Political Animal


September 22, 2014 9:07 AM Defensive Voting Rarely a Solution For Red State Democrats

If you want a quick lesson in the futility of defensive voting by red state Democrats—you know, voting with Republicans on hot button issues like guns—check out this attack ad on Alaska Sen. Mark Begich:

As the New York Times’ Ashley Parker notes in discussing this ad, Begich has actually been a conspicuously reliable vote against any sort of gun regulation. But that doesn’t matter, since he voted to confirm “anti-gun” Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. And even if he hadn’t voted for these Justices, he votes “with Obama” all the time, and we all understand Obama wakes up each morning scheming to vitiate the Second Amendment so he will not have to worry about armed patriot resistance when he snatches away America’s birthright of freedom.

Maybe Begich really does favor unlimited gun rights, or maybe he views that as a particularly important “value” of his constituents. But no one should be under any illusion that defensive voting on individual issues will provide any significant political protection these days.

September 22, 2014 8:44 AM The Abandoned and Scorned

Spurred on by another speech by another leading Republican politician (in this case Speaker John Boehner) suggesting that historically high and persistent unemployment rates are the fault of the unemployed themselves, Paul Krugman provides a timely reminder of an issue that has all but been forgotten in this election year.

I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.
The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

Now Krugman is right in drawing attention to the “animus against the unemployed” so regularly expressed by conservatives, when they aren’t shedding crocodile tears for the terrible injustice being done to all recipients of government assistance via demoralizing food, initiative-sapping shelter, and spiritually damaging health coverage. But this ought to be a subject at least occasionally mentioned by Democratic politicians, too. A higher minimum wage isn’t of much use to people who cannot find work. Abandoning the long-term unemployed is a sin even if it is not compounded by scorn.

September 22, 2014 7:53 AM Daylight Video

Yesterday was the great Leonard Cohen’s 80th birthday. Here he is performing “The Story of Isaac” in Warsaw in 1985.

September 22, 2014 12:23 AM Had I been a gun “enthusiast,” last night might have ended in tragedy

Last night at around 9pm as my wife, my brother and I were in our apartment watching a movie, a large man was prowling around our patio in the dark. We first heard him when he tried to open our sliding glass door.

I quickly threw on my shoes, opened the front door and stepped out onto the balcony. I asked him what was going on and why he was there. He said “Nothing, sorry” and walked past me toward the stairs (I live on a second story corner apartment.) My wife called the police. The man was obviously under the influence of narcotics, which made him lumber slowly but methodically; he then walked down the stairs and sat at the bottom. I asked if I could help him, and he said no. My wife and my brother went the other direction up the stairs to get out of harm’s way and wait for the police, while I stood by the front door.

The police didn’t arrive for another 45 minutes. During the next half hour, the man went up and down the stairs a few more times, once trying to come back toward the front door. Each time I asked if I could help him and he said “no.” Finally he took a call from a friend, and his confused conversation seemed to indicate he was at the wrong building. I surmised which building he was looking for, asked him if he was looking for that address, and when he nodded yes I gave him directions.

The police didn’t arrive until 10 minutes after he had left for good. Which is unfortunate, less for my sake than for the intruder’s.

Had I been a different person—a “gun enthusiast”, let us say—the man might be dead or seriously injured. It would have been an unjustifiable homicide against a mostly innocent man for the crime of being high and lost. Many people all across America die or are horribly that way all the time.

That’s unconscionable. Most encounters that end in tragedy need not have done so. Last night was just another reminder of that.

September 21, 2014 7:15 PM …And Climate Justice For All

It was an honor and a privilege to join 400,000 concerned citizens of the world at the People’s Climate March in New York City this afternoon. If the fossil fuel industry is an immovable object of avarice, this march represents an irresistible force of justice.

It was an honor especially to shake the hands of climate activist Tim DeChristopher and Sierra Club head Michael Brune, two men who have demonstrated uncommon valor in the fight for a livable planet. I will never forget the broad diversity of this movement for change: grandparents and grandchildren, gay and straight couples, every race and ethnicity, all representing one united force demanding that the United States and other powerful, prosperous nations finally hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its actions, and put this planet on the path to sustainability.

Did our voices penetrate the consciences of those who benefit from the energy status quo, assuming of course that some of those folks actually have consciences? We’ll know soon enough. The (clean) energy generated by this march will be reflected at the ballot box—and, hopefully, on our television screens. Momentum this strong simply cannot be stopped. No billionaire can buy this power.

At one point, fellow marchers chanted, “The People, United, Can Never Be Defeated!” I used to think that slogan was just idealistic, corny BS. Now, I know that slogan is a truth beyond dispute—just like climate change itself.

UPDATE: More from Brad Johnson.

September 21, 2014 5:11 PM The trouble with Republican reinvention

The political landscape is replete with hope that the GOP will find a way to reinvent itself as a more inclusive and more reality-based organization in the future. The Washington Post carried another such piece today. All it’s a question of, say the optimists, is a few tweaks, some rebranding and a minor dose of reconciliation.

We haven’t seen the beginnings of that at a national level because, well, national Republicans still feel pretty good about themselves. They’ve got control of the House, they may well gain control of the Senate, and they look with relish at President Obama’s approval ratings.

But shouldn’t we be starting to see signs of the reinvention where the GOP is facing its toughest challenges? Like in California? We should. But it’s not pretty:

The gathering opened on a sour note Friday, when the evening’s keynote speaker, state controller candidate Ashley Swearengin, told reporters she was still mulling whether to vote for Kashkari or Brown. “I’m looking at the two candidates like other Californians are,” she said. And Pete Peterson, the Republican running for secretary of state, said in an interview that he was not endorsing Kashkari — or anyone else on the statewide ballot — and did not plan to vote a straight party ticket.
The extraordinary display of disunity led Ron Nehring, a former state Republican chairman and underdog candidate for lieutenant governor, to vent his fury in a profanity-tinged email to party brass just before midnight Friday, after news organizations began reporting the dust-up.

Kashkari is an economic royalist who hasn’t strayed far off the GOP ranch when it comes to supply-side economics, tax cuts for the rich, and the rest of the Republican financial tapestry. But he does preach a more inclusive social message. And for that if nothing else, rank-and-file conservatives are avoiding him like the plague.

A moderate social message is essential for Republican rebirth in California. A more moderate economic one is, too, but Republicans won’t even be able to get a foot in the door without a change on issues like gay marriage and immigration. It would seem that rebranding should be easy on the west coast.

But they can’t even manage it there. How will they ever manage it in Iowa?

September 21, 2014 2:45 PM Tort reform doesn’t actually save much money

Remember how the conservative “answer” to rising healthcare costs was supposed to focus on tort reform? About that:

Tortt reform,” which is usually billed as the answer to “frivolous malpractice lawsuits,” has been a central plank in the Republican program for healthcare reform for decades. The notion has lived on despite copious evidence that that the so-called defensive medicine practiced by doctors merely to stave off lawsuits accounts for, at best, 2% to 3% of U.S. healthcare costs. As for “frivolous lawsuits,” they’re a problem that exists mostly in the minds of conservatives and the medical establishment.
A new study led by Michael B. Rothberg of the Cleveland Clinic and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association aimed to measure how much defensive medicine there is, really, and how much it costs. The researchers’ conclusion is that defensive medicine accounts for about 2.9% of healthcare spending. In other words, out of the estimated $2.7-trillion U.S. healthcare bill, defensive medicine accounts for $78 billion.
As Aaron Carroll observes at the AcademyHealth blog, $78 billion is “not chump change … but it’s still a very small component of overall health care spending.” Any “tort reform” stringent enough to make that go away would likely create other costs, such as a rise in medical mistakes generated by the elimination of the oversight exercised by the court system.

The most remarkable thing about the modern conservative policy apparatus is how divorced it is from objective reality. That’s a fairly new thing. It was at least theoretically possible back in the late 1970s to defend trickle-down economics, tort reform, and similar policies as potentially workable solution to the postulated liberal overreach of the Great Society. It wasn’t true then, either, but holding that ground was at least intellectually defensible.

These days, though, we know better. We know that supply-side economics is a failure. We know that tort reform doesn’t work. We know that abstinence education and other conservative social policies have abysmal outcomes. But there’s no acknowledgement of reality on the other side.

The reports on the near uselessness of tort reform to contain healthcare costs will come and go, and conservatives will continue to offer it as an answer, anyway. Objective reality need not apply.

September 21, 2014 8:49 AM We Get Results…

…and we haven’t even started marching yet!

From the New York Times:

In a sweeping effort to reduce its environmental impact, New York City is planning to overhaul the energy-efficiency standards of all its public buildings and to pressure private landlords to make similar improvements.
The initiative is part of a pledge, to be announced before the start of the United Nations Climate Summit on Tuesday, to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. The United Nations has pointed to that rate of decrease as a desired target for developed countries to mitigate the effects of climate change.
New York would become the largest city in the world to make the commitment, according to the city’s leaders.
Though the proposal is likely to rankle some residential and commercial building owners, who will bear a portion of its cost, officials have framed the issue in part as an extension of the citywide focus on income inequality since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in January. High energy costs, the de Blasio administration argues, amount to a regressive tax, because lower-income residents by and large pay a higher share of their rent for energy than wealthier residents, and often live in less-efficient buildings. The long-term savings could prove to be a financial boost for lower-income residents, officials said — to say nothing of the environmental benefits.

Now who says citizen activism doesn’t work?

September 21, 2014 7:29 AM Damn Right, This Changes Everything

It’s no surprise that the deacons of disinformation are denouncing Naomi Klein and her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. This book is so threatening to the right-wing mindset that we will soon see Tea Party members burning it in YouTube videos. Hardcore conservatives will condemn the book with language they don’t even use to describe the Qu’ran. It will be banned from bookstores, forced from public libraries, preached against from pulpits.

They will lash out because Klein has, with this book, throughly and completely debunked everything promoted under the banner of conservatism today—and she has done so with a work that’s more powerful than a stack of C4.

This Changes Everything deserves to be viewed not as one of the greatest nonfiction works of the 2010s, but as one of the greatest nonfiction works of all-time. Disregard that 2008 Obama speech—the publication of this book will truly mark the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and the planet began to heal.

read more »

September 21, 2014 7:20 AM Daylight Video

On September 21, 2011, Media Matters released a video (“What Happened To The Republican Consensus On Climate Change?”) pointing out that prior to the rise of the Tea Party, a number of high-profile Republicans acknowledged the reality of human-caused climate change.

September 20, 2014 3:45 PM Peace of mind is an important part of freedom

The right has long tried to appropriate the concepts of “freedom” and “liberty” into their proprietary lexicon. And why not? The right is home to libertarians who want the freedom to oppress others economically and socially without a burdensome government apparatus telling them how much to pay their workers at what age, or which kinds of people they can discriminate against. They also want the freedom to avoid taxes and any requirement that they be concerned about the general welfare. Any laws should be basic property protection and apply to everyone without burdening the betters and “job creators” in society. After all, as Anatole France once said, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

But, of course, freedom means other things, too. It means opportunity to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. It means peace of mind. It means knowing that you can go to a job and be reassured that your children will receive a good, safe and free education. It means being able to plan your life, knowing that you won’t go bankrupt just because you get sick.

Case in point:

The Medicaid program, already the nation’s largest insurer, has quickly added millions to its rolls since the start of Obamacare’s coverage expansion. And it appears that Medicaid enrollees are generally happy to have coverage, though many are encountering roadblocks to receiving the care they want, according to new research that provides one of the earliest insights into people’s experiences under the expanded health insurance program for low-income Americans.
All the study participants said they feel better off with free or low-cost Medicaid coverage, and they worry less about being able to afford bills or see a doctor for ongoing health problems. The majority said they’ve already used their coverage and feel healthier because of it.

That is what freedom looks like. Not the ability of a hedge fund billionaire to buy another 10 yachts because he was “freed” from the “burden” of paying taxes to support Medicaid. Medicaid is peace of mind. It’s freedom.

September 20, 2014 2:43 PM Unsettling science

Steve Koonin has an obfuscatory piece in the Wall Street Journal today claiming that the science of climate change isn’t settled. But it’s not the usual radically ignorant posturing. As with much of the evolution of the conservative “debate” over climate, it represents another move in the shifting ground of conservative chicanery intended to paralyze action to solve the problem.

Koonin doesn’t dispute that the climate is changing and that the world is getting hotter. He doesn’t dispute that humans are causing the change through greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn’t even dispute that these changes are dangerous. His position is that because we don’t fully understand all of the complex reverberating effects of climate change, we can’t make good climate policy yet.

The argument sounds reasonable at first, but it’s absurd on its face. It would be like a doctor refusing to treat a strange new disease because we don’t fully understand all of the effects it might have on the body. It might cause kidney failure and heart failure, or maybe just one, or neither! We just don’t have enough information to treat, so let’s do nothing! Of course, by the time kidney failure occurs it will be too late to save the patient, but oh well.

Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change, Koonin’s ranks among the most disturbing because it’s so obviously calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, 2014 is poised to become the hottest year on record. But why do anything about that unless we know for sure, right?

September 20, 2014 2:03 PM Federal Crime

For the past few weeks, the indispensable investigative journalist Brad Friedman has covered the case of George W. Bush-appointed US District Court Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama, who’s notorious for his role in the railroading of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Last month, Fuller was arrested for allegedly attacking his wife in a Georgia hotel in a manner reminiscent of the National Football League’s paragons of family values. However, as Friedman has noted, there’s a creepy possibility that Fuller could avoid any real legal accountability for his alleged behavior.

This horrifying story has, unfortunately, stayed under the radar of the mainstream media, with the recent exception of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Now, in an explosive follow-up, Friedman has revealed new details about a man who clearly has no business being on the federal bench:

…Fuller is not necessarily off the hook for prosecution in a court of law yet. The terms of his plea deal, reportedly, require that, in addition to attending once-a-week domestic abuse counseling for 24 weeks, Judge Fuller must also receive an evaluation concerning drug and alcohol abuse by a court-approved entity.
If he successfully completes those requirements, only then will his arrest record be permanently expunged.
Fuller’s attorney, after the plea deal was approved in state court with the consent of Fuller’s wife Kelli, the victim in this case, stated that the federal judge “doesn’t have a drug or alcohol problem and never has.”
That, like the claim that he is a first time offender in regard to domestic abuse, does not appear to be true, at least according to Fuller’s first wife Lisa who filed a damning Request for Admissions during their 2012 divorce, after Fuller was allegedly discovered to have been having an affair with his court bailiff, Kelli, who he eventually married (and subsequently beat the hell out of last month, after she similarly accused him of having an affair with his law clerk.)
According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in 2012, the first wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, “submitted an objection to her husband’s motion to seal their divorce file…She agreed to redact certain sensitive information but ‘strenuously object[ed] to sealing the entire file,’ according to her response. Her initial complaint and request for admissions accuse Fuller of extramarital affairs, domestic violence and prescription drug abuse.”

Friedman’s coverage of the Fuller horror has been extraordinary. After reading the gruesome details of this story, how can one not join the growing chorus of those demanding that Fuller resign or be impeached?

September 20, 2014 8:45 AM The not-so-soft racism of Tom Cotton

Reagan adviser Lee Atwater:

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “N——-, n——-, n——-.” By 1968 you can’t say “n——-” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N——-, n——-.”

GOP representative Tom Cotton, telling a gross lie:

“(My dad) taught me early: farmers can’t spend more than they take in, and I listened,” Cotton said in the ad. “When President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill, with billions more in spending, I voted no.”

Of course, Cotton isn’t even in the ballpark of truth here. Food stamp bills have long been attached to farm bills in a cat’s cradle knot to encourage urban and rural legislators to vote for each others’ programs. It was the GOP who dissociated them in the hope of cutting food stamps. Obama had nothing to do with it.

But it’s worse than that. It’s no secret that food stamps (now called the SNAP program) have long been racial code for Republicans, even though a large plurality of SNAP recipients are white. When a Republican politician tells his base that he favors cutting food stamps but not farm subsidies, he’s using Atwater’s dog whistle, promising to deliver the pork to rich (white) agribusiness to boost their profits, while stiffing a lot of minorities (most of whom do work at least part-time) who would actually benefit the broader economy by receiving spending money.

Republicans bristle at being called racist in their policies: they feel that Democrats use every opportunity brand any conservative policy as racist. But that’s because they’ve grown so used to their own dog whistles that they don’t even realize that other people can hear them and take offense.

Tom Cotton isn’t just lying to rural voters about the history of the farm bill. He’s also playing a deliberately divisive form of racial politics that has no place in modern America.

September 20, 2014 5:31 AM Broadcast Standards

No, Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller isn’t my idea of credible media either, but I certainly hope this report is true.

Is CNN new Crossfire leaving us so soon?
“My sources say Crossfire is toast,” a TV industry insider told The Mirror.
A publicist from CNN describes it like this: “The program is on extended hiatus.”
Most importantly, sources say staffers from Crossfire are being absorbed into The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. In fact, CNN personnel from other shows are making room for staffers from Crossfire.
Behind the scenes, CNN is allegedly saying the show may make yet another comeback.
Quick question for CNN: If you no longer have a dedicated staff for a show, how is that still a show?

The show should have never been brought back after Jon Stewart buried it a decade ago. If the show is dead once again, good.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted the new Crossfire’s promotion of climate-change denial earlier this year. It was a profoundly immoral decision to bring the demagogues of denial on—heck, it was a profoundly immoral decision to bring the worthless show back in the first place.

Crossfire’s apparent demise raises a good question; other than Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Ed Schultz and Alex Wagner on the other network, is there anything worth watching on cable news today?

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