Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

“Tea Party Movement” Planned Months Ago By GOP Billionaires?

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics, Tea Party Movement by allisonkilkenny on March 3, 2009

Jeffrey Feldman 

billionaires(Please Note:  Since first posting this piece, some claims asserted in the Ames/Levine post cited herein have been responded to in a way that makes my initial reading of that article less certain. To reflect that, I have revised the title to include a “?”, added an UPDATE section at the bottom of the post, and included in-line links to that update section where relevant. Some questions were answered, some new questions have emerged, and so the conversation has grown.  –ed.)

Populist revolt against the U.S. government is all the rage in the Republican Party, these days.  As they tell the story, the public is so outraged by the recovery and reinvestment efforts of the Obama administration that Americans everywhere are turning out to overthrow the tyrannical king of the federal government by re-enacting the Boston Tea Party.  

Funny thing, though: it turns out this whole “populist” movement was a planned PR stunt funded by big-money right-wing backers of the GOP who specialize in faking grassroots movements to drum up opposition to Barack Obama. 

Everything about this so called “Tea Party” movement was pre-planned–from the supposedly “spontaneous rant” of CNBC stock market reporter, Rick Santelli, to the presumed ground-level organizing of protests all over the country.  Fake, fake, fake–like a product launch staged covertly to look like a spontaneous trend.  (please UPDATE below)

Playboy bloggers Mark Ames and Yasha Levine pulled together all the pieces of this puzzle in an incredible expose (Exposing The Rightwing PR Machine):

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

It helps, in other words, to have field experience ferreting out Soviet propaganda to understand how Rick Santelli suddenly became the figurehead of a right-wing “grassroots” revolt against the United States government.   It is worth reading the entire post.  

The next time you hear that the Tea Party Republican revolt is “grassroots,” “spontaneous,” and “populist,” just swap out those PR keywords for the more accurate terms:  “planned,” “scripted,” “billionaire bigwigs.”  

All of this makes sense, of course.  Santelli’s philippic had all the hallmarks of a rehearsed piece of political theater–the pre-planned message launched of a viral marketing campaign. (please UPDATE below)

Not that any of this comes as a surprise, but…my goodness. 

Even though the curtain has been pulled back  on this astroturf marketing by GOP megabucks elite backers, it is important to keep in mind what the larger stakes are and how to respond.

Scripted or not–this Tea Party revolt needs to be treated as politically real.  People engaged in this agitation will not acknowledge ever that it is scripted, because these folks sincerely think they are engaged in some kind of revolution against their own government. They really want the country to evaluate whether or not an elected President and Congress are the same as a tyrannical king and whether a tax by fiat from the 18c is the same as a legislature approved public investment program from the 21c.  Those folks just want to make noise–lots of noise–to throw the debate off its tracks.

The big story to defend and advance, in other words, is a president advancing real solutions aimed at helping millions of Americans in serious economic trouble.  The agitation against it, whether it is scripted or not, is designed to stop those solutions from being discussed seriously, from unfolding, and then to weaken the president making them happen.  That is a basic confrontation between pragmatic action and ideological politics–between investment in people and inaction in the name of  dogma.

In the end, then, we need to make themselves aware of the massive resources the right is spending to block any effort by the American people to work together to repair the damage to our economy and restore our national confidence.  And after we have made ourselves aware of how far the opposition is willing to go, we need to get back to work making sure the debate states focused on the real issue at hand here:  millions and millions families who need help right now, and the greatness of a nation that stands together in times of need to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

: This Story Has Grown (3.3.09)
Well, that was fast:  this story, less than a week old, seems way out of date.  Among other things, there have been lots of answers to the claims posed in the Ames/Levine piece that it warrants opening up my initial title to a  bigger question about what exactly happened.  First and foremost, I have added a question mark (“?”) to the end of the post title to reflect how this story has grown since I first posted about the Ames/Levine piece on Rick Santelli.  Here is the list of events that I think are relevant for everyone to know:

1. Santelli finally made a statement about this whole thing here. This is his first paragraph:

First of all let me be clear that I have NO affiliation or association with any of the websites or related tea party movements that have popped up as a result of my comments on February 19th, or to the best of my knowledge any of the people who organized the websites or movements. By the way of background, I am not and never have been a stockbroker. Not that there is anything wrong with being a stockbroker. The home I have lived in for 20 years is a 2,500-square foot ranch. Not that there is anything wrong with owning a larger, grander house. I am currently an on air editor with CNBC. Prior to my 10 years in this capacity I was a member in good standing on both the Chicago Futures Exchanges. My career in the futures industry spanned 20 years.

Seems like an answer, although I wish he had not used the phrase ‘to the best of my knowledge’–which makes him sound like he talked to a lawyer first. When people deny that they knew someone or were involved in something ‘to the best of my knowledge,’ that typically means they are concerned about accidentally committing perjury if a fact comes out later that shows they were in fact involved.  Does that mean Santelli might have been involved in something without knowing it?  I have no idea; I am not an attorney.   It could be that Santelli just adds that sentence as a routine part of insulating himself from accusations of financial conflicts of interests.  Since he reports from a trading floor, that kind of legalese could just be routine.  So, Santelli has spoken and that is where it ended up.

2. Whether or not CNBC actually asked Santelli if he was involved in any organizing is the obvious question.  As a result of filing that exact query, the Columbia School of Journalism’s blog Full Court Press(FCP) posted the following exchange they had with CNBC spokesman Brian Steel:

All this led Mark Ames and Yasha Levine to speculate at playboy.com that Santelli’s fifteen minutes were actually part of a right-wing Republican disinformation campaign to undermine Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy. Asked about this charge by FCP, CNBC spokesman Brian Steel sent an e-mail saying, “Rick Santelli’s comment clearly struck a nerve among a large portion of American citizens and sparked a debate which is something Rick has done for more than a decade as a commentator on CNBC. To try to make anything more of his comment than that is ridiculous and without basis in fact.”

FCP e-mailed back, “On the record: was he asked by his bosses if he was part of a larger organized effort? What “news” purpose was served by repeating this rant over and over again on CNBC, and promoting him (and it) on the Today Show?”

“We don’t comment on internal CNBC discussions,” Steel replied. Then, although FCP had specified that it was only interested in an on-the-record response, he added: “Off the record it strikes me that my first answer is unquivocal [sic] and should answer all your questions. Also off the record I am curious as to why CJR has written about it at least three times particularly since each time your readers via the comments section of your website have overwhelming disgreed [sic] with your views. It seems as if you are both tone deaf and hypocritcal [sic].”

So much for asking follow-up questions in the world of cable news.

Once the accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ come out, that tends to be a sign that nobody wants to have a grown-up conversation anymore.  Steel is clearly doing his job, which is to spread the chosen message that Santelli’s performance was consistent with his long history of making statements that spark widespread debate amongst American citizens.  In all fairness to Steel trying to get out CNBC’s message, the only example of Santelli sparking debate I can think of is the time he called for ‘Tea Parties’ last week.  So CNBC should probably issue a list of debates Santelli sparked if they want that message to take.

3.  Playboy took down the Ames/Levine post (as of Mar 2, from what I can tell).  They have not issued any kind of statement. 

4. Ames and Levine are sticking by their story, following up with a not-so-subtle piece titled CNBC Bitch-Slaps Santelli Into Line, FreedomWorks Admits It Organized “Grassroots” Tea Parties, Jon Stewart Cancels Santelli & Megan McArdle Queefs On Our Founding Fathers. 

5. Among other things, the Ames-Levine follow-up piece cites an AP article that they say backs up their initial claims.  The provide a link to a Star-Tribune article titled CNBC Says Ranting Rick Santelli is not Affiliated with Political Site that Uses his Name (David Bauer, Mar 2, 2009).  The article goes on to desccribe how the site reateaparty.com included enough references to Santelli for readers to conclue that Santelli was involved with the group–right up to an ‘About Rick Santelli’ page, but took down all the references when asked to do so by CNBC.

So, what can we conclude thus far?  The Tea Party folks would have us conclude that anyone who asked these questions about Santelli (me, for example) is an idiot leftie.  No surprise about that reaction, but there is more to be said.

In particular, I still wonder about two missing pieces of information: (1) why did Playboy take down the original post and (2) why did Santelli use the phrase ‘to the best of my knowledge’ in is rebuttal.   It seems fair to wonder about those things, given that the debate supposedly sparked by all this has led to cries of anti-government revolution (no small thing).

To speculate on the first:  Playboy probably took it down for fear of a boycott or of being sued or both.  Despite the racy content of the magazine, Playboy is still a relative newcomer to the world of political blogging.  They likely decided to just pull back and wait this thing out.

To speculate on the second: Santelli probably said ‘to the best of my knowledge’ because CNBC advised him to–which is perfectly legal, logical, reasonable, etc.  And CNBC probably advised him to say it because they had not yet figured out if Santelli was really involved with any of the sites that seemed to claim him as a participant.  CNBC then got to work examining all the free marketing they received as a result of Santelli’s performance, putting Santelli and their brand back in the bottle as much as they could (which is their legal right), and pushing back against questions from bloggers and journalists who were wondering (also fairly) about those connections.

And that brings us up to date.

Damning Bloomberg Article Reveals Geithner As Incompetent

Posted in Barack Obama, deregulation, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 1, 2009

Yalman Onaran and Michael McKee, Bloomberg News

timothy_geithner_reutersIt was 2004 and Tim Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, had a message for the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington. He told his 18 colleagues gathered around the long mahogany table that a clearinghouse was needed to monitor risks in the burgeoning $5 trillion market for credit-default swaps — the over-the-counter derivatives that would later spin out of control and help take down Wall Street.

In a move that may have foreshadowed his role as President Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary, Geithner over the next two years nudged financial firms to voluntarily clear a backlog of swap trades. They stopped short of creating a clearinghouse to bring more transparency to the market.

“Geithner was making noise on reining in derivatives, but he didn’t push hard enough,” says Jane D’Arista, a former economist at the Congressional Budget Office in Washington and a longtime Fed observer. “Maybe he’ll be more forceful now that he’s in a position with real power. But I’m not so sure.”

From his years as a Dartmouth College student and mid-level Treasury official through his stint at the New York Fed, Geithner, 47, has thrived as a backroom negotiator and conciliator. Now, as he struggles to rescue Wall Street from a crisis that happened on his regulatory watch, investors and economists question whether the 75th Treasury secretary can transform himself into a bold leader equal to the challenges ahead.

Wall Street executives have cheered Geithner’s nomination.

Brief Honeymoon

“Treasury Secretary Geithner possesses the intelligence and experience needed to partner with President Obama and his economic team to lead us to a recovery,” says Robert Wolf, head of UBS AG’s Americas unit based in Stamford, Connecticut.

The rookie secretary has already learned that the honeymoon won’t last long. After Geithner presented a $2.5 trillion financial rescue plan on Feb. 10, the Dow Jones Industrials tumbled 4.6 percent because investors found it bereft of details. Geithner also gave no indication that he would act quickly to dismantle the weakest of the banks, a move that Joseph Mason, a former bank regulator who teaches finance at Louisiana State University, says he should take now.

Japan prolonged its credit crunch and recession for almost a decade before it finally nationalized two of its biggest banks, the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan and Nippon Credit Bank, in 1998.

“The key to all our problems is the zombie banks,” Mason says. “We’re giving them money, which is not going to solve anything. We’re repeating the mistakes of Japan, which wasted a decade by not moving decisively against its zombie banks.”

Henry Morgenthau

No Treasury secretary since Henry Morgenthau, who served from 1934 to ‘45 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, has faced so many crises at once. After receiving $800 billion in loans, guarantees and capital injections since October, the financial industry is still hunkered down, unwilling or unable to put the wind back into the sails of capitalism. Geithner played a role in shaping the $787 billion stimulus plan, and now he and Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, must recommend to President Obama whether to give General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC an additional $14 billion in loans on top of the $17.4 billion Bush administration bailout or force them into bankruptcy. At the White House, the new Treasury secretary may have to compete for the president’s attention with Summers, his former mentor, and Paul Volcker, who has been clamoring for more power as chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Methodical Style

Geithner’s strengths — his methodical style and bureaucratic savvy — were honed over 21 years in government, as he dealt with crises from Asia to New York.

“He really understands process and decision making and how to advance an agenda,” says Michael Froman, who was former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s chief of staff. “Some people are just better at it than others, not just having the big idea but breaking it down into the several dozen steps that need to make it work. That’s Tim.”

The Treasury secretary’s experience at the New York Fed from 2003 to ‘08 gave him an inside view of Wall Street that will help him choose the best remedies for today’s crisis, says Alex Pollock, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a former president of the Chicago Federal Home Loan Bank. “He’s very well qualified,” Pollock says.

‘He’s Not Change’

Keep reading…

(more…)

The Ecstasy and the Agony

Posted in Barack Obama, corporations, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 1, 2009

Frank Rich, NYT

BARACK OBAMA must savor the moment while he can. It may never get better than this.#mce_temp_url#

As he stood before Congress on Tuesday night, the new president was armed with new job approval percentages in the 60s. After his speech, the numbers hit the stratosphere: CBS News found that support for his economic plans spiked from 63 percent to 80. Had more viewers hung on for the Republican response from Bobby Jindal, the unintentionally farcical governor of Louisiana, Obama might have aced a near-perfect score.

(Illustration by Barry Blitt)

(Illustration by Barry Blitt)

His address was riveting because it delivered on the vision he had promised a battered populace during the campaign: Government must step in boldly when free markets run amok and when national crises fester unaddressed for decades. For all the echoes of F.D.R.’s first fireside chat, he also evoked his own memorably adult speech on race. Once again he walked us through a lucid step-by-step mini-lecture on “how we arrived” at an impasse that’s threatening America’s ability to move forward.

Obama’s race speech may have saved his campaign. His first Congressional address won’t rescue the economy. But it brings him to a significant early crossroads in his presidency — one full of perils as well as great opportunities. To get the full political picture, look beyond Obama’s popularity in last week’s polls to the two groups of Americans whose approval numbers are in the toilet. There is good news for Obama in these findings, but there’s also a stark indication of the unchecked populist rage that could still overrun his ambitious plans.

The first group in national disfavor is the G.O.P. In the latest New York Times/CBS News survey, 63 percent said that Congressional Republicans opposed the stimulus package mostly for political reasons; only 17 percent felt that the Republicans should stick with their own policies rather than cooperate with Obama and the Democrats. The second group of national villains is corporate recipients of taxpayer money: only 39 percent approve of a further bailout for banks, and only 22 percent want more money going to Detroit’s Big Three.

The good news for Obama is that he needn’t worry about the Republicans. They’re committing suicide. The morning-after conservative rationalization of Jindal’s flop was that his adenoidal delivery, not his words, did him in, and that media coaching could banish his resemblance to Kenneth the Page of “30 Rock.” That’s denial. For Jindal no less than Obama, form followed content.

The Louisiana governor, alternately smug and jejune, articulated precisely the ideology — those G.O.P. “policies” in the Times/CBS poll — that Americans reject: the conviction that government is useless and has no role in an emergency. Given that the most mismanaged federal operation in modern memory was inflicted by a Republican White House on Jindal’s own state, you’d think he’d change the subject altogether.

But like all zealots, Jindal is oblivious to how nonzealots see him. Pleading “principle,” he has actually turned down some $100 million in stimulus money for Louisiana. And, as he proudly explained on “Meet the Press” last weekend, he can’t wait to be judged on “the results” of his heroic frugality.

Good luck with that. He’s rejecting aid for a state that ranks fourth in children living below the poverty line and 46th in high school graduation rates, while struggling with a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.7 billion.

If you’re baffled why the G.O.P. would thrust Jindal into prime time, the answer is desperation. Eager to update its image without changing its antediluvian (or antebellum) substance, the party is trying to lock down its white country-club blowhards. The only other nonwhite face on tap, alas, is the unguided missile Michael Steele, its new national chairman. Steele has of late been busy promising to revive his party with an “off-the-hook” hip-hop P.R. campaign, presumably with the perennially tan House leader John Boehner leading the posse.

At least the G.O.P.’s newfound racial sensitivity saved it from choosing the white Southern governor often bracketed with Jindal as a rising “star,” Mark Sanford of South Carolina. That would have been an even bigger fiasco, for Sanford is from the same state as Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the junior high school student who sat in Michelle Obama’s box on Tuesday night and whose impassioned letter to Congresswas quoted by the president.

In her plea, the teenager begged for aid to her substandard rural school. Without basic tools, she poignantly wrote, she and her peers cannot “prove to the world” that they too might succeed at becoming “lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president.”

Her school is in Dillon, where the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, grew up. The school’s auditorium, now condemned, was the site of Bernanke’s high school graduation. Dillon is now so destitute that Bernanke’s middle-class childhood home was just auctioned off in a foreclosure sale. Unemployment is at 14.2 percent.

Governor Sanford’s response to such hardship — his state over all has the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate — was not merely a threat to turn down federal funds but a trip to Washington to actively lobby against the stimulus bill. He accused the three Republican senators who voted for it of sabotaging “the future of our civilization.” In his mind the future of civilization has little to do with the future of students like Ty’Sheoma Bethea.

What such G.O.P. “stars” as Sanford and Jindal have in common, besides their callous neo-Hoover ideology, are their phony efforts to portray themselves as populist heroes. Their role model is W., that brush-clearing “rancher” by way of Andover, Yale and Harvard. Listening to Jindal talk Tuesday night about his immigrant father’s inability to pay for an obstetrician, you’d never guess that at the time his father was an engineer and his mother an L.S.U. doctoral candidate in nuclear physics. Sanford’s first political ad in 2002 told of how growing up on his “family’s farm” taught him “about hard work and responsibility.” That “farm,” the Charlotte Observer reported, was a historic plantation appraised at $1.5 million in the early 1980s. From that hardscrabble background, he struggled on to an internship at Goldman Sachs.

G.O.P. pseudopopulism ran riot last week as right-wing troops rallied around their latest Joe the Plumber: Rick Santelli, the ranting CNBC foe of Obama’s mortgage rescue program. Ann Coulter proposed a Santelli run for president, and Twitterers organized national “tea parties” to fuel his taxpayers’ revolt. Even with a boost from NBC, whose networks seized a promotional opening by incessantly recycling the Santelli “controversy,” the bonfire fizzled. It did so because — as last week’s polls also revealed — the mortgage bailout, with a 60-plus percent approval rating, is nearly as popular as Obama.

The Santelli revolution’s flameout was just another confirmation that hard-core Republican radicals are now the G.O.P.’s problem, not the president’s. Rahm Emanuel has it right when he says the administration must try bipartisanship, but it doesn’t have to succeed. Voters give Obama credit for trying, and he can even claim success with many Republican governors, from Schwarzenegger to Crist. Now he can move on and let his childish adversaries fight among themselves, with Rush Limbaugh as the arbitrating babysitter. (Last week he gave Jindal a thumb’s up.)

But that good news for Obama is countered by the bad. The genuine populist rage in the country — aimed at greedy C.E.O.’s, not at the busted homeowners mocked as “losers” by Santelli — cannot be ignored or finessed. Though Obama was crystal clear on Tuesday that there can be “no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis,” it was telling that he got fuzzy when he came to what he might do about it. He waited two days to drop that shoe in his budget: a potential $750 billion in banking “asset purchases” on top of the previous $700 billion bailout.

Therein lies the Catch-22 that could bring the recovery down. As Obama said, we can’t move forward without a functioning financial system. But voters of both parties will demand that their congressmen reject another costly rescue of it. Americans still don’t understand why many Wall Street malefactors remain in place or why the administration’s dithering banking policy lacks the boldness and clarity of Obama’s rhetoric.

Nor can a further bailout be easily sold by a Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, whose lax oversight of the guilty banks while at the New York Fed remains a subject of journalistic inquiry. In a damning 5,600-word article from Bloomberg last week, he is portrayed as a second banana, a timid protégé of the old boys who got us into this disaster. Everyone testifies to Geithner’s brilliance, but Jindal, a Rhodes scholar, was similarly hyped. Like the Louisiana governor, the Treasury secretary is a weak public speaker not because he lacks brains or vocal training but because his message doesn’t fly.

Among the highlights of Obama’s triumphant speech was his own populist jeremiad about the “fancy drapes” and private jets of Wall Street. But talk is not action. Two days later, as ABC News reported, the president of taxpayer- supported Bank of America took a private jet to New York to stonewall Andrew Cuomo’s inquest into $3.6 billion of suspect bonuses.

Handing more public money to the reckless banks that invented this culture and stuck us with the wreckage is the new third rail of American politics. If Obama doesn’t forge a better plan, neither his immense popularity nor even political foes as laughable as Jindal can insulate him from getting burned.

VIDEO: Obama and His Economic Plan are Confused

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 28, 2009

stiglitz_joseph300Note from Allison: This is Joseph Stiglitz. He’s the most cited economist in the world, a Nobel Laureate, and the guy who first price-tagged the Iraq war at $3 trillion. As you’ve probably already gathered, he’s a genius. Also, he’s smart, which is different than genius because it means he possesses the gift of “breakin’ it down,” and speaking simply so we mortals can understand him.

He very clearly explains why Obama has devised a plan to help the banks, and not the bankers, and he also details what we need to do in order to change our financial system. Well worth the watching.

DN

Watch the videos here.

(more…)

VIDEO: Bernie Sanders to the Rescue

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 27, 2009

ZP Heller, Brave New Foundation (h/t Alternet)

sandersPresident Obama delivered a fantastic speech Tuesday night. It’s tone alone will go a long way toward reassuring a nation mired in economic crisis.

And amazingly, there were many moments of bipartisan applause, like when Obama tackled corporate greed: “I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.”

This was music to my ears, but as Robert Scheer astutely pointed out at The Nation, the problem Obama had in discussing regulation to fix our financial woes is that many of his top economic advisors, including Lawrence Summers, were responsible for gutting the regulatory system that helped cause this mess in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, Obama’s speech was strong, and hopefully it will symbolize a fundamental change in thinking from his economic team. But I’m just glad we have someone like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to help Obama make good on his demagoguery.

The independent senator from Vermont says we need a new Wall Street. He wants to confront the culture of greed head on, get rid of the CEOs of these corrupt financial institutions and establish a much stricter regulatory process.

Sanders has been a vocal critic of TARP spending from the beginning, and last month he called for the congressional TARP Oversight Panelto expand its focus and dig into the causes of the financial crisis, using subpoena power to expose the roots.

Sanders’ vigilance and frankness, coupled with Obama’s rhetoric Tuesday night, gives me hope.

ZP Heller is the editorial director of Brave New Films. He has written for The American Prospect, AlterNet, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to pop culture.

Watch the video here.

DeMint: The Richest 0.7 Percent of the Population is “Lots of People”

Posted in class divide, Economy, politics, wealth divide by allisonkilkenny on February 25, 2009

Matthew Yglesias

The right-wing is flinging smokescreen rhetoric about income taxes and small businesses so quickly that it’s difficult to keep track of what they’re saying. But the important things to recall are that very few people find themselves in the top two tax brackets, and that though some of these people are small businessmen they’re paying taxes on net income. These are brackets for a small number of unusually prosperous people. For example, here’s Jim Demint:

It looks like he’s gonna try to get a lot of that revenue from raising payroll taxes on upper income and that sounds good but basically that affects small businesses and their ability to hire people. So I just think it shows a lack of understanding of the private sector. A lot of people make — who are reporting a quarter million dollars — you know, I’ve done that before in my small business, and I was actually taking home like 50 or 40.

In fact, about 0.7 percent of households file in the top two brackets: 

taxes.png 

Meanwhile, I don’t know why DeMint thinks people who are only taking home $40k or $50k would be filing as people who earn $250,000. I think he wants people to think that the government is taxing gross business receipts, so that if I spend $230,000 on my business to earn $300,000 in revenue, that I’m taxed on all $300,000. But that’s not how it works at all. You deduct business expenses and pay taxes on your net income. Any small businessman who’s earning a middle class income isn’t paying in the top two brackets, just as any salaried employee who’s earning a middle class income isn’t paying in the top two brackets.

Watch the Demint video here.

(more…)

Times Editors Cut From Story Their Own Reporter’s Debunking Of GOP Mouse Tale

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 24, 2009

The Plum Line

mickey-mouse-munching-mulch-in-muddy-marshOkay, this is pretty interesting. As I noted here yesterday, the infamous GOP talking point that the stimulus package contains gobs of cash for saving marsh mice found its way into a New York Times story, without the paper mentioning that the claim is untrue.

It turns out, however, that earlier drafts of the story did describe the claim as “misleading” — but Times editors removed that description from the copy, leaving the assertion to stand on its own. An email from the author of the story to a reader confirms this.

The line in the final story read:

Mr. Gingrich sees the stimulus bill as his party’s ticket to a revival in 2010, as Republicans decry what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh-mouse preservation. “You can imagine the fun people will have with that,” he said.

The story doesn’t note that there are no such funds in the bill.

A reader tells me that he emailed the author of the story, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, to discuss the omission. Here is part of her reply to him in her email, which I obtained:

I did write in the story I submitted that the assertion was misleading, but I’m sorry to report that language was removed by editors and that I didn’t notice the deletion. My initial text read like this:

“….as Republicans decry, often misleadingly, what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh mouse preservation.”

So the words “often misleadingly” were removed by editors.

Often such editing decisions are made in haste or to save space. But this was only two words, and it’s worth recalling that the notion that there was millions in the bill to save the marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi’s district isn’t just some garden variety talking point. It has been a major component of GOP push-back for weeks, repeated by high profile GOP officials in all sorts of settings.

In the email, Stolberg (who declined to comment) also wrote: “Still, I think the wording as published was not inaccurate.”

I can kind of understand this argument — to a point. The final Times passage doesn’t quite say that the money is in the package. Nonetheless, this was clearly a reference to the GOP talking point that the money is, in fact, in the bill. And the paper removed its own reporter’s assertion that it was “misleading” before publishing.

It’s a Beautiful Day to Grow a Pair

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 24, 2009

obamaaslion2tu3Republicans refuse to cooperate in Congress.

A majority of Americans surveyed in both parties feel Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.

Now is the time for Obama to use that helpful mandate, yes/no?

VIDEO: Sanford Offers Unemployed Resident ‘Prayers’ Instead Of Funds

Posted in politics, poverty, religion by allisonkilkenny on February 23, 2009

Note from Allison: Someone tell Sanford poor people can’t eat prayers.

Think Progress

praying for YOU!

praying for YOU!

Following the lead of a number of his fellow Republican governors, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has given some indication that he will not accept some of the money slated for South Carolina in the $787 billion economic recovery bill President Obama signed into law last week. “At times it sounds like the Soviet grain quotas of Stalin’s time,” Sanford said yesterday on Fox News.

On C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, Sanford received a call from a Charleston resident who said he lost his job because he has been taking care of mother and sister, both of whom have serious illnesses. The caller told Sanford he is “wrong” to decline the money. “A lot of people in South Carolina are hurting. And if this money can come and help us out we need it.” In response, Sanford could offer him only his prayers:

CALLER: I hope you all are not playing politics with this. People in South Carolina are hurting. You know how unemployment rates are high right now and going up higher. We are running out of money in the unemployment bank — we need money for that, the people that need help. And I’m one of them, I can’t get no help. […]

SANFORD: Well I’d say hello to Charleston because its home and I’d say hello to this fellow this morning and say that my prayers are going to be with him and his family because it sounds like he is in an awfully tough spot.

Sanford offered no other alternative solution for his constituent and instead argued that the state could not accept money to extend unemployment benefits because “increasing the tax on unemployment insurance” would negatively “impact the caller’s family” (although he didn’t say how).

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) — who sponsored an amendment to the stimulus bill that would allow state legislatures to “accept stimulus funding over the objections of conservative governors” — chastised Sanford on MSNBC this morning. “This program is an opportunity for Governor Sanford to target” the “chronically unemployed” and “chronically sick” communities in South Carolina. “I have got to believe that he is willing…to help these communities,” Clyburn said, asking,”Why won’t he?”

Watch the video here.

(more…)

Does Bipartisanship Matter?

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 23, 2009

New York Times

kickme_500During the stimulus debate, President Obama made several overtures to the Republicans, hoping to bring them on board with his plan, to little avail. Not one House Republican voted for the package, and only three moderate Republicans voted with the Democrats in the Senate.

Given that decidedly partisan outcome, should President Obama continue to aim for bipartisanship in carrying out his broader agenda?


Our Leaders, Surprise, Have Strong Views

Larry Sabato

Larry Sabato is director of the Center for Politics, and Robert Kent Gooch Professor and University Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.

Americans love bipartisanship, and it’s easy to understand why. All of us were raised to believe that we should “play nice” and “disagree without being disagreeable.” Also, most of us are inherently suspicious of politics, parties and politicians. While more than 80 percent of Americans have some partisan identification with either the Democrats or the Republicans, just over a third have a strong attachment to one of the parties. The other two-thirds don’t like to be fenced in by a label.

And fairly or unfairly, people despise watching politicians squabble. The assumption is that they are doing so more out of arrogance, entitlement and ego than any real sense of the public good. I have heard hundreds of citizens ask why can’t the politicians just sit down, talk over their differences, and arrive at a reasonable compromise like adults?

If only it were that straightforward and effortless. The two major political parties have fundamental disagreements about a wide variety of economic, social, and foreign policy issues. They are supposed to have them. The men and women who represent the parties in Congress and the executive branch are not average individuals with unformed opinions on many topics, but rather strong partisans who have carefully thought out their world views for decades.

The American system does not lend itself to ‘national unity’ governments like those sometimes formed in parliamentary systems. 

They got where they are because they were activists, motivated to make sacrifices of time and money for their principles. Most do not bend easily, and after all, the voters have elected them on the basis of their platforms and beliefs. Elections matter enormously in any democracy.

In addition, the American system does not lend itself to “national unity” governments like those sometimes formed in parliamentary systems — governments that combine the executive and legislative functions into a single dominant elective chamber. The theory that underpins a two-party system in a separation-of-powers arrangement like ours is that the parties turn their principles into practical choices on the great issues of the day.

The electorate considers those distinct options, and picks one at election time. Yes, sometimes one party wins the Presidency and the other party wins Congress — and either compromise or stalemate results. (Usually it is some of both.)

But in other elections, the people decide to put the same party in power in both elective branches. That is what happened in November 2008. The Democrats have a mandate to govern, and the Republicans have the job of suggesting alternatives and preparing to contest the next elections in 2010 and 2012 on the basis of their distinct ideas.

Every system is imperfect. Every system has flaws that reduce efficiency and effectiveness. But over time, the American system has proved itself. Civility and consultation are always welcome, and smart leaders use these courtesies to accomplish their goals. But two parties were not elected to govern in 2008, and it really is that simple.


Steamrolling the Opposition Won’t Work

Steven Calabresi

Steven G. Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, is the George C. Dix Professor of Constitutional Law at Northwestern University.

President Obama reached out in his campaign and in his transition to Republicans, and he said that bipartisanship in solving our problems would be a hall mark of the change he wanted to bring to America. The President’s desire for bipartisanship is to be applauded, and it stands in sharp contrast with the behavior of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who steamrolled over the Republicans in writing the stimulus bill.

Education and health care reform will need the bipartisan solution of free-market socialism. 

I do not blame the president for Speaker Pelosi’s and Senator Reid’s behavior nor do I think it is what he wants to see repeated. We need bipartisanship in many areas, but let me mention two that especially stand out.

In education, we need to move toward a system where public schools are funded out of taxes collected statewide or federally rather than through highly unequal residential property taxes. We also need many, many more charter schools and vouchers for education. The bipartisan solution to our education problems is to reform both the way we fund public schools and the degree to which they compete.

The same thing applies for health care reform. We need to provide funding for private individuals who do not have and cannot afford health insurance to buy it on the private market. To do this, we need gradually to eliminate the tax deductability of employer-provided health care plans to fund health care tax credits. This will sever the current link between having a job and having health care. It will also lead to control of health care prices because upper income consumers of health care will watch their health care expenses more carefully if they have to pay for them with after tax income rather than with before tax employer provided benefits which are seen as being a freebie.

One bipartisan solution to education and health care policy is for government to, in effect, give all citizens an education or health care credit or voucher and then let them buy education or health care from the provider they like the most. This is the essence of free-market socialism, which is what I think President Obama wants.


Going Along With the G.O.P.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer, is a columnist at Salon.com and the author, most recently, of “Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.”

The long-standing Beltway cliché is that there is something inherently superior about “bipartisanship” and “centrism.” Those terms are such platitudes that they now lack any real meaning. But in their common usage, they typically designate whatever views happen to appeal to the base of the Republican Party and enough “conservative” Democrats to form a majority.

‘Bipartisanship’ has meant all Republicans joining a minority of Democrats to enact Republican policies. 

Over the last eight years, virtually every new law hailed as a shining example of “bipartisanship” has involved all Republicans joining with a substantial minority of Democrats to provide majoritarian support. — i.e., it’s been a mechanism for enacting Republican policies.

A list of the most significant acts of “bipartisan” votes during the Bush presidency compellingly demonstrates how that term is typically employed. It’s a way of eliminating the few differences between the parties and forcing Democrats, even when they are in power, to continue to embrace Republican governing approaches.

In 2006, the Democrats ran on a platform of opposing — not embracing — the Republican agenda, and American voters handed them a resounding, even crushing, victory. In 2008, much the same thing happened: Democrats ran on platform of “change” from the Republican approach to governance — not replicating it — and resoundingly won again.

What possible reason is there, then, to argue that Democrats ought to adopt Republican ideas — regardless of what those ideas are — simply for the sake of “bipartisanship”? Americans elected Democrats to implement Democratic ideas and will hold Democrats responsible for the success or failure of their policies. Democrats should therefore use their majority power to carry out the polices that they think are the best ones for the country, not dilute those ideas and incorporate discredited Republican approaches in order to fulfill some vague bipartisan ideal.

Besides, Republicans have made clear that they consider themselves an opposition party. They don’t want to give President Obama and Democrats political cover by allowing policies to be depicted as the consensus of both parties. Republicans represent millions of Americans who disagree with the Democratic approach and it is more democratic of them to represent those views by operating as an opposition party.

Of course, no party has a monopoly on good ideas and there’s nothing wrong with compromising with the other party when doing so yields superior policies. But bipartisanship for its own sake elevates process over substance, and does nothing but further erode the very few genuine differences that still exist between the two parties.


Tough Issues Require Bipartisan Cover

Ramesh Ponnuru

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review.

Whether and how President Obama reaches out to Republicans depends on what he wants to accomplish. If his agenda centers on legislation that poses few political risks, then he can afford to pass bills on party-line votes. He would lose some of the aura of a president who wants to move past old divisions, but that aura will probably wane anyway as he comes to be seen more and more as an incumbent.

On issues like entitlement reform and global warming, congressional Democrats may not want to bear the political risks alone. 

The stimulus bill was, as legislation goes, low-risk. It has been a long time since anybody has lost a congressional or presidential election for spending or cutting taxes too much. But there are signs that Mr. Obama wants to move in areas that pose greater political risks, and it is hard to imagine that congressional Democrats will want to bear those risks alone.

Health-care reform would almost certainly involve threatening some Americans’ existing arrangements. Entitlement reform would involve either raising taxes, cutting future benefits, or both. Action on global warming could raise energy prices. Tax reform would anger many groups. Would Obama be able to keep his party unified on these issues? If not, he will need to have more than a handful of Republicans on his side. And to get the requisite numbers, he will have to let Republicans have meaningful input in the legislation.

In my view, President Obama could do himself and the country a lot of good by moving early on a bipartisan reform of Social Security. In deciding how much to reach out to Republicans, he will not merely be making a stylistic or tactical choice. He will be figuring out what kind of president he wants to be.


An Empty Fantasy

, a senior editor at National Review, is the author of “George Washington on Leadership” and the forthcoming “Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement.”

Political parties are the bastard children of the founding fathers. They hoped to have a non-partisan political order: George Washington attacked parties in his Farewell Address, and James Madison wrote of them in the Federalist Papers as factions, political bacilli. Yet all the founders quickly involved themselves in the first American party system, Federalists vs. Republicans (ancestor of today’s Democrats).

Nostalgia for prelapsarian non-partisan innocence is always with us, though. In moments of great stress it can take concrete form. Franklin Roosevelt picked two Republicans, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, to be Secretaries of War and the Navy in 1940, in the early days of World War II. Lincoln tapped the Unionist Democrat Andrew Johnson to be his running mate when he ran for re-election in 1864. Stimson and Knox performed well; Johnson, who became president after Lincoln’s murder, was a catastrophe.

Short of a world war or a civil war, bipartisanship is an empty fantasy. Parties exist for reasons — they express clashing ideas and interests in society. I imagine President Obama knew this all along. He won the White House, and the Democrats control both houses of Congress. They asked for these jobs; let’s see their stuff.