds of their health care costs within just 10 years of the plan's adoption -- a proportion that is projected to worsen in the long run --- the government subsidies backing them up may not bring in enough profitable customers to make things worthwhile.

"If reimbursement rates are too low to provide basic benefits, they'll tell the government, 'You do it,'" one insurance lobbyist told TPM. "I don't think they can require they lose money, they'd just pull out."

That's right, Ryan's plan goes so far in giving away the Medicare store that it's handing out treats to kids who don't want them. There's a reason why Medicare exists, after all. It wasn't just some crazy idea Lyndon Johnson dreamed up one day. It was the solution to a problem and that problem was one that the "free market," as we call it today, wasn't willing to address -- because there's no money in it.

And it also turns out that Ryan cooked up his little privatization scheme without even consulting the industry he was throwing the privatized customer-base to. If he had, he would've discovered that they don't want the business, because it's more trouble than it's worth -- the very same problem that made Medicare necessary in the first place. Paul Ryan found the solution to a problem and boldly and courageously unsolved it.

Now let's enjoy the slow process of watching that unsolving fail.



News Roundup for 4/14/11

Empty wallet
Graphic representation demonstrating all the money Walker's union busting saves

-Headline of the day-
"Scott Walker Admits Union-Busting Provision 'Doesn't Save Any' Money For The State Of Wisconsin."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was called to Washington to testify before a "you're so awesome!" session of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Where the session was meant to heap praise on Big Heroes making Tough Choices about state and municipal budgets, things didn't really work out that way for Scooter. He got an earful from Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, then he got slammed in the testimony of Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin for being a little bit of a dick about everything.

But the biggest failure to recognize his Patriotic Heroism came from Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who managed to box Gov. Scooter in on whether his Tough Choice to bust unions saved the state any money at all. Walker tried to dodge the question, Dennis came right back to it, and Walker had to admit the facts.

"Would you answer the question? How much money does it save, Governor?" Kucinich asked.

"It doesn't save any," Scooter answered.

I ask you, is that any way to treat a Patriotic Budget Hero who makes Tough Choices? Committee Chair Darrell Issa didn't and denied Kucinich's request to enter a document proving the lack of savings into the record.

That's how you treat a Patriotic Budget Hero who makes Tough Choices. You deny all evidence that they aren't. (ThinkProgress)

-Cartoon time with Mark Fiore-
Hey kids, Little Suzie Newsykins is back and she's here to teach you how to negotiate like a pro! Yay!

Pretty Please
Click for animation

Actually, that's pretty accurate. (MarkFiore.com)

-Bonus HotD-
"CNN’s Alison Kosik Deftly Reports On 3-D Porn: 'Getting It On All Sides.'"

You don't actually expect a punchline too? (Mediaite)

Reality-Based Budgeting

The budget deficit is a multi-generational problem. At least, that's the impression you get if you listen to some in Washington or pretty much any random talking head. If we don't get crazy with the budget scissors, our children and our grandchildren will pay the price. If we do nothing, the nation will be... I don't know, in flames or something.

But yesterday, Annie Lowrey at Slate crunched the numbers and found the real consequence of doing nothing -- eliminating the budget deficit in eight short years.

So how does doing nothing actually return the budget to health? The answer is that doing nothing allows all kinds of fiscal changes that politicians generally abhor to take effect automatically. First, doing nothing means the Bush tax cuts would expire, as scheduled, at the end of next year. That would cause a moderately progressive tax hike, and one that hits most families, including the middle class. The top marginal rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, and some tax benefits for investment income would disappear. Additionally, a patch to keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million or so families would end. Second, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care law, would proceed without getting repealed or defunded. The CBO believes that the plan would bend health care's cost curve downward, wrestling the rate of health care inflation back toward the general rate of inflation. Third, doing nothing would mean that Medicare starts paying doctors low, low rates. Congress would not pass anymore of the regular "doc fixes" that keep reimbursements high. Nothing else happens. Almost magically, everything evens out.

I'm not saying this is the best plan ever. I'm not even saying it's a good plan. Frankly, it's a lousy plan that would depress consumer demand by increasing the tax burden of the middle class and the poor -- by far the two largest economic groups and, therefore, the largest portion of consumers. It's not really a serious proposal anyway. It's more of a "hey, look at this weird fact I found" thing.

But it does show that this whole "multi-generational crisis" thing is BS. The nation's finances are set up so that, if you just switch it over to autopilot, the whole thing fixes itself. Not in the most optimal fashion, maybe, but a fix is a fix. Medicare and Medicaid are fine, Social Security is fine, we don't have to chase down pennies defunding Planned Parenthood or National Public Radio -- in short, we can let those budget scissors rust and everything would be peaches, deficit-wise. Not over generations, but in two years short of a decade. And, if we don't need the budget scissors, we certainly won't need Rep. Paul Ryan's budget chainsaw.

And the Obama plan? It's not exactly Lowrey's "quit pokin' at it" plan. Obama makes some cuts and hikes some taxes. McClatchy has an at-a-glance:

Obama plan graphic

I wouldn't make cuts to Medicaid at all and I'd make up that difference with cuts to our tremendously bloated military budget. The "cuts" to Medicare aren't really cuts at all but, according to another handy at-a-glance from the New York Times, "The proposal seeks to reduce the growth in Medicare spending, including lowering prescription drug spending 'by leveraging Medicare's purchasing power.'" In other words, by allowing the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies -- a no-brainer that should've been done a long, long time ago.

The Obama plan is twelve years, rather than the do-nothing's eight, but it shows again that the "multi-generational crisis" talk is a lot of panicky BS. Besides, adding four years to avoid a hit to the economy in the form of weaker consumer demand isn't really much of a setback.

"I can live with this," Paul Krugman says. "And whatever the pundits may say, it was much, much more serious than the Ryan 'plan.'"

Of course, that really is faint praise. I've been calling Paul Ryan's proposal "fantasy-economics porn," because that's exactly what it is. It assumes the world is the way objectivist libertarians like Ryan wish it was, instead of the way that history shows it actually is. It argues that if you cut taxes, employment will go through the roof -- Ryan's plan projects numbers beyond full employment -- but ignores the fact the we did cut taxes and labor stats suck. I guess eight years of stagnant job growth under Bush wasn't proof enough. Once again, we see the conservative philosophy in action; if what you're doing is failing, it means you have to do more of it.

Let's be honest here: Rep. Ryan's plan, by virtue of being completely ridiculous, set the bar pretty low. So it really should be no surprise that President Obama cleared it. It's not the best budget ever devised, but the Republican alternative may very well be the worst.

And it beats doing nothing. Although, that works too.



News Roundup for 3/13/11

Keep your government hands off my Medicare!
You gotta give them points for consistency

-Headline of the day-
"Poll: Plurality of Republicans say don't touch Medicare."

Paul Ryan's plan to save Medicare by destroying maybe brave and bold and visionary and not-stupid in the eyes of many pundits and talking heads, but in the eyes of voters, it's none of those things. Democrats don't like it, Independents aren't bug fans, and it turns out that even Republican voters aren't super excited about the whole idea.

Gallup finds that wile 34% of GOP voters think we have to either "completely overhaul" or make "major changes" to Medicare, 61% prefer either "minor changes" or leaving the thing alone altogether. For the record, the most pro-Ryan stance would be "completely overhaul," which accounts for just 14% of Republican respondents. Like I said, they aren't super excited about this.

See, it works like this: Republicans are all about the courage it takes to make tough choices -- so long as those tough choices are being made about someone else. When it comes to themselves, they just can't get enough of that gummint-run, commie single-payer healthcare. (Raw Story)

-In [closely] related news...-
Ryan's big Randian vision of a nation unburdened by seniors with money suffers a tiny setback as some Republican House members get skittish about voting for it. Turns out that they thought all the Tea Party "SAVE MEDICARE!" crap from last year was for real and the bait-and-switch isn't going over very well.

According to the report, "Whether they're new lawmakers in formerly Democratic seats or House veterans who represent districts with large elderly populations dependent on Medicare, a significant number of Republicans realize that embracing the Ryan plan may be one of the most treacherous votes of the year... So rather than taking a strong stand, they're hedging during the leadup to the roll call."

"Hedging during the leadup to the roll call" is fancy-talk for "getting all wishy-washy about which way they'll vote." Politico talked to quite few GOPer offices and got a chorus of "dunno" and "we're still looking it over." Caught between pressure from party leadership and the interests (and votes) of their own constituents, many House Republicans are finding the courage to stand tall and announce in a courageous and clear voice, "I'm undecided as of this time. No comment."

Really puts a lump in your throat, doesn't it? (Politico)

-Bonus HotD-
"Did Obama Put Biden to Sleep?"

Maybe -- for about a second. Still, let's remember this. I'm not sure what the veepee does all day, but apparently it really wears you out. (Political Wire, with video)

The Paratrooper President

Comic book paratrooperBarack Obama has a bad habit of cutting congress loose and letting it wander off without leadership. This congress and the previous one have been infested with lunatics, so whatever issue is at the center of the debate of the moment inevitably gets dragged off into crazyland. Then, at the last minute, the president parachutes in and "rescues" the whole thing before it goes completely off the rails. This hasn't worked so well in the past. Healthcare reform, for example, was allowed to drag out for so long and so many lies, so many panic attacks were allowed to attach themselves to it, that the end product was filled with half-measures and managed to disappoint everyone.

Maybe President Obama thinks this makes him seem like the adult in the room and is, therefore, good politics. But history shows it's not. Or maybe this is a case of a former Senator who can't get his head out of the Senate. Whatever the reason, this approach to leadership has served this president very, very poorly.

Maybe it would work in a saner world -- or one with a less lazy press. When Paul Ryan puts out a budget proposal that relies on wishful thinking and numbers from the Heritage Foundation's Institute of Leprechaun Farts and Rainbows, the media calls it "courageous" and pretends the whole thing is serious. Apparently, all you need to do is attack Medicare, shift the tax burden further away from the top wage earners and more toward the bottom, and use numbers pulled out of your butt to justify it, and you're a freakin' hero.

And so it is that the president will make a speech today in an attempt to rescue yet another debate from devolving into idiocy -- long after it has already made that devolution. In waiting so long to get involved, Obama lets the center creep right. The media always pretends that all arguments have equal worth and Republicans use this to drag debate in their direction. If a leading Republican argued that we had to annex Canada and the Democratic position was that we shouldn't, the media would play the "reasonable, middle-of-the-road" position and wonder if we shouldn't just annex part of Canada -- and there you go, partially annexing Canada has now become a position that "serious" people can now discuss. What was completely insane one week becomes a legitimate position the next. Run far enough to the right and you can get the media to put that "sane and centrist" position anywhere you like -- especially when that media is completely unwilling to call insanity insanity.

Doubt me? Then explain how the Boogeyman -- in the form of "death panels" -- ever became a subject of national debate.

True to form, Barack Obama has allowed Paul Ryan's fantasy-economics porn to rattle around in the media for a while, getting praise from some and suggestions that we only annex part of Canada from others. Eliminate Medicare? Sure! Or maybe just a little. Let's not go overboard here. Should we kill entitlements or just injure them? Serious people want to know and we all agree now that only Communists want to leave them alone.

So maybe this dropping down from the sky to rescue the debate at the last minute isn't really the smartest strategy. Maybe allowing the discussion to veer off into lunacy isn't working all that well. Maybe immediately pointing out the stupid things are stupid things is a little bit better way to go.

President Obama may have some heavy lifting to do today, but that's only because he let the weight pile up for so long.