No Joe, Both Sides are Not Just as Bad

Filed under "Goodbye and good riddance." On his way out the door, retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, sole member of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, is on his way out the door and we wish him a hearty "get the hell out and don't come back." But as he leaves, he takes the opportunity to catapult one more projectile of BS at the castle walls of reality.

[New York Times:]

...Even amid the current meltdown in Washington and the consistent Republican opposition to Mr. Obama, Mr. Lieberman insists on blaming both parties equally in a way that some Democrats say works for him but ignores reality.

"The Republicans will say not only in the fiscal negotiations, but in general, they were constantly bending and willing to compromise, and it's the Democrats' fault," he said. "But the truth is, they're both right. It's both their fault."

"I understand the reflexive establishment posture, which suggests partisan observations are necessarily wrong, but consider recent events," says Steve Benen, "the fiscal talks have broken down because Republicans won't compromise and accept meaningful concessions; the farm bill and the Violence Against Women Act are stuck because Republicans won't vote on them; efforts to reduce gun violence face extremely long odds because Republicans are beholden to the NRA; a U.N. treaty on disabilities was killed because Republicans believed extremist conspiracy theories; the process of filling President Obama's second term cabinet is stalled because of Republican smear campaigns; and another debt-ceiling crisis is underway because Republicans are threatening to hurt Americans on purpose unless Democrats pay a steep ransom."

Yes, this is BS of the very highest order, but many in the punditry will probably eat it up. It lets them off the hook. While it's entirely possible to impartially assign blame (after all, juries do it constantly) the media and the Republican Party don't seem to realize it. If you come straight out and say the obvious truth -- i.e., Republicans are about as helpful in getting things moving in Washington as a flat tire -- then that's "bias," somehow. Thank God Joementum threw them a lifesaver, now their opinions don't have to reflect reality. Which is great for the GOP, since reality doesn't make them look very good at all. Especially in the looming fiscal cliff and the upcoming Republican-created debt crisis.

"Back up from the day-to-day and really look at it," comments Jonathan Bernstein, "and what you’ll see is a situation in which Republicans insist on superficially popular deficit reduction without being willing to support any of the means of getting deficit reduction — and having demonstrated repeatedly that if Democrats propose any specific deficit-reduction measures, they’ll be quick to attack."

It's the GOP's stubborn insistence that we can reduce the deficit without them giving up anything that has Washington paralyzed. The wheels of government don't roll that way. They can't. You need people willing to accept reality and Republicans are fresh out of those. We cannot change the nature of math to satisfy their wish to have their cake and eat it too.

Or, as Jonathan Cohn puts it, "Washington doesn't need two parties that can 'come together.' It needs one party to 'get it together.'"

So long, Joe Lieberman. And thank you just so very damned much for giving a lazy and cowardly punditry a way out one last time, while taking a some pressure off the Republicans and undermining efforts at a last minute deal. We won't miss you.

Not in the least.


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It's Official: Gun Debate Proves GOP's Learned Nothing from 2012

In the immediate aftermath of President Obama's reelection, there was a lot of talk about how the Republican Party would need to increase their demographic appeal. Mitt Romney's lily-white electorate was not nearly enough to put him in the White House and discounting woman voters cost him dearly. The math no longer works, catering to the whims of the largest minority is no longer enough, the southern strategy is dead. If there's a lesson for Republicans in their 2012 debacle, it's that they can't afford to continue to alienate large swaths of the voting public.

But, as I'm so fond of pointing out, learning lessons is not something Republicans do. So, at a time when they should be broadening their appeal, they're narrowing it further. You could take this Politico article and replace every instance of "NRA" with "the Republican Party" and it would be entirely accurate:

Pollster Frank Luntz, who has studied attitudes about gun control, said on Wednesday that he doesn’t “think the NRA is listening” to the American public in the wake of the massacre of 20 children at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

“The public wants guns out of the schools, not in the schools,” Luntz said on CBS’s “This Morning.” “And they are not asking for a security official or someone else. I don’t think the NRA is listening. I don’t think they understand most Americans would protect the Second Amendment rights and yet agree with the idea that not every human being should own a gun, not every gun should be available at anytime, anywhere, for anyone. At gun shows, you should not be able to buy something there without any kind of check whatsoever.”

He added, “What they are looking for is a common sense approach saying those who law-abiding should continue to have the right to own a weapon, but don’t believe the right should be extended to everyone at every time for every type of weapon.”

If you doubt my argument that the NRA and the GOP are hand in glove on this issue, consider this Bloomberg headline: "Senate Republicans Agree With NRA, Oppose New Gun Laws." For Republicans, as with the NRA, an assault weapons ban is a no-go. As is a ban on high-capacity magazines.

But a recent Pew Poll found that a big majority -- 65% -- believe that assault weapons make America less secure. At the time, the poll found no partisan advantage on who was better at handling gun policy, but that was during a time when Republicans were wisely keeping their big yaps shut on the subject. After the school massacre in Connecticut, the GOP basically went into hiding. Now that NRA chief Wayne LaPierre has broken the ice by suggesting we throw money at the problem of gun violence and dump more guns into schools, Republicans apparently feel it's safe to come out now.

And, as always, they come out on the side of their big donors. If it's people vs. corporations, the GOP will always choose corporations. Anyone who believes otherwise is a chump. And the NRA represents corporations -- the people part of it is a front. It represents gun manufacturers, suppliers, and merchants. Doubt me? When Luntz says the NRA isn't listening, he includes their own members. His polling shows that NRA policies don't reflect the opinions of NRA members. Instead, they call for the sale of more guns and more ammo -- exactly what you'd expect a trade association of arms manufacturers to do. They represent gun owners in the same way that tobacco companies were representing smokers by denying their products were unhealthy -- i.e., not at all.

And if the NRA stands opposite public opinion on this issue, so does the Republican Party. At a time when the party should be bending over backwards to attract new voters, they're becoming more and more an elite and exclusive club of people who hold unpopular opinions.

You'd think that this would've been the year that they finally wised up and realized that constantly shrinking their base was a really bad strategy -- not in the long run, but in the now. But you'd be wrong. Republicans don't learn things, they tell everyone else what to think. And they're apparently so intent on dictating the proper way of thinking to everyone that they're completely unaware that most of us have stopped listening.


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The GOP Social Security Raid

While everyone's attention is still focused on the killings in Newton, Republicans and the White House are reportedly nearing a deal on the fiscal cliff. The problem: it's a crappy deal in which the side with all the leverage gives up far too much.

[Ezra Klein:]

All at once, a “fiscal cliff” deal seems to be coming together. Speaker John Boehner’s latest offer doesn’t go quite far enough for the White House to agree, but it goes far enough that many think they can see the agreement taking shape.

Boehner offered to let tax rates rise for income over $1 million. The White House wanted to let tax rates rise for income over $250,000. The compromise will likely be somewhere in between. More revenue will come from limiting deductions, likely using some variant of the White House’s oft-proposed, oft-rejected idea for limiting itemized deductions to 28 percent. The total revenue raised by the two policies will likely be a bit north of $1 trillion. Congress will get instructions to use this new baseline to embark on tax reform next year. Importantly, if tax reform never happens, the revenue will already be locked in.

On the spending side, the Democrats’ headline concession will be accepting chained-CPI, which is to say, accepting a cut to Social Security benefits. Beyond that, the negotiators will agree to targets for spending cuts. Expect the final number here, too, to be in the neighborhood of $1 trillion, but also expect it to lack many specifics. Whether the cuts come from Medicare or Medicaid, whether they include raising the Medicare age, and many of the other contentious issues in the talks will be left up to Congress.

And it's the chained-CPI that's the problem. What is it? The short answer is that it's a complicated piece of economic mumbo-jumbo that justifies cutting Social Security benefits by 5% immediately and more as time goes on. The longer answer is here.

That's crappy enough right there. In fact, it's bad enough that Paul Krugman says he's torn on whether this is deal is better or worse than the consequences of no deal at all. "It’s not clear that going over the cliff would yield something better," he says, "on the other hand, those benefit cuts are really bad, and you hate to see a Democratic president lending his name to something like that. There is a case for refusing to make this deal, and hoping for a popular backlash against the GOP that transforms the whole debate; but there’s also an argument that this might not work."

Beyond being a typical Republican attack on consumer demand, it also amounts to a raid on Social Security to pay for all the crap Bush did to run up the deficit. Consider that the Social Security trust fund is self-funding and doesn't add a dime to the deficit. It's your money, to be spent on your retirement, and Republicans are demanding that a good chunk of it be used to cover their bloody and idiotic snipe hunt for WMD in Iraq. It absolutely must be used to pay for the bailouts for billionaires -- the same billionaires who crashed the economy and created the need for their own bailouts. Your Social Security benefits have to be taken from you, in order to avoid cuts to our bloated military -- in itself a constant and needless bailout of defense contractors.

The deal was that you'd contribute to the trust fund and, when your time came, you'd get a fair share of it for your retirement. It's your money and Republicans want to take it away from you, to pay for their own idiotic mistakes and boondoggles. That wasn't the deal.

But to paraphrase someone who was no doubt a conservative: Republicans are altering the deal. Pray they don't alter it any further.


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There's No Defending Our Insane Gun Culture

The other day, I pointed out that the things gun apologists are saying in the wake of a Connecticut school shooting make no damned sense at all. My jumping off point was a statement from Mike Huckabee that suggested the shooting was the result of a lack of religion in schools. It's hard to get past how offensive that is, but I managed. There are countries in the world that are more religious and more violent, while barely religious countries exist that are much safer than the US. When you compare the US to the rest of the world, gun apologists' arguments fall apart.

So it comes as no surprise that the hackish George Will offers his own completely illogical take on things.

[Raw Story:]


“We ought to bring in Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago,” [Will] insisted. “Chicago is an epidemic of violence with young, largely unparented — that is, no father in the home — adolescent males. That’s a problem quite separate from this.”

The conservative columnist also worried that the massacre of 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut would be used to “ratchet up the security of schools and elsewhere in public spaces.”

See, because America is the only country in the entire goddam world with single mothers. That's supposedly why we're a war zone. But America has 88.8 guns per 100 residents. Our number of guns per capita far outstrips any other nation in the world. That's what's so remarkably different about us -- not how often we pray or how many single moms we have -- and it's obviously the cause of all this tragedy. If more guns really did mean more safety, then we should by all logic be the safest country in the entire world.

But the fact is that we're not. The "gun ownership equals safety" argument is undermined by this very crime. The first victim of the shooting spree, the shooter's mother Mary Lanza, was a gun enthusiast who owned "at least a dozen" guns. I'd say they clearly failed to keep her safe. All her arsenal did was provide Adam Lanza with an assault rifle and "hundreds of rounds" of ammunition. Her guns did the exact opposite of keeping her community safe -- and her's was hardly an unusual household. The odds are very, very good that there's a similar arsenal in your community.

If the punditry is sticking their necks out with absurd excuses that blame everything and anything but the fact that our nation is littered with guns, elected officials aren't. They've learned how to deal with the aftermath of a mass shooting; i.e., you don't deal with it at all. They're mostly lying low and waiting for this to all blow over. Meet the Press executive producer Betsy Fischer Martin tweeted yesterday, "BTW, we reached out to ALL 31 pro-gun rights Sens in the new Congress to invite them to share their views on @meetthepress - NO takers." I'm not sure where that figure comes from, but thirty-one refusals to go on a high-profile Sunday morning yack program is an incredibly high number. They say the most dangerous place in Washington is between a senator and a TV camera. They're waiting for the news cycle to move on.

Which is why it's important to make sure this doesn't blow over. Sen. Diane Feinstein plans to introduce legislation that bans assault weapons at the beginning of the next congress. It's important to keep this conversation going until then. Gun apologists are so afraid of this debate that they're running away from TV cameras. That ought to let you know whose arguments are the stronger.

We need to make sure this tragedy doesn't fade into the background, like all the senseless shootings before it. Otherwise, the next time some nut shoots the hell out of a public place, we'll wind up wondering why we didn't do anything to stop it -- just like we always do.


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Politics of Hate is a Loser

Racist anti-immigrant protester
Right now, the Republican Party is a sinking ship on a national level. Which makes this story of conservative diehards seem a little... well, insane.

[Yahoo! News:]

As Republican House Speaker John Boehner is negotiating with President Barack Obama on a deal to avoid sending the country over the "fiscal cliff" come Jan. 1, conservative leaders are publicly urging Republicans in Congress to resist pressure to compromise.

An open letter circulated on Wednesday and signed by more than 100 conservatives never explicitly addresses the "fiscal cliff" talks but warns Republicans that they are "entering into a period of testing." It says they have "a mandate to fight for conservative principles" because they maintained firm control of the House on Election Day.

Among the signers are Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Foster Friess, a Wyoming businessman who helped bankroll a super PAC supporting Rick Santorum's presidential bid; and longtime conservative activists Richard Viguerie and Phyllis Schlafly.

The reasoning behind this is pretty much nonexistent. Instead, the argument rests on baseless optimism. "If Republicans provide a consistent, conservative alternative, the time will come, probably sooner than later, when most Americans will become fed up with the left's failed agenda and be ready for a change to 'throw the bums out' and restore limited, Constitutional government," the letter says. In other words, keep doing what everyone's hating and everyone will come around -- because shut up, that's why.

There's a battle going on for the soul of the Republican Party and these people seem to be on the losing side. These are the social conservatives and the Tea Party nuts and they're being left behind by a party interested in representing more than just a handful of screwballs. Just the other day, Politico tried to get a GOP leader to comment on a gay marriage case before the Supreme Court -- and came up empty. "Saving traditional marriage" is a pet issue for social conservatives and the Republican Party doesn't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole any more. That's a pretty rapid reversal of fortune for Schlafly and company.

And that's not the only issue that social conservatives are being abandoned over. Their love of racist extremists like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Arizona's "papers please" anti-immigrant law is costing them dearly. In fact, it may have cost them the presidency.

[Talking Points Memo:]

Republicans need to dramatically improve their standing with Latino voters or risk becoming a “regional party” of disaffected whites, according to a study released Wednesday by a GOP pollster.

“Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters,” Resurgent Republic pollster Whit Ayres and the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network’s Jennifer Korn concluded in a memo detailing the results of the study.

Resurgent Republic surveyed Latino voters in four states — New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida — and concluded that the GOP brand was on life support. Respondents said Republicans did not respect their community’s values and concerns by a 51-44 margin in Florida, 54-40 in New Mexico, 59-35 in Nevada, and 63-30 in Colorado. By contrast Democrats were seen as respectful by a dominant 67-28 spread in Florida, 72- 23 percent in both New Mexico and Nevada, and 76-20 in Colorado.

The study wasn't exactly needed, however, since it simply points out the obvious. Back in August, Sen. Lindsey Graham saw the writing on the wall, telling an interviewer, "The demographics race we’re losing badly. [The GOP's] not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

Basically, Schlafly, Viguerie, and the rest of the 'bagger crew are advising Republican leaders to continue catering to a shrinking demographic -- white conservative evangelicals -- and to ignore the growth in every other demo. I suppose it's predictable, but even if the leadership were fooled by this argument, it wouldn't save them. The choice is clear: stop kissing up to the base and broaden your appeal or stick with the racist, sexist, and homophobic white nuts and keep losing elections.

And it's not a hard choice to make. As I've pointed out recently, the only reason the GOP ever went with social conservatives was to use their issues as wedges. It's hard to get someone to vote against their own economic interests, but it's easy to get them to vote against the Homosexual Menace.

Or, at least, it used to be. Republicans will no doubt find some other issue to turn voters into pigeons with -- guns or something. But the age of the racist and religious demagogue is in its twilight.

And good riddance.


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The War on Facts, Televised

A week long illness is now receding and I can wear my glasses again without wanting to hurl. Sinus pressure must realign your eyeballs or something, I don't know. But it sucked.

Another thing that sucks and makes me want to hurl is a video up at Politico, which I'll spare you. You don't have to actually watch it to get my point. And since the attached article is titled, "Paul Krugman riles fellow pundits," Politico owes the man an apology. Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and a professor at Princeton University, in addition to his column and blog in the New York Times, while "pundit" has become mostly synonymous with "hack." The days of a punditry populated largely with people who actually know what the hell they're talking about have long since passed -- if they ever existed at all. Today, the vast majority of pundits are partisan propagandists. And their hackery is insufferable.

After all, in what world would Mary Matalin -- a professional Republican operative -- be considered a "pundit?" Unfortunately, the answer to that is "the one we live in." She was one of the "fellow pundits" Krugman riled on ABC's This Week. The other was this tool:

After Krugman called House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget a "fake document" and the columnist said he was "amazed that people haven't gotten that," [George] Will unsheathed his verbal sword and went at Krugman.

"I have yet to encounter someone who disagrees with you who you don't think is a knave, or corrupt, or a corrupt knave," Will said, borrowing a phrase founding father Alexander Hamilton used to rail against those unwilling to respect the good faith of their political opponents.

"No, I've got some people," Krugman said, suggesting that some conservatives are indeed intellectually honest.

Yup, good old George "Landslide" Will. And is he right about the Ryan budget, while Paul Krugman is wrong? Not even close. The Ryan plan is a joke. In fact, it's a cruel practical joke, since it exists only as an excuse to slash entitlements and privatize Medicare. In Will's words borrowed from Hamilton, Paul Ryan is "a knave, or corrupt, or a corrupt knave." His entire budget plan is just cover for a lie. When Krugman says it's a "fake document," this is literally true. It's fake in the same way that camouflage is fake.

Again, this is Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate and Princeton professor, saying this. And for some reason, George Will gets to disagree with him -- vehemently -- and his disagreement is supposed to carry equal weight. Nowhere in that Politico piece will you find any fact-checking. It merely presents the TV argument between Krugman, Will, and Matalin and that's that. It might as well be a report about a celebrity dust-up on a game show.

Which, sadly, is about the level of importance of these Sunday talk shows. You can't put together a round table of hacks and partisans and expect anything useful to come of it. And when they bother to get someone who actually knows what he's talking about to chime in, these hacks and partisans attack him for presenting the unvarnished truth. In other words, on the rare occasion that some factual reporting actually happens, it's immediately undermined by spinmeisters and trolls. And those spinmeisters and trolls are presented as being as expert on the subject as the actual expert they invited on their show. It's ludicrous. George Will has to prove nothing. He can just throw out declarations and those count as logical arguments. Truth and fact are mere matters of opinion. Who's right? Who knows?

That's the state of our media. And a sorry state it is, too.


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GOP Stuck on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff

Man about to jump off cliff
An article in the New York Times titled, "Criticized as Weak in Past Talks, Obama Takes Harder Line," is the sort of thing that puts a smile on liberals' faces. Long story short, it describes a president who does what he said he would do during a successful reelection bid. And Republicans hate it.

Amid demands from Republicans that President Obama propose detailed new spending cuts to avert the year-end fiscal crisis, his answer boils down to this: you first.

Mr. Obama, scarred by failed negotiations in his first term and emboldened by a clear if close election to a second, has emerged as a different kind of negotiator in the past week or two, sticking to the liberal line and frustrating Republicans on the other side of the bargaining table.

Disciplined and unyielding, he argues for raising taxes on the wealthy while offering nothing new to rein in spending and overhaul entitlement programs beyond what was on the table last year. Until Republicans offer their own new plan, Mr. Obama will not alter his. In effect, he is trying to leverage what he claims as an election mandate to force Republicans to take ownership of the difficult choices ahead.

Ezra Klein has already covered this new Obama, writing that he's stopped negotiating with himself. Paul Krugman agrees:

Here’s where we are right now: As his opening bid in negotiations, Mr. Obama has proposed raising about $1.6 trillion in additional revenue over the next decade, with the majority coming from letting the high-end Bush tax cuts expire and the rest from measures to limit tax deductions. He would also cut spending by about $400 billion, through such measures as giving Medicare the ability to bargain for lower drug prices.

Republicans have howled in outrage. Senator Orrin Hatch, delivering the G.O.P. reply to the president’s weekly address, denounced the offer as a case of “bait and switch,” bearing no relationship to what Mr. Obama ran on in the election. In fact, however, the offer is more or less the same as Mr. Obama’s original 2013 budget proposal and also closely tracks his campaign literature.

So what are Republicans offering as an alternative? They say they want to rely mainly on spending cuts instead. Which spending cuts? Ah, that’s a mystery. In fact, until late last week, as far as I can tell, no leading Republican had been willing to say anything specific at all about how spending should be cut.

In terms of public opinion, President Obama has all the leverage here. Polling shows that voters want tax increases on the wealthy -- even a majority of self-described "conservative Republicans" think tax increases are necessary -- and that if the country does go over the fiscal cliff, it'll be Republicans' fault.

So Republicans already have their backs against the wall and their refusal to name their cuts only makes matters worse for them. Any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security will be unpopular -- which is why the GOP refuses to name them, instead talking about vague "entitlement spending." If they want to play, they're going to have to ante up and put something on the table. And what they want is not going to win them any new voters. Paul Ryan's budget ideas -- which represent the GOP's vision for America -- are about as popular as e. coli.

"The point is that when you put Republicans on the spot and demand specifics about how they’re going to make good on their posturing about spending and deficits, they come up empty," Krugman writes. "There’s no there there... Republicans claim to be for much smaller government, but as a political matter they have always attacked government spending in the abstract, never coming clean with voters about the reality that big cuts in government spending can happen only if we sharply curtail very popular programs."

It's time for Republicans to put up or shut up, because so far they've done neither.


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