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Battle over US debt ceiling is a distraction

Al JazeeraEnglish:

[…]In reality then, a substantial part of the US defence budget actually is not for defence but instead is a jobs program. It’s also a major source of pork for the use of politicians in their re-election campaigns. Combined with the insider influence of defence industry lobbyists, it means that the US economy has become hooked like an addict to an ongoing fiscal stimulus from military expenditures.

Yet as a fiscal stimulus, it’s extremely inefficient. For starters, you are building a product – weapons and soldiers – that you hope to never use, so the market for future sales faces severe constraints. And many of the million-plus US soldiers in uniform are stationed overseas, where they are spending their salaries in some other nation’s economy. For all these reasons and more, many studies have shown that the economic “multiplier effect” that causes each dollar spent to ripple through an economy is much higher for spending on physical infrastructure – maintaining roads, bridges, airports and harbors, for which the American Society of Civil Engineers says the US has fallen $2tn behind  – than military spending.

Beyond the economic inefficiencies lies the question of relevance. With the Cold War over, it’s important to ask who are America’s enemies today, and what level of resources does national security require? Is Afghanistan the enemy, a poor, ravaged country of little strategic value with an economy smaller than that of tiny Rhode Island? Is it Iran, a poor country badly in need of economic development that, despite all its oil, has an economy smaller than that of New Jersey?

Indeed, the top analyst in the US intelligence community wrote a report in September 2008 in which he concluded that US superiority in military power will “be the least significant” asset in the epoch that is unfolding. Despite all the trillions spent, America’s aggressive brand of unilateralism and military hard power have suffered unexpected setbacks and mixed national security results.

So America is not getting its military money’s worth, not by a long shot, and we can no longer afford this kind of waste. But given how the economy is hooked into this wasteful spending as a fiscal stimulus to create jobs and re-elect incumbents, spurred on by the tentacles of defense industry lobbyists, wasteful defence spending is going to be tough to rein in. Yet it’s important to try, because even a reduction in military spending to the same share of GDP as it was in 2000 would save $240bn a year, or 1.6 per cent of GDP. In a classic guns vs butter tradeoff, America spends more than twice as much of its gross domestic product on the military as Europe, while Europe spends at least 25 percent more per capita on social spending than the US.

An unhealthy affair

In health care, it is widely known that the US spends nearly twice as much money per capita as most other developed countries, nearly 17 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Yet despite spending so much more money on health care, various metrics reveal that Americans have worse health than these other countries, with 45-50 million Americans having no health insurance at all. The United States is one of a handful of countries with no mandatory paid sick leave, leaving some sixty million workers – 43 per cent of the private industry labour force – without paid sick days, which further degrades productivity and private earnings. US employers meanwhile spend two to three times as much as their overseas competitors on employee health care costs, reducing their global competitiveness.

The reason why Americans’ health care is so expensive compared to Europe or Japan is because America has a for-profit health care system while Europe and Japan have predominantly non-profit health care systems (interestingly, only a few of them have British-style single payer or “socialized medicine”; most nations like Germany, France and Japan base their systems not on government-run health care but on private, non-profit insurance companies).

For-profit health care features CEOs making tens of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses, grossly overpaid doctors, and stockholders seeking to profit off of someone’s ill health. Like any corporation looking to maximize earnings, for-profit health care companies have two incentives:  1) to jack up prices, i.e. insurance premiums as high as they can get away with, and 2) to pay out as little as possible on services. That’s why they feature outrageous catch-22s like pre-existing condition clauses and annual and lifetime service caps, because your health care eats into their profits. It’s a losing proposition for everyone except the insurance companies and health care professionals.

But non-profit health care features an entirely different set of incentives and performance standards because it prioritizes people’s health above the company’s profits. This allows for features such as negotiated fees for each service, which helps to hold down costs, and greater transparency. It’s the only method ever proven to rein in costs without sacrificing quality. Yet neither US political party has a plan to turn the American system into a non-profit one, so there’s little prospect for reining in costs any time soon.

A bumpy ride ahead

When it comes to energy use and transportation, once again the United States is plagued by wasteful, even gluttonous practices. The average American today uses twice as much electricity as the average European. The average American car uses 40-50 per cent more fuel as the average European or Japanese car. Like with health care, American businesses also spend more than their international competitors on their energy and transportation needs. A recent budget deal gutted the Obama administration’s budget for high speed rail, even as high speed rail investment continues apace in Europe and China. By implementing various conservation practices as well as widespread use of renewable energy methods, Europe has managed to reduce its carbon emissions and its overall ecological footprint to half that of the United States for the same standard of living.

When the United States was the world’s pre-eminent power in the post-World War II era, we could afford such waste and inefficiency at the core of our economy. But in today’s multi-polar, hyper-competitive world, such profligacy has put the US at a disadvantage. What this also means is that it’s not just the amount of the deficits and debt that sends a nation hurtling toward a tipping point, but the quality of those obligations – are the deficits due to investment or waste?

No other developed nation in the world suffers from as great a degree of a bloated defense budget, health care waste and gluttonous energy and transportation use as the United States. It’s hard to imagine how America can continue to play its pre-eminent global role if it cannot figure out how to stop the leakage. Given how enmeshed these sectors are in the US political economy, and how entrenched are the various special interests that benefit from the status quo, turning the ship of state will be devilishly difficult to do. Especially when the carnival barkers in the US congress distract the nation with a pointless debate over the debt ceiling.




USPS proposes cutting 120,000 jobs, pulling out of health-care plan


 The financially strapped U.S. Postal Service is proposing to cut its workforce by 20 percent and to withdraw from the federal health and retirement plans because it believes it could provide benefits at a lower cost.

The layoffs would be achieved in part by breaking labor agreements, a proposal that drew swift fire from postal unions. The plan would require congressional approval but, if successful, could be precedent-setting, with possible ripple effects throughout government. It would also deliver a major blow to the nation’s labor movement.

In a notice informing employees of its proposals — with the headline “Financial crisis calls for significant actions” — the Postal Service said, “We will be insolvent next month due to significant declines in mail volume and retiree health benefit pre-funding costs imposed by Congress.”

During the past four years, the service lost $20 billion, including $8.5 billion in fiscal 2010. Over that period, mail volume dropped by 20 percent.

The USPS plan is described in two draft documents obtained by The Washington Post. A “Workforce Optimization” paperacknowledges its “extraordinary request” to break its labor contracts.

“However, exceptional circumstances require exceptional remedies,” the document says.

“The Postal Service is facing dire economic challenges that threaten its very existence. . . . If the Postal Service was a private sector business, it would have filed for bankruptcy and utilized the reorganization process to restructure its labor agreements to reflect the new financial reality,” the document continues.

In a white paper on health and retirement benefits, the USPS said it was imperative to rein in health benefit and pension costs, which are a third of its labor expenses.

For health insurance plans, the paper said, the Postal Service wanted to withdraw its 480,000 pensioners and 600,000 active employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program “and place them in a new, Postal Service administered” program.

Almost identical language is used for the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System.

The USPS said the programs do not meet “the private sector comparability standard,” a statement that could be translated as meaning that government plans are too generous and too costly.

“FEHB may exceed what the private sector does in certain areas,” said Anthony J. Vegliante, USPS chief human resources officer and executive vice president. “It may not meet what the private sector does in other areas. So cost may be above the private sector, while value may be below the private sector.”

Bills that would rein in employee benefits or have workers pay more for the benefits have been introduced in Congress and met with vigorous opposition from federal employee organizations. Intentionally or not, the Postal Service’s proposal provides support for such legislative initiatives.

The proposals are the USPS’s latest money-saving effort in a series of moves, some as recent as a few weeks ago and others stretching over a decade.


Companies in the S+P 500 are holding 1.2T in cash.


Corporate Coffers Have Surged 59% Since 2008 Crisis, but Some Executives Say Spending Now Is Risky; ‘We’re Going to be Cautious’

Companies have been socking cash away for a rainy day since the financial crisis. Now, it’s pouring—and companies feel prepared.

Non-financial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index were holding $1.12 trillion in cash and short-term investments in their most recent reports, up 59% from $703 billion in the third quarter of 2008. Those stockpiles are providing companies with a cushion of comfort amid the economic and market turmoil.

Yet the validation of companies’ conservatism may ultimately be bad news for the economy.

Cut in household spending points to recession


Recession signals in the world’s largest economy are flashing red again.

Growth in the second quarter slowed to a pace that has typically been followed by a contraction within a year. Household spending fell in June for the third straight month; never in the past five decades has this happened outside of a slump. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index plunged 16.8 percent in 11 days, performance that’s occurred only twice since at least 1970 without indicating a downturn. […]

Signs that the flagging U.S. recovery may fizzle haven’t been lost on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his colleagues, who pledged this week to hold interest rates at a record low through at least mid-2013. Officials said they “discussed the range of policy tools” to strengthen growth and are “prepared to employ these tools as appropriate.”

“Downside risks to the economic outlook have increased,” according to the Federal Open Market Committee statement after the Aug. 9 meeting. Consumer spending has “flattened out,” the labor market has deteriorated and the expansion is “considerably slower” than expected.

Increased Recession Risk’

“The sum total of the indicators over the last six months” points to “increased recession risk over the coming year,” said Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University who is a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of when recessions start and end.

Five of the nine economists on the NBER committee say the expansion’s staying power may be waning. While the group doesn’t forecast the odds of a contraction, individual members can make their own predictions. Martin Feldstein, also at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of the NBER panel, said last week he sees a 50 percent chance of a new recession.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, cooled to a 1.6 percent rate in the second quarter from a year earlier. About 70 percent of the time when the pace has fallen below 2 percent, a slump has followed within a year, according to data since World War II in an April study by Jeremy Nalewaik, a Fed board staff economist.

Policy Mistake’

“At a minimum, the conditions are ripe for a recession,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “When growth slows to less than 2 percent on a year-to-year basis, the economy is simply unable to withstand a major shock or policy mistake.”

One major source of weakness is consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Household purchases adjusted for inflation dropped in June for the third consecutive month — the first such occurrence outside of a recession since 1959, according to economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Household sentiment, as measured by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index for July, has receded to a level seen during the last recession. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort gauge already is in territory reflective of a slump.

“Consumers are dealing with a labor market that’s gotten weaker, a hit to their wealth through declines in the stock market and just a lot of bad news and uncertainty,” said Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York. “It makes them want to be more cautious in their spending.”








Florida’s anti-Obamacare governor pays less for state-funded health insurance than janitors, cops, or teachers. 

Mother Jones:

Last year, political neophyte Rick Scott spent $73 million of his own money to bring the tea party’s anti-government, pro-privatization agenda to the Florida governor’s office. Today, the former executive pays just $30 a month for health care—and lets taxpayers cover the rest.

The governor, a proud bearer of the Republican Party’s deregulation standard, has spent his first half-year in office decrying government waste: He’s laid off thousands of Sunshine State employees, slashedtheir benefits, turned down (most of) the federal government’s health care dollars, and put extra financial pressure on Florida retirees andMedicaid recipients. But Scott and his dependents pay one-fifth what a janitor in the state Capitol pays for health insurance…and less than 3 percent of what a retired state trooper pays for life-saving coverage.

When asked about the double standard, a spokesman for Scott declined to comment, calling his family’s cheap state coverage “private matters.”

But the matter has huge implications for citizens of the state. Scott sits atop an upside-down benefits system that heavily subsidizes health care costs for the best-off state employees while forcing loyal rank-and-file workers to spend more of their shrinking paychecks for basic coverage. According to Gary Fineout, the longtime Tallahassee reporter who broke the story:

Scott is among nearly 32,000 people in state government who pay relatively low health insurance premiums. It’s a perk that is available to high-ranking state officials, including those in top management at all state agencies. Nearly all 160 state legislators are also enrolled in the program that costs just $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage.

Florida’s elected politicians, judges, attorneys, prison wardens, department heads, and political staffers are members of the “special exempt service,” which allows their cozy incomes to be augmented by the extra health care subsidy. But most of Florida’s 176,816 insured state employees (PDF) are members of the “career service” and pay(PDF) $50 a month to cover themselves, or $180 a month to cover their families.

That means a $32,000-a-year administrative assistant for the driver’s license bureau pays $2,160 a year for herself and her dependents, or more than five times what Scott pays. (As of last month, Scott—who moved to Florida eight years ago—had a net worth of $103 million.)

State workers could have it worse, though. Retired Florida government employees—30-year veterans of the state’s police force, or firefighters, for example—get no subsidy from Tallahassee to keep their coverage in the golden years. Instead, they pay $1,243.34 a month, or nearly $15,000 a year, to stay insured. That’s 41 times what Scott’s health insurance costs.

So who pays to give Scott and his cronies their cut-rate coverage? Taxpayers do. It’s not clear how many of the state’s 32,000 top-ranking VIPs cover themselves, and how many get their entire families on the state plan. Depending on that breakdown, Floridians are paying between $1.3 and $4.8 million every month to extend this perk to their political elites. That could amount to as much as $57.6 million a year—12 times what the state spent on public broadcasting before Scottdecided to defund the radio and TV stations, calling them “a special interest.”

News of the governor’s health care perk comes just as he’s attempting to improve his image and boost his national profile. Last week, Scott revived a Democratic predecessor’s tradition of spending an occasional day working alongside regular Floridians; his first foray, handling the counter of a Tampa doughnut shop, brought scads of protesters but generally positive coverage. Public approval of the governor rose to an anemic 35 percent last week—still better than his low of 29 percent in May, the worst of any governor in the nation. And Scott’s also taken a leading role in supporting erstwhile GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry. (“I think he’s in a nice position,” Scott said of the hardline Texas governor.)

If Scott hopes to climb all the way out of the political cellar, though, he’s going to have to explain why he favors government health care for his kin even though he’s against it for everyone else. State Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat, told Fineout that the governor is clearly “entitled” to his insurance subsidy, as far as the law is concerned. But, she added, “I wish every Floridian had the same opportunity.”




Did the GOP Steal the Wisconsin Recall Elections? A True Vote Analysis

Richard Charnin:

In a pre-election post, I indicated that only election fraud could keep the Democrats from winning three of the six GOP recall elections. They won two. This post-election analysis indicates that they did much better than that. They may very well have won all six.

The Democrats were highly motivated to win the Senate based on Walker policies, but the GOP had the advantage of massive funding – especially in District 8. The problem is to determine the voter turnout rates and voter preferences required to match the recorded vote shares.

The analysis is based on the Wisconsin Recall True Vote Model.

In any election, there are two key factors: voter turnout and voter preference. We know how many voters returned from the previous election (as a percentage). But we must estimate the percentage mix of returning Democrats and Republicans. The number of new voters is just the difference between total votes cast in the current election and returning voters. In the recall analysis, we will assume that new voters were split equally between the Democrats and the Republicans.

Voter mix is the percentage of returning and new voters to the total vote. For example, assume that in a precinct there are 1000 voters (480 returning Obama, 460 returning McCain voters, and 60 new voters). Then the voter turnout mix is 48% Obama, 46% McCain and 6% new). Let’s calculate the Democratic vote share assuming that he/she wins 95% of Obama voters, 5% of McCain voters and 50% of new voters.

Democratic share = Dem mix * Dem % of returning Obama voters + GOP mix * Dem % of returning McCain voters + New voter mix * Dem % of New voters
Democratic share = .48*.95 + .46*.05+ .06*.50 = .456 + .023 + .030 = 50.9%.

In mathematical terms, vote share is a function of voter turnout mix and voter preference: Vote share = f (turnout mix, preference)

Obama won each of the six districts. He had a 53.0-45.7% margin. Therefore assuming a) an equal percentage turnout of Obama and McCain voters in the recalls and b) no changes in voter preference, the Democrats would win all six elections (see below). But since the GOP won four elections, there had to be a higher turnout rate of McCain voters than Obama voters and/or a net defection of Obama voters to the GOP. It’s simple math.

In the first set of calculations, we reasonably assume that a) 60% of McCain voters turned out in the recalls and b) there were zero net defections (Democrats won 95% of returning Obama voters and the GOP won 95% of returning McCain voters). In order to match the average recorded vote, the average Obama turnout had to be 45% (75% of the GOP turnout).

In the second set, we assume that a) 60% of McCain AND Obama voters turned out in the recalls and the GOP won 95% of returning McCain voters, but b) there were net defections of Obama voters to the GOP. In order to match the average recorded vote, the average Democratic share of Obama voters was 83%.

The two sets of scenarios are implausible.

In District 2, if 60% of McCain voters turned out, then just 33% of Obama voters turned out (assuming zero net defection of Obama and McCain voters).

Assuming equal 60% turnout of Obama and McCain voters, there had to be a massive net 25% defection of Democrats from Obama to McCain.

In District 8, if 60% of McCain voters turned out, then just 47% of Obama voters turned out (assuming zero net defection). Assuming equal 60% Obama and McCain turnout, there was a 10% net defection of Democrats from Obama to McCain.

Therefore, Pasch won the election assuming equal turnout and zero net defection.

District 18 was won by King, the Democrat. The required Obama 58% turnout nearly matched the GOP 60%, again assuming zero net defection. Assuming equal 60% turnout, there was a tiny 1% net defection to McCain.

Both results are very plausible. It is not surprising that the Democrats won the seat.

District 32 was won by the Democrats. Obama had 61% so it would have raised eyebrows if the Democrats lost. The 47% Obama turnout that was required to match the Democratic 55.4% vote share seems low. Assuming equal 60% turnout, the required 8% net defection to McCain is higher than one would expect.

Therefore, the Democrat Shilling probably did better than her recorded margin.

Sensitivity Analysis
It is instructive to determine the impact (i.e. sensitivity) of changes in percentage voter turnout, voter preference and election fraud (vote switching).
The tables below display the number of Democratic recall victories over a range of assumptions for each of the three parameters.


Slate’s Dave Weigel: Live blog of the Ames



Think Progress: GOP Presidential Debate Live-Blog



NYT Fact Check: The Republican Debate

As they tried to blame President Obama for the nation’s lowered credit rating, the Republican presidential candidates who squared off Thursday night in Iowa made several misleading, incomplete or simply false claims.

“I was fortunate enough to be a governor that got an increase in the credit rating of my state at the same time we got a president who got a decrease in the credit rating of our nation,’’ Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said. “And that’s because our president simply doesn’t understand how to lead and how to grow an economy.”

And Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota repeated her assertion that “we should not have increased the debt ceiling.”

“In the last two months, I was leading on the issue of not increasing the debt ceiling,’’ she said. “That turned out to be the right answer.”

The ratings agency that lowered the credit rating, Standard & Poor’s, has carefully avoided partisan finger-pointing in its explanations of its downgrade. But some of the factors it cited — from the “political brinksmanship” that left the nation at the precipice of default to its concerns that the deficit-cutting deal “falls short” of what is needed — can be attributed to Republicans in Congress as much as, or even more than, President Obama.

The ratings agency lamented in its report on the downgrade that “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.’’

It was Republicans in Congress who made it a bargaining chip. They balked at raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit — which was needed to pay for spending that Congress had already approved — unless the White House agreed to a new package of spending cuts. The Obama administration initially sought a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit, saying that needed steps to reduce the deficit should not be linked to a bill that had to be passed so the nation could pay the bills it had already incurred.

The Republicans prevailed. When, after weeks of wrangling, a bill to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling was finally passed this month, the nation was just hours away from a default that economists warned would have harmed the fragile economy.

Of course, President Obama acted similarly to Ms. Bachmann when he was in the Senate: he voted against raising the debt limit in 2006, a vote his aides say he regrets.

But prominent economists and business leaders have said a failure to raise the debt ceiling would have led to a default that would have hurt the economy. Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, testified that it would likely be “a recovery-ending event.’’ Speaking this spring to the United States Chamber of Commerce about the possibility of default, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, “If anyone wants to push that button, which I think would be catastrophic and unpredictable, I think they’re crazy.’’

Several Republicans assailed President Obama for not cutting spending enough. S.& P. warned that the agreement, which is expected to cut the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over the next decade, “falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary.”

But President Obama pushed for a plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion, with cuts to entitlement programs that are popular with Democrats — including Medicare and Medicaid — as well as some $1 trillion in new revenues. It was House Republicans who rejected it, opposing any tax increases and ultimately pushing for the smaller measure.

The Republican opposition to tax increases may have been a factor as well. S. & P. wrote that it takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures needed to shore up the nation’s finances. But one factor it cited in its report was its belief that the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 — which are due to expire at the end of 2012 — would remain. “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues,” it wrote.

And what about the balanced budget amendment Mr. Romney and most of the Republican presidential candidates called for? It may not have helped with the ratings agencies either.

John Chambers, the chairman of the sovereign rating committee at S. & P., was cool to the idea of a balanced budget amendment when he was asked about it last week on CNN. “It would just reduce your flexibility in a crisis,” he said in the interview.

Representative Bachmann misrepresented the debt ceiling debate when she complained that Congress had given a “blank check” to President Obama by agreeing to raise the debt ceiling – even though the debt ceiling had to be raised to pay for the bills that Congress had already approved, and not future spending.

And her gloss of the warning from the ratings agency was off as well. “We just heard from Standard & Poor’s,’’ she said at one point. “When they dropped our credit rating what they said was we don’t have an ability to repay our debt.”

In fact, the ratings agency warned that the difficulty in reaching consensus was weakening the government’s ability to manage its finances. And they were dismayed by how close the nation came to default – which would have happened if Ms. Bachmann’s view, which was that the debt ceiling should not have been raised, had prevailed.

Ms. Bachmann also claimed that the deal only led to “$21 billion in illusory cuts.’’ While that was the amount projected for the very short term, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the deal would cut the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over the next decade.

Her complaint the cuts were illusory also clashed with her own critique of the debt ceiling deal from last week, whenThe Des Moines Register quoted he as saying: “Under this debt-ceiling bill, do you know how this works? The first thing that gets whacked and with a hatchet is defense.”

Pelosi Names Clyburn, Van Hollen, Becerra To Deficit Super Committee


The roster’s now complete. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has named her picks to the deficit Super Committee, and they’re a familiar bunch: Reps Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Each of the three has served at her behest on different fiscal working groups in the recent past. All are loyal members, current or former, of her leadership team, all with fairly liberal voting records.

But here are a few caveats…

As a member of the bipartisan deficit discussion group, convened by Vice President Joe Biden, that laid the groundwork for the debt limit deal, Clyburn — the third ranking Democrat in the House — publicly backed certain entitlement benefit cuts. Specifically, he said negotiators should at least consider further means-testing of Social Security or reduce benefits across the board by reducing Cost of Living Adjustments. “We make the determinations right now for benefits based upon CPI-U,” Clyburn said recently, referring to the current index the government uses to calculate Social Security’s Cost of Living Adjustment. “Now the question is will some other look at CPI make sense? And I think that it makes sense to look at it all to see what is an accurate account, a better way to determine benefits. I certainly wouldn’t walk away from that kind of discussion.”

Van Hollen is the Dems’ top budget guy in the House. He’s one of the party’s chief antagonists of the GOP budget, which calls for phasing out Medicare, and was also a member of the Biden working group. Publicly, he’s been an advocate of approaches to deficit reduction that pair about one dollar of tax increases with about three dollars of spending cuts. He recently cited the Bowles-Simpson framework as a counterpoint to the Republican plan. Their proposal largely punted on controlling health care costs, but called for eliminating all tax expenditures, and ensuring indefinite Social Security solvency with a combination of benefit cuts and revenue increases.

Becerra was a member of the Bowles-Simpson commission and he voted against their plan from the left. He’s the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee and will likely be progressives’ main ally on the Super Committee.

But remember, the key on this committee isn’t so much whether the Dems on it are prepared to cut entitlements. There’s a pretty broad range of opinions within the Democratic party about that — many would even support direct benefit cuts. The main issue for now is whether they’re willing to cut entitlements if Republicans aren’t willing to give an inch on taxes. On that score all six Democrats on the committee agree, they’re not. If that holds, then either the committee ends up in gridlock or Republicans break their anti-tax orthodoxy, in which case the question of what cuts Dems are willing to support will become extremely important.

Becerra and Clyburn are the only two people of color on the Super Committee. Co-chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is its only female.



Rachel Maddow Show VIDEO- Rick Perry: Conduit to radical Christian overthrow of the U.S. government?

The Political Carnival:

Kudos to Rachel for devoting a good block of time to Rick Perry’s day of prayer event. “The Response” was organized and led by apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation. She also interviewed Forrest Wilder, author of the Texas Observer articles the subject.

Is anyone else covering this, because I sure haven’t seen anything on it. Please watch, because these reports are very unsettling:


Mitt Romney: `Corporations are people’

Greg Sargent:

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney said in Iowa today that “corporations are people.” Dems immediately pounced on Romney’s gaffe. In fairness, the full context shows that’s not what he meant, but it’s still an in­cred­ibly tone deaf thing to say.

Here’s the video being circulated by the Democratic National Committee:

Here’s the full exchange:

ROMNEY: We have to make sure that the promises we make — and Social Security, Medicaid, adn Medicare — are promises we can keep. And there are various ways of doing that. One is, we could raise taxes on people.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Corporations!

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. We can raise taxes on —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, they’re not!

ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn also goes to people.


ROMNEY: Where do you think it goes?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It goes into their pockets!

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets! Human beings, my friend. So number one, you can raise taxes. That’s not the approach that I would take.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom is already protesting the Dem attacks, arguing: “Do folks think corporations are buildings? They’re people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people.”

And it’s true from the larger context that what Romney meant is that corporations are made up of people, and that when you tax corporations, you also end up taxing the people who comprise them. The merits of that argument aside, that isn’t the same as arguing that corporations as entities have the legal rights of people.

But, see, Romney does not accord the same fair hearing to Obama’s words that his spokesman is now demanding for his boss. Romney has repeatedly trafficked in one of the rankest of falsehoods out there: That Obama doesn’t believe in “American exceptionalism.” Romney’s book, “No Apology,” bolsters this case by quoting Obama this way: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” This conveniently omits the rest of Obama’s remarks, in which he went on to explicitly profess his belief that core American values are “exceptional” and that America has “a continued extraordinary role in leading the world.”

Separately, in recent days Romney’s camp has also expressed high dudgeon about an alleged Obama plot to attack his bio and identity, even though he himself has publicly insinuated in multiple ways that Obama is culturally suspect and unsettlingly alien and fundamentally isn’t one of us.

So if his campaign wants to protest that the Dem attacks on his latest gaffe aren’t really fair, they aren’t on terribly solid ground.





Tea Party Rep: Bank Should Have Known I Wouldn’t Be Able To Repay $2.2 Million Loan


Tea Party aligned Georgia Rep. Tom Graves (R), who castigates Washington for fiscal irresponsibility, reached an out of court settlement Wednesday after he was sued for defaulting on a $2.2 million loan — which his attorney argued is the bank’s fault for lending him the money in the first place.

Graves and his business partner Chip Rogers — who is the state Senate’s Republican majority leader — took out a $2.2 million loan from the Bartow County Bank in 2007 to buy and renovate a local motel. The project soon went belly-up.

The bank, which has since failed and had its assets taken over, sued Graves and Rogers for defaulting. The two Republicans then countersued, “accusing [the bank] of improperly declaring the loan in default after reneging on a promise to refinance it at more favorable terms,” according to Jeremy Redmon and Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

In June, Simon Bloom, the attorney for Graves and Rogers, argued in a court filing that the default was the bank’s fault because it lent the pair the money knowing full well they couldn’t pay. Bloom cited a deposition in which bank officials saw Graves and Rogers’ financial records, and then had them sign personal guarantees so they’d “‘have some skin in the game’ presumably meaning a sense of personal obligation for the debts … even though they clearly could not fulfill the obligation.” Graves and Rogers said they were unaware of that particular filing.

The case was settled out of court on Wednesday, and a Graves spokesman called the case “fully resolved in an equitable and fair manner.”


Hawaii Most Democratic, Utah Most Republican State in ’11 

The Political Carnival:

Hawaii shows the largest advantage for the Democratic Party over the Republican Party among U.S. states, along with the District of Columbia, in the first half of 2011. The most Republican state is Utah.


Nationwide, Democrats had a slight advantage in the first half of 2011 in the Gallup tracking data, with 44% of Americans identifying as or leaning Democratic and 40% identifying as or leaning Republican.

Gallup classifies states as being more Democratic, or more Republican, based on the difference between the percentage of state residents who identify as or lean Democratic and the percentage who identify as or lean Republican.

Economist’s View — Stavins: Why Polarized Politics Paralyze Public Policy

Robert Stavins has put a lot of effort toward finding environmental policies that both Democrats and Republicans can endorse (e.g. the title of his previous post was “A Golden Opportunity to Please Conservatives and Liberals Alike”). And for the most part, at least from my impression, he has remained optimistic about making progress even if it does come in frustratingly slow fits and starts.

But he seems to be giving up hope:

The Credit Downgrade and the Congress: Why Polarized Politics Paralyze Public Policy, by Robert Stavins: There’s room for debate about whether U.S. government deficits justify Standard & Poor’s downgrading last week of long-term U.S. debt, but the more important factor cited in S&P’s report is that “the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened…”  …

Although these S&P judgments were intended to refer exclusively to fiscal policy, they really apply to a much broader set of issues, ranging from economicto health to environmental policies. The key reality is this: there is a widening gulf between the two political parties that is paralyzing sensible policy action.

Political Polarization This increasing polarization between the political parties has shown up in a number of studies by political scientists… This … disappearance of moderates … has been taking place for three decades. The rise of the Tea Party … is only the most recent vehicle that has continued a 30-year trend.

Why has this collapse of the middle taken place; why has party polarization increased so dramatically in the Congress over the past 30 years? In my view, three structural factors stand out.

Three Structural Factors First, there has been theincreasing importance of the primary system, a consequence of the “democratization” of the nomination process that took flight in the 1970s. A small share of the electorate vote in primaries, namely those with the strongest political preferences – the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats. This self-selection greatly favors candidates from the extremes.

Second, decades of redistricting – a state prerogative guaranteed by the Constitution – has produced more and more districts that are dominated by either Republican or Democratic voters. … Because of this, polarization has preceded at a much more rapid pace in the House than in the Senate.

Third, the increasing cost of electoral campaignsgreatly favors incumbents (with the ratio of averageincumbent-to-challenger financing now exceeding 10-to-1). This tends to make districts relatively safe for the party that controls the seat, thereby increasing the importance of primaries. …

To a lesser degree, polarization has also taken place through the adaptation of sitting members of Congress as they behave more ideologically once in office. Such political conversions are due to the same pressures noted above: in order to discourage or survive primary challenges… A recent case in point is Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who evolved from being a moderate … to being a solid conservative … in response to a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate.

Long-Term Implications If the increasing polarization of the Congress is due to these factors, then it is difficult to be very optimistic about the prognosis in the near term for American politics. This is because it is unlikely that any of these factors will soon reverse course.

The two parties are not about to abandon the primary system to return to smoke filled back rooms. Likewise, no state legislature is willing to abandon its power to redistrict. And public financing of campaigns and other measures that would reduce the advantages of incumbency remain generally unpopular (among incumbents, who would – after all – need to vote for such reforms).

Other Factors? True enough, in addition to these long-term structural factors that have driven political polarization, shorter-term economic and social fluctuations have also had pronounced effects. In particular, significant economic downturns – whether the Great Depression of the 1930s or the Great Recession of the past several years – increase political polarization. …

The Future

So, it’s reasonable to anticipate – or at least to hope – that better economic times will reduce the pace of ongoing political polarization. However, in the face of the three long-term structural factors I’ve identified above – the increasing importance of primaries, continuing redistricting, and the increasing costs of electoral campaigns – it is difficult to be optimistic about the long-term prognosis for American politics. …

Rick Perry’s Unanswered Prayers

Timothy Egan, NYT:

A few months ago, with Texas aflame from more than 8,000 wildfires brought on by extreme drought, a man who hopes to be the next president took pen in hand and went to work:

“Now, therefore, I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.”

Then the governor prayed, publicly and often.  Alas, a rainless spring was followed by a rainless summer. July was the hottest month in recorded Texas history. Day after pitiless day, from Amarillo to Laredo, from Toadsuck to Twitty, folks  were greeted by a hot, white bowl overhead, triple-digit temperatures, and a slow death on the land.

In the four months since Perry’s request for divine intervention, his state has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.  Nearly all of Texas  is now in “extreme or exceptional” drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the worst in Texas history.

Lakes have disappeared. Creeks are phantoms, the caked bottoms littered with rotting, dead fish.  Farmers cannot coax a kernel of grain from ground that looks like the skin of an aging elephant.

Is this Rick Perry’s fault, a slap to a man who doesn’t believe that humans can alter the earth’s climate —  God messin’ with Texas? No, of course not.  God is too busy with the upcoming Cowboys football season and solving the problems that Tony Romo has reading a blitz.

But Perry’s tendency to use prayer as public policy demonstrates, in the midst of a truly painful, wide-ranging and potentially catastrophic crisis in the nation’s second most-populous state, how he would govern if he became president.

“I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’” he said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation’s most serious problems could be solved. […]

Prayer can be meditative, healing, and humbling.  It can also be magical thinking.  Given how Perry has said he would govern by outsourcing to the supernatural, it’s worth asking if God is ignoring him.

Though Perry will not officially announce his candidacy until Saturday, he loomed large over the Republican debate Thursday night.  With their denial of climate change, basic budget math,  and the indisputable fact that most of the nation’s gains have gone overwhelmingly to a wealthy few in the last decade, the candidates form a Crazy Eight caucus.  You could power a hay ride on their nutty ideas.

After the worst week of his presidency (and the weakest Oval Office speech since Gerald Ford unveiled buttons to whip inflation), the best thing Barack Obama has going for him is this Republican field.  He still beats all of them in most polling match-ups.

Perry is supposed to be the savior. When he joins the campaign in the next few days, expect him to show off his boots; they are emblazoned with the slogan dating to the 1835 Texas Revolution: “Come and Take It.”  He once explained the logo this way:  “Come and take it — that’s what it’s all about.” This is not a man one would expect to show humility in prayer.

Perry revels in a muscular brand of ignorance (Rush Limbaugh is a personal hero), one that extends to the ever-fascinating history of the Lone Star State.  Twice in the last two years he’s broached the subject of Texas seceding from the union.

“When we came into the nation in 1845 we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” says Perry in a 2009 video that has just surfaced.  “And one of the deals was, we can leave any time we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

He can dream all he wants about the good old days when Texas left the nation to fight for the slave-holding states of the breakaway confederacy. But the law will not get him there. There is no such language in the Texas or United States’ constitutions allowing Texas to unilaterally “leave any time we want.”

But Texas is special.  By many measures, it is the nation’s most polluted state.  Dirty air and water do not seem to bother Perry.  He is, however,  extremely perturbed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of laws designed to clean the world around him.  In a recent interview,  he wished for the president to pray away the E.P.A.

To Jews, Muslims, non-believers and even many Christians, the Biblical bully that is Rick Perry  must sound downright menacing, particularly when he gets into religious absolutism. “As a nation, we must call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles,” he said last week.

As a lone citizen, he’s free to advocate Jesus-driven public policy imperatives.  But coming from  someone who wants to govern this great mess of a country with all its beliefs, Perry’s language is an insult to the founding principles of the republic.  Substitute Allah or a Hindu God for Jesus and see how that polls. […]

Over the last 15 years, taxpayers have shelled out $232 million in farm subsidies to Haskell County, which includes Paint Creek — a handout to more than 2,500 recipients, better than one out every three residents.  God may not always be reliable, but in Perry’s home county, the federal government certainly is.





Field Position 
David Atkins, Hullabaloo:

Democrats have a few pieces of good news to cheer about, from an electoral standpoint. First, Dems are polling very well for the House, courtesy PPP via the DCCC: 

A new poll released today by Public Policy Polling shows that House Republicans are paying the price with voters for their extreme agenda to end Medicare in order to protect subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for billionaires, and for playing games with debt limit.

Key Findings:

  • Democrats lead Republicans in the generic ballot by 7 points (47-40).

  • Democrats lead Republicans with critically important independent voters by 3 points (39-36).

  • Independent voters overwhelming disapprove of the Republican Majority in the House (68 disapprove/20 approve).

  • Speaker Boehner’s approval rating dropped 31 points since January (28-52).


Public Policy Polling’s conclusions: “…if there was an election today I think that they’d take back the House… There’s little doubt that Democrats are winning the fallout of the debt debate… Last year independent voters were the driving factor behind the GOP retaking the House majority. Now they give it a 20/68 approval rating.”


And again via the DCCC, Republican House members are facing major anger from constituents back at home. Meanwhile, a Marist poll shows Obama leading all GOP contenders

Obama does have an advantage over several potential Republican rivals: 

  • He leads Romney 46-41, a 5-point lead.

  • He leads Pawlenty 49-36, a 13-point lead.

  • He leads Bachmann 52-35, a 17-point lead.

  • He leads Perry 52-33, a 19-point lead.


Smart money at this point says that Obama probably gets re-elected, Dems have a good chance of retaking the House, and GOP will likely take over the Senate due to the difficult time Dems will have holding onto their 2006 pickups. It’s early of course, and things can change dramatically in short order. But right now Democrats are looking in fairly good shape, from an electoral point of view.

Strong supporters of Administration, of compromise and the Grand Bargain take these numbers as vindication of the success of their approach, and the rejection of both the conservative hostage-takers by the public at large, as well as frustrated progressives.

But that would be foolish. Even if Democrats do hold onto the White House and put the Speaker’s gavel back in Pelosi’s hands, the damage will already have been done. Austerity is the name of the game in Washington, and social security and Medicare are irrevocably on the negotiating block in a way that would have been unthinkable just five years ago. And the Super Committee is likely to make things even worse.

The point of politics is not to win elections for their own sake, or to prevent the other team from doing damage. The point of politics is to advance one’s preferred legislative agenda. What bipartisan compromise advocates on the left seem not to understand is that the Tea Party agenda will not have failed, even if Democrats do win victories in 2012. It will have succeeded in marvelous fashion.

Conservatives understand that they won’t win every election. They understand that politics is an ebb and flow. They also understand that when you do win, you have to make hay while the sun shines, and advance your legislative agenda as far as possible while you have power. They understand that you have to do everything in your power to stop the other side from doing likewise when you’re in the minority.

Sports metaphors are overused in political reporting from an electoral standpoint, but if anything underused from a public policy standpoint. Due to the two-party system in America, public policy looks very much like a game of American football: whether the question is taxes, regulation, environment or social policy, governance is essentially a zero-sum battle for field position on the gridiron, issue by issue.

Republicans know they won’t always have the ball. They’ll toss a few long passes, and sometimes their playbook will fail. Sometimes the American people will get fed up and force them to punt. But their objective is to tilt the playing field as much as possible in their favor, injure and batter as many members of the opposing team as possible, score as many points as possible and drive the ball as far down the field as possible until they have to give it up. (The analogy fails only in the sense that in football, a team has to give up the ball after they score. Not so in politics. But that’s a minor point.)

Democrats, meanwhile, rejoice whenever it looks like they’re about to get the ball back because Republicans went for too much ground, too fast. And when they do get the ball, they “learn from Republican mistakes”, and run careful plays along the ground to pick up a yard here and there. Nothing too fancy. Nothing too aggressive. Nothing too dangerous. Maybe we score a field goal here and there, particularly on social issues.

But, of course, eventually the GOP will get the ball back again. It’s a two-party system. Nobody stays in power forever. And when they do, they’ll again advance their agenda far more aggressively than Democrats and put more points up on the board.

The point of politics isn’t just to hold power, any more than a team wins a football game by having a longer time of possession than your opponent. The GOP has run up the score, and backed the Democrats up to their own economic 10-yard-line because of the Democrats’ soft defense.

The fact that we may yet get the ball back should hardly be cause for celebration, or an endorsement of the brilliance of our coaching staff. Over the last 30 years, we’re way behind on the scoreboard, and the other guys still have all the momentum.


California Joins National Popular Vote Movement

Kevin Drum:

I missed this when it happened Monday, but here’s some interesting news from my home state:

A national movement aimed at sidelining the Electoral College in presidential elections got a big boost Monday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation adding California to the list of states supporting the drive. Brown’s signature makes California the ninth state to sign on to the effort, which would hand the electoral votes of all participating states to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide. Currently, California’s 55 electoral votes go to the person who wins the most votes in the state.

The idea here is to round up states with at least 270 electoral votes who will agree to cast all their votes for whatever candidate wins the national popular vote. California’s support is crucial, since it brings the number of committed electoral votes to 132. It wouldn’t be impossible for this deal to work without California’s 55 electoral votes, but it would be pretty hard. So this is good news.

There are some weird objections to this, the most common of which is that it will turn the whole country into a gigantic Florida circa 2000. And anything is possible, of course. But it’s vanishingly unlikely: it’s unusual enough for a single state to have a result so close that it inspires the kind of massive court challenges we saw in Bush v. Gore, but it’s close to impossible for it to happen on a national level. Even in 2000, the national vote for the two candidates differed by more than 500,000. It would only be worth challenging an election if this number were so small that there was a legitimate chance of overturning the result, and what are the odds of the entire national vote being within, say, 20,000 votes? Nada. And anything further apart than that isn’t worth going to court for.

This won’t fix our dysfunctional Congress, which is currently a more pressing problem than the Electoral College, but it’s still a good thing. Only 138 electoral votes to go!


Flashback: Rick Perry Supports Criminalizing Gay Sex

Dan Hirschhorn reports that former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) is continuing to hammer likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry on gay marriage—even after the Texas governor announced that he would support an effort to ban gay marriage nationwide:

“When someone who is a serious candidate for president is doing things that will be destructive not just for the Republican Party, but for the country, I’m going to point that out any chance I get,” Santorum told POLITICO.

Santorum is upset, or at least pretend campaign-upset, that Perry told Colorado GOPers in July that New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage was their right. “That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me.”

But next to Santorum, Perry might be the least lgbt-friendly candidate in the race. More so than former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who warns we face an existential threat from “gay and secular fascism”; more so, even, than Rep. Michele Bachmann, who once feared that theLion King would corrupt children because its soundtrack was created by Elton John.

So what exactly has Perry done? Well, for one, he is (still) a supporter of the Texas “homosexual conduct” statute, an archaic law that made it a crime for two consulting, unrelated adults to have sex if they were of the same gender. The law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the landmark 2002 case Lawrence v. Texas, but, despite repeated efforts, Texas has yet to formally repeal the statute. When Perry was asked about the Lawrence case in 2002, he defended the anti-sodomy statute: “I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books.” He wrote about the case in his 2011 book Fed Up, too, citing the Lawrencedecision as the product of “nine oligarchs in robes” and an example of what’s wrong with our judicial system. And last spring, when Perry ran for his third full term as governor, he did so on a state GOP platform that exlicitly stated “we oppose the legalization of sodomy.”

The irony is that the Lawrence case was the impetus for Santorum’s famous comparison of gay sex to “man on dog” relations—which, in turn, was the impetus for Santorum becoming, well, “santorum.” He can try to carve out some space to the right of Rick Perry on this issue, but there’s really not that much room.

Submission theology very common among evangelicals, came up for Huckabee etc Bachmann’s dodge common 

Religion Dispatches Magazine:


Bill Gothard is intent on defending himself. He’s speaking with me by telephone from the Northwoods Conference Center in Watersmeet, Michigan, where he spends every January “for study and writing and reflecting and fasting.” The controversial 76-year-old evangelist wants to explain away the “distortions” of his critics, and why, he insists, that widely-discussed “Taliban Dan” ad had it all wrong.

In the ad (run last fall by congressional candidate Daniel Webster’s Democratic opponent), the Florida Republican is shown speaking at an Advanced Training Institute conference—part of Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles, the $95 million nonprofit the evangelist founded in 1965 that boasts it has educated millions, including public officials, around the world at its conferences, in homeschool curricula, and in prisons. Webster is shown saying, “wives submit yourselves to your own husband” and “she should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.”

After the ad ran, Webster countered—and watchdogs and the media largely accepted—that Grayson had taken his words out of context and distorted their meaning. Still, though, Webster never denied that he believed wives should submit to the spiritual authority of their husbands. That there is a “chain of command” that families must obey has been at the core of Gothard’s teachings for decades.

Gothard insisted to me (in direct contradiction to materials on his own website) that he does not teach submission. When I asked Gothard whether he teaches that wives should submit to their husbands’ authority, he laughed, answering, “no, no,” adding, that Jesus taught “he who is the greatest among you be the servant of all. That makes the woman the greatest of all because she has served every single person in the world by being in her womb.”

Gothard’s effort to soft-pedal his teachings—by portraying women as venerated objects, and by saying that “authority” is simply “love” and “love” is “freedom”—flies in the face of his critics’ descriptions of the impact of his authoritarian teachings on their lives. In interviews, former adherents to Gothard’s teachings, disillusioned former members of “ATI families,” and an evangelical critic told me that his unyielding theology, including “non-optional” compliance with seven “biblical” principles (the “basic” life principles), compliance with 49 “character traits,” and other periodic Gothard revelations, are contrary to the Bible and have wreaked havoc on their emotional and spiritual lives and those of their families.

Gothard doesn’t deny he teaches adherence to what he calls “the commands of Christ.” And even though he has developed his own highly unusual interpretation of the Bible, he insists he’s not demanding that his followers obey him, but that they obey God (or how he singularly has interpreted God’s word). Following this path, he tells me cheerfully, will bring one “success and health and happiness and joy.”

“Laws in Harmony with the Laws of God”

In a video of Webster’s appearance at a 2003 Advanced Training Institute (ATI) seminar, for sale at the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) website, Webster described how making a “commitment” to Gothard’s teachings “absolutely changed my life.” Those commitments, he went on, “are the basis for everything I do today.”

Webster isn’t the only member of Congress with deep connections to Gothard. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who just became chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, is the chair of the board of directors of the IBLP. Other politicians, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, have spoken at IBLP conferences, and Mike Huckabee is fan. And many others, such as Sarah Palin, as mayor of Wasilla, have attended his ostensibly secular (but not) International Association of Character Cities (IACC) conferences, based on his 49 character traits, and declared their municipalities “Cities of Character.” The supposedly secularized version of Gothard’s “character traits” have been taught in public schools.

Gothard’s recent efforts have even extended into faith healing. He told me that a delegation of Peruvian elected officials and other leaders were impressed with his ability to heal “stress” and cancer. “God has directed us to a new approach to health,” Gothard told me, “which is taking care of stress first.” Now the Peruvians, he said, want to be a “model world nation.” That, he added, “to me is like the example of what we’ve been working for all these years.”

Webster, whose office did not respond to an interview request, repeatedly insisted to the local press when he served in the Florida legislature from 1980 through 2008 that he would not apply Gothard’s teachings in his official duties. But Gothard told me that America’s problems are caused by “rejecting God’s ways” and that “we should make laws that are in harmony with the laws of nature and the laws of God.”

Gothard’s followers can take that directive quite literally. “Jack,” now in his 20s, who had lived and worked at IBLP headquarters and was exposed to ATI his entire life, told me that after high school he “immediately jumped into the legal studies program that ATI provided, determined to create a legal system based on biblical law then become president and implement it all over the world—crazy, I know.” He has since broken with ATI.

Webster was and remains a staunch social conservative, opposing LGBT rights and abortion even in the case of rape or incest. He introduced an unsuccessful covenant marriage bill in the Florida legislature which would have prohibited divorce except in cases of adultery. He was the sponsor of legislation that legalized homeschooling in Florida in 1985. He earned an “A” rating and an endorsement from the Christian Reconstructionist group Gun Owners of America. The religious right Florida Family Policy Council named its annual award honoring “outstanding service to the pro-life and pro-family principles” after him. Recipients have included the American Family Association’s Don Wildmon.

“Culture of Fear”

Don Venoit, a conservative evangelical who founded Midwest Christian Outreach, a ministry devoted to countering the influence of “new religious movements,” has long been a critic of Gothard and documented his efforts to confront him in a 2003 book, A Matter of Basic Principles. MCO, like other apologetics ministries, considers Mormonism and other religions “cultic” and has contested the teachings of other evangelicals like Rick Warren and Brian McLaren. Still, the Venoits’ objections to Gothard are a barometer of how Gothard, well-loved by many conservative evangelicals, has drawn the ire of others. The Venoits’ book was praised by scholars at evangelical colleges, including Westminster Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, and Dallas Theological Seminary, and received a favorable review inChristianity Today.

Venoit told me he doesn’t consider Gothard’s organization a cult, but that Gothard’s “view of authority is the core of where things go wrong.” Gothard teaches, in the first hour of the first night of his “basic” seminar that “authority is like an umbrella of protection.” If you get out of that protection, “you are in rebellion, which is like witchcraft,” and “all evil will befall you,” said Venoit.

“It’s a culture of fear, is what it is,” he added.



Obama to America: You must pressure Congress to pivot to jobs


Obama’s speech in Michigan today is getting some attention because it debuted a new theme, in effect wrapping his demand for Congressional action on jobs in the language of patriotism. He blamed inaction on the “refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party.”

While that’s interesting, there’s another aspect of the speech that deserves a look: The President specifically called on Americans to give their representatives an earful about pivoting to jobs.

When Obama recently urged Americans to call their Representatives during the debt ceiling fight, jamming up phone lines, some pundits gave Obama a very hard time, arguing that he was actually endangering the sacrosanct negotiations underway in Congress. Today, however, Obama again called on Americans to pressure Congress, this time on jobs, insisting that they vent to their Reps:

if you agree with me — it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent — you’ve got to let Congress know. You’ve got to tell them you’ve had enough of the theatrics. You’ve had enough of the politics. Stop sending out press releases. Start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now. They’ve got to hear from you.

Let me be specific. I’ll give you some examples. You’ve got to tell them to extend the payroll tax cut, so middle-class families will continue to have more money to spend. We passed this in December. The average family received $1,000 from that tax cut, and you need to get it again, because the economy is still weak. It’s going to help you make ends meet, but it’s also going to mean more customers for businesses. It will increase demand. It’s right for the economy, and I would sign that bill today if it came to my desk.

Tell Congress to get past their differences and send me a road construction bill — so that companies can put tens of thousands of people to work right now building our roads and bridges and airports and seaports. I mean, think about it. America used to have the best stuff — best roads, best airports, best seaports. We’re slipping behind because we’re not investing in it, because of politics and gridlock. Do you want to put people to work right now rebuilding America? You’ve got to send that message to Congress.

White House officials have been privately saying that they hope the August recess shifts the dynamic a bit in their favor by exposing members of Congress to constituent anger about the economy. Now Obama is explicitly trying to egg that on — he’s trying to harness that anger, tie it to frustration with Washington dysfunction, and channel the whole package in the direction of Congress in general and Republicans in particular.

Dems and outside allies are demanding that Obama figure out a way to stake out a bolder posture on the economy and pick a fight with Republicans over job creation. Today’s speech seemed like bit of a step in that direction, though it falls short of what writers like Katrina Vanden Heuvel are suggesting: That he write his own jobs bill and launch a major offensive on its behalf.

The truth is that set of job creation tools realistically at Obama’s disposal, and the measures he is pushing for, are really quite modest given the scale of the challenges we face. And the fact that the President needs to use the bully pulpit to push for even these measures shows how dim the prospects for real government action on the economy have grown.





“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
— Anne Frank



Politifact: Fact-checking the Iowa Republican debate

PolitFact staffers are watching the Republican debate from Iowa. We’ll be updating this story throughout the night. When the candidates say something we’ve checked before, we’ll post links to the previous Truth-O-Meter items.

Mitt Romney complained about the growth of government. “Back in the days of John F. Kennedy, the federal government took up, along with the state and local governments, 27 percent of the economy. Today, government consumes 37 percent of the economy. We’re inches away from no longer having a free economy,” he said. He made the same “inches away” claim in his announcement speech. We rated that Pants on Fire.

Tim Pawlenty attacked Rep. Michele Bachmann’s record of accomplishments in Congress. “Look, she has done wonderful things in her life, absolutely wonderful things, but it is an undisputable fact that in congress her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent,” he said. We fact-checked a very similar claim when Pawlenty said her record was “offering failed amendments.” We rated that Mostly True.

Bachmann replied by saying that Pawlenty had supported cap and trade when he was Minnesota governor. Indeed, we found that was true when we put his cap and trade position to the Flip-O-Meter. She also accused him of saying that “the era of small government is over.” We rated that Mostly True.

Newt Gingrich likened his campaign’s problems to Ronald Reagan’s. PolitiFact Georgia checked that a few weeks ago and rated it Mostly False.

Pawlenty attacked Romney saying that “ObamaCare” was patterned after “RomneyCare.” We rated that Mostly Truewhen it was said by Howard Dean and wepublished a quiz to see if you can tell the difference.

Gingrich was asked about his position on military action against Libya. He claimed that was a “gotcha” question. We explored whether he flip-flopped and rated it Full Flop.

Bachmann said raising the debt ceiling gave Obama a “blank check.” PolitiFact Virginia checked that when Eric Cantor said it about a debt ceiling plan from Harry Reid and found itFalse.



WaPo: Fact checking the GOP debate in Iowa

That was some collection of facts and statistics during the GOP debate in Iowa on Friday night that aired on Fox News.

We’re going to take an instant stab at nine of the statements, and then perhaps come back next week with a more extended look at other assertions. We also will have a chat Friday morning at 11 a.m. in which we will take your questions on the debate, the debt ceiling or any other issues you want to raise.

Please join us for the discussion. We plan to host a chat at least every week, though the time will vary.

Back in the days of John F. Kennedy, the federal government took up, along with the state and local governments, 27 percent of the economy. Today, government consumes 37 percent of the economy. We’re inches away from no longer having a free economy.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney

Romney gets his statistics essentially right, according to White House historical records (see table 15.5), but the numbers are missing context. In 1961, there was no Medicare and Social Security only made up about 2 percent of the overall economy (the Gross Domestic Product.) Excluding other payments to individuals and national defense, overall federal spending was also just 2 percent of the economy. (State and local spending was nearly 9 percent of the economy.)

Fast forward to today. Social Security and Medicare are more than 8 percent of the economy. National defense has fallen in half, to 5 percent of the economy. The other functions of the federal government (i.e., excluding payments to individuals and defense) has actually fallen to just 1.6 percent of GDP. So the federal government in many ways is actually smaller.

Romney’s statement that the United States is “inches away” from not having a free economy is rhetorical nonsense. There are many metrics one could use to disprove it, but here’s one: the conservative Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. The United States ranks ninth out of 179 countries. There’s still a long way to go before the nation catches up with North Korea.

In the last two months, I was leading on the issue of not increasing the debt ceiling.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Bachmann does not play a leadership role in Congress and had virtually no involvement in the debt ceiling discussions, except rhetorically.

The country’s bankrupt and nobody wanted to admit it. And when you’re bankrupt, you can’t keep spending.”

Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)

Under no definition is the United States “bankrupt.” The nation has a large debt as a percentage of its economy, and that is an issue of concern. But it is able to pay its debts and its bonds are still regarded as the gold standard in the financial markets — which is why investors have flocked to buy U.S. Treasuries during this period of market turmoil.

Where’s Barack Obama on these issues? You can’t find his plans on some of the pressing financial issues of our country. For example, where is Barack Obama’s plan on Social Security reform, Medicare reform, Medicaid reform? In fact, I’ll offer a prize tonight to anybody in this auditorium or anyone watching on television. If you can find Barack Obama’s specific plan on any of those items, I will come to your house and cook you dinner.”

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty

Funny pledge, but factually incorrect. Obama’s health-care law was filled with Medicare reforms, designed to rein in costs. (Here is a summary.) One can disagree whether those reforms will be effective, but the law certainly is a plan. And during talks with congressional leaders on the debt limit, Obama offered to put Social Security reformson the table.

Governor, when can we expect dinner?

It’s an undisputable fact that in Congress, her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent.”

Pawlenty, speaking about Bachmann

As only a three-term member of Congress, until recently in the minority, Bachmann has few legislative achievements to her credit. So Pawlenty’s right, but that is to be expected given how new she is to Congress. President Obama, with only four years in the Senate, has a similar slim record.

As John F. Kennedy once observed, the only qualification for becoming president is to win. He also had a meager record of accomplishment in the Senate.

The policies that the governor advocated for were cap-and-trade. . . . I was very vocal against that tax, and I fought against that tax” imposed by Pawlenty on cigarettes

Bachmann, speaking about Pawlenty

Without getting too deep in the weeds about ancient legislative quarrels in the Minnesota legislature, Bachmann is correct that Pawlenty in 2007 supported efforts to curb greenhouse emissions with some sort of cap-and-trade plan. He has since backed away from that stance. Pawlenty noted that she voted for what he called a 75-cent-a-pack “health impact fee”— she said it was because of an unrelated abortion provision attached to the bill — but she very quickly proposed a bill to repeal the tax.

And let me tell you what I talked about with respect to the stimulus. I talked about the need for more tax cuts in the stimulus. We didn’t have enough of it.”

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman

Huntsman is sugar-coating his rhetoric on Obama’s stimulus bill. As the Washington Monthly documented in May, Huntsman actually focused on the need for more infrastructure spending.

So you had maybe 25 percent infrastructure [in the stimulus], 75 percent all other categories — it should have been reversed to my mind, so that coming out of the stimulus phase, we actually could have maybe achieved a better, stronger, more 21st-century infrastructure in our country,” Huntsman said in 2009. “That is my one gripe.”

Until recently, he [Obama] and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton suggested that [Syrian president] Bashar Assad was a reformer.”


Obama himself never called Assad a reformer. Clinton claimed that lawmakers of “both parties” had suggested he was a reformer, which was incorrect. (Only a few Democrats publicly suggested that.) But she did not say that was her personal opinion.

Pawlenty has an issue with Clinton’s conduct of foreign policy, which we have previously examined.

The Congress gave Barack Obama a blank check for $2.4 trillion. What did the American people get in return? Twenty-one billion [dollars] in illusory cuts. . . . We just heard from Standard & Poor’s, when they dropped our credit rating. What they said is, we don’t have an ability to repay our debt.”


Bachmann once again mischaracterizes what S&P said, an issue we had examined just this week. S&P never said the United States could not repay its debts — otherwise the country would be bankrupt — but it downgraded Treasury bonds because it felt the political environment in Washington was too toxic to make progress on a package to substantially reduce the deficit.

Bachmann’s reference to $21 billion in “illusory cuts” refers only to the impact on the deficit in the 2012 fiscal year. (See Table 3 of this Congresional Budet Office analysis.) But over 10 years, the specific deficit reduction would amount to $917 billion — and as much as $2.1 trillion if a deal to cut another $1.2 trillion via a special congressional committee is effective.

By the way, a blank check means there is no dollar amount. In any case, Congress has already committed to spend much of this money, under budgets passed in previous years. Lifting the debt ceiling merely means that the Treasury now has the authority to make good on bills that are coming due.

FACT CHECK: Republican Debate Strains Some Facts


Michele Bachmann cast her opinion as a settled fact when she told the Republican presidential debate Thursday that a key element of President Barack Obama’s health care law is unconstitutional. And Mitt Romney danced around an attempt to learn why he stayed largely mum on the epic debt limit standoff between Obama and Congress.

The first big GOP debate of the primary season brought viewers a flurry of claims and counterclaims, not all built on solid ground.

A look at some of those claims and how they compare with the facts:

BACHMANN: Spoke of “the unconstitutional individual mandate” several times, a reference to a requirement for people to carry health insurance, a central element of the 2010 federal health care law.

THE FACTS: Nothing is unconstitutional until courts declare it to be so. The constitutionality of the individual mandate has been challenged in lawsuits in a number of states, and federal judges have found in favor and against. The Supreme Court will probably have the final word. But for now, the individual mandate is ahead in the count. And the first ruling by a federal appeals court on the issue, by the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in June, upheld the individual mandate.


TIM PAWLENTY: “To correct you, I have not questioned Congresswoman Bachmann’s headaches.”

THE FACTS: Pawlenty was hardly dismissive when news came out about Bachmann’s history of severe headaches, even if he did not go after her directly on the matter. “All of the candidates, I think, are going to have to be able to demonstrate they can do all of the job all of the time,” the former governor said when first asked about the migraines suffered by the congresswoman. “There’s no real time off in that job.”

There was no mistaking that Pawlenty was leaving open the question of whether Bachmann’s health history made her fit to serve as president. But he later tried to clarify his remark, saying he was not challenging her on that front and the flap was merely a “sideshow.” Bachmann says her symptoms are controlled with prescription medication and have not gotten in the way of her campaign or impaired her service in Congress.


ROMNEY: on the last-minute deal to avert a national debt default: “I’m not going to eat Barack Obama’s dog food, all right? What he served up was not what I would have done if I’d had been president of the United States.”

THE FACTS: Romney was defending himself against criticism that he took a pass when political leadership was most needed in the mighty struggle to negotiate an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. In fact, he was largely missing in the crux of the debate.

Romney consistently backed a Republican “cut, cap and balance” proposal that would have combined deep spending cuts with a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. But that proposal had no chance of becoming law and settling the crisis, and leaders in both parties knew it. It was one of several initiatives brought forward by both Republicans and Democrats for show before both sides got down to the authentic bipartisan negotiations.

During that process, Romney did not lay out a prescription that was achievable in a time of divided government. Supporting the earlier GOP bill was a far cry from stating whether he would have signed or vetoed the final debt limit legislation, because rejecting it risked an unprecedented federal default with potentially disastrous consequences for the economy.

When he faced questions at his campaign stops, he said he wasn’t privy to the behind-the-scene negotiations, and his campaign aides refused to elaborate on his thinking about the proposals in serious play.


RICK SANTORUM: “The problem is that we have spending that has exploded. The government’s averaged 18 percent of GDP as the percentage of the overall economy. … And we’re now at almost 25 percent. Revenues are down about 2 or 3 percent. So if you look at where the problem is, the problem is in spending, not taxes.”

THE FACTS: The former Pennsylvania senator might have been mixing statistics on federal spending with federal revenue. The White House budget office has estimated that federal spending this year will equal about 25 percent of the country’s $15 trillion economy — the highest proportion since World War II. But federal spending has averaged nearly 22 percent since 1970. In fact, federal spending has not been as low as 18 percent since 1966. Since the 1970s, federal revenues have averaged nearly 19 percent of the U.S. economy. This year’s revenues are expected to equal just over 14 percent of the economy, the lowest level since 1950.


BACHMANN to PAWLENTY: “You said the era of small government was over. That sounds an awful lot like Barack Obama if you ask me.”

THE FACTS: Pawlenty did not declare the era of small government over. (Neither has Obama.) Bachmann’s jab was drawn from a Minnesota newspaper interview in which Pawlenty referred to a New York Times column on the subject, as part of his argument that “there are certain circumstances where you’ve got to have government put up the guardrails or bust up entrenched interests before they become too powerful.” At the time, Pawlenty’s office pushed for and received a clarification from the newspaper that he was relaying another writer’s thoughts.



NYT: Fact Check: The Republican Debate

Updated As they tried to blame President Obama for the nation’s lowered credit rating, the Republican presidential candidates who squared off Thursday night in Iowa made several misleading, incomplete or simply false claims.

I was fortunate enough to be a governor that got an increase in the credit rating of my state at the same time we got a president who got a decrease in the credit rating of our nation,” said Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota repeated her assertion that “we should not have increased the debt ceiling” — which would have led the nation to default.

Mrs. Bachmann misrepresented the debt ceiling deal when she complained that Congress had given a “blank check” to President Obama by raising it. The debt limit had to be raised to pay for the bills that Congress had already approved, not future spending. And the final deal required reducing the deficit by some $2.1 trillion over the next decade.

Her gloss of the warning issued by Standard & Poor’s, the agency that lowered the nation’s rating, was off as well. “When they dropped our credit rating, what they said was we don’t have an ability to repay our debt,” she said.

That is not what it said. Standard & Poor’s has carefully avoided partisan finger-pointing in its comments. But some of the factors it cited — from the “political brinkmanship” that left the nation at the precipice of default to its concerns that the deficit-cutting deal “falls short” of what is needed — can be attributed to Republicans in Congress as much as, or even more than, President Obama.

The ratings agency lamented in its report on the downgrade that “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.”

It was Republicans in Congress who made it a bargaining chip. They balked at raising the debt limit unless the White House agreed to a new package of spending cuts. The Obama administration initially sought a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit, but the Republicans prevailed.

When a bill to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling was finally passed this month, the nation was just hours away from a default that economists warned would have harmed the fragile economy.

Of course, President Obama acted similarly to Mrs. Bachmann when he was in the Senate: he voted against raising the debt limit in 2006, a vote his aides say he regrets.

But prominent economists and business leaders have said a failure to raise the debt ceiling would have led to a default that would have hurt the economy. Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, testified that it would probably be “a recovery-ending event.”

Several Republicans assailed President Obama at the debate for not cutting spending enough. Standard & Poor’s warned that the final agreement “falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary.”

But President Obama pushed for a plan to cut the deficit by more — $4 trillion, with cuts to entitlement programs including Medicare and Medicaid, as well as some $1 trillion in new revenues. It was House Republicans who rejected it, opposing any tax increases and ultimately pushing for the smaller measure.

Mrs. Bachmann claimed that the deal had led to only “$21 billion in illusory cuts.” That was the amount projected for the very short term. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the deal would cut the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over the next decade.

Her complaint that the cuts were illusory also clashed with her own critique of the debt ceiling deal from last week, when The Des Moines Register quoted her as saying: “Under this debt-ceiling bill, do you know how this works? The first thing that gets whacked and with a hatchet is defense.”





The Defining Moments of the GOP Debate

The Atlantic:

There were several noteworthy exchanges in Iowa. The most important showed that low taxes matter to Republicans far more than deficits

The most noteworthy and damning moment of the GOP debate in Iowa Thursday was when the moderators asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would walk away from a deal that cut ten dollars from the deficit for every one dollar in tax increases. Every last person on stage said they’d reject that deal. 

All claim that deficits and debt are grave threats to America’s future. On that point, I agree. One way to interpret their answer is that they think tax rates are more important than deficits by a factor of more than ten. To me, that makes them deficit doves. By prioritizing tax cuts above all else, the GOP has long been complicit in growing the deficit and the debt. If all of these candidates would reject a compromise much better than anything they’re likely to get as president, what good are they? Is the plan really to hold out for super-majorities in Congress that can be sustained for long enough to make deeply unpopular spending cuts that won’t then be repealed once the backlash sets in? Don’t they understand that those ten dollars in spending, left uncut when they walked away from the hypothetical deal, would be paid for (with interest) by future taxpayers?

For most if not all, they do understand it. But the GOP primary electorate, after years of misinformation on taxes, doesn’t. As my colleague points out, Michele Bachmann seems to have a tenuous grasp on how all this works too. My guess is that Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Tim Pawlenty are lying, and as president would take that 10 to 1 deal in a heartbeat — and that Michele Bachmann would really walk away from it. Ron Paul? It’s hard to say. Unlike so many in the GOP, I think he really does care about deficits, but he doesn’t tend to pander either.

Other thoughts about the debate:

— Michele Bachmann is the logical candidate for everyone who believes Fox News commentators and Rush Limbaugh. For her, compromise isn’t a necessary or inevitable part of federal politics. Were that premise correct, what argument could conservatives offer against her?

Of course, most of them know better, and in one of her answers, Bachmann actually revealed, without quite admitting to it, that when forced to compromise, abortion is the biggest issue for her, and fiscal matters are subservient to that issue. It’s a perfectly defensible position, and GOP voters should know that a President Bachmann would prioritize her social conservatism to her fiscal conservatism in the negotiations, implicit and explicit, that she doesn’t acknowledge will be necessary for her to accomplish any of her agenda. Is that what the tea party wants?

– Newt Gingrich’s attack on the moderators was noteworthy mostly because it showed Fox News personnel being criticized in exactly the same way as a “mainstream media” broadcaster would. There were some silly “gotcha” questions, as in every presidential debate, and undue attention paid to conflict rather than policy substance. That said, the moderators did an above average jobrelative to past performances by broadcast journalists. If the American people want better questions, one method would be to take debates away from the subset of journalism where pleasing hair, the ability to read seamlessly from a teleprompter, and a knack for creating dramatic tension are core job qualifications. The resulting debates might be less watched.

– To me, the most off-putting moment perpetrated by the moderators was when Ron Paul was shouting about wanting to end foreign wars. Chris Wallace and Bret Baier mugged for the camera, as if to signal their mutual embarrassment that a candidate would get earnestly upset and passionate.That unhinged Ron Paul, getting all angry and losing his cool again. And in the game of national politics, it is unusual for pols to show normal human emotion. But for someone like Paul, who doesn’t regard our foreign wars as part of “politics as game” — who very earnestly believes that they’re resulting in needless death, destruction, and trillions of dollars squandered — it isn’t at all bizarre to get a bit passionate talking about war of all subjects.

Note too that we’re talking about a presidential primary debate, where grown men and women say the most absurd things in the course of pandering to voters. It is damning indeed that someone passionately staking out an unpopular position against foreign wars is all but laughed at for doing so, whereas the moderators react to all manner of political theater with straight faces. It’s almost as if the implications of Paul’s critique is too awful for Wallace and Baier to take seriously, so they dismiss it as a mental defense mechanism. No wonder we keep entering wars.

– Given the fact that lots of rank and file conservatives are tired of foreign wars and the money they cost, it is bizarre that there aren’t more candidates taking a position that is more moderate on foreign policy than Ron Paul, but quite a bit less hawkish than the bulk of the Republican field.



Rick Perry Says Social Security And Medicare Are Unconstitutional

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has, to say the least, a very odd understanding of the Constitution. He thinks Texas should be able to opt out of Social Security, and he believes that everything from federal public school programs to clean air laws are unconstitutional. Yet in an interview with the Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano, Perry makes his most outlandish claim to date —Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional:

The Constitution says that “the Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes… to provide for the… general Welfare of the United States.” But I noticed that when you quoted this section on page 116, you left “general welfare” out and put an ellipsis in its place. Progressives would say that “general welfare” includes things like Social Security or Medicare—that it gives the government the flexibility to tackle more than just the basic responsibilities laid out explicitly in our founding document. What does “general welfare” mean to you?

[PERRY:] I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term “general welfare” in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that’s what those states decided to do.

So in your view those things fall outside of general welfare. But what falls inside of it? What did the Founders mean by “general welfare”?

[PERRY:] I don’t know if I’m going to sit here and parse down to what the Founding Fathers thought general welfare meant.

But you just said what you thought they didn’t mean by general welfare. So isn’t it fair to ask what they did mean? It’s in the Constitution.


Perry’s reading of the Constitution raises very serious questions about whether he understands the English language. The Constitution gives Congress the power to “to lay and collect taxes” and to “provide for the…general welfare of the United States.” No plausible interpretation of the words “general welfare” does not include programs that ensure that all Americans can live their entire lives secure in the understanding that retirement will not force them into poverty and untreated sickness.

Moreover, Perry’s belief that Social Security and Medicare must cease to exist not only puts him well to the right of his fellow Republicans in Congress — who recently voted to gradually phase out Medicare — it also puts him at the rightward fringe of the GOP presidential field. Not even Michele Bachmann has gone on record claiming that America’s two most cherished programs for seniors violate the Constitution, although she did invite a Fox News analyst who shares Perry’s beliefs to lecture her fellow lawmakers on what the Constitution requires.

When House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) released the GOP’s plan to slowly eliminate Medicare, it was the most conservative budget proposal anyone had seriously considered in generations. Perry’s agenda, however, makes Paul Ryan look like Ted Kennedy.




Rand Paul Rushes To Romney’s Defense: ‘All Of Us Are Corporations’

Think Progress:

During a campaign stop at the Iowa State Fair yesterday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) vociferously defended tax breaks for corporations by declaring that “corporations are people.” Though Romney’s assertion was widely mocked – corporations cannot vote, cannot be sent to prison, and clearly lack all human anatomy – the former Massachusetts governor has not backed down in the face of withering criticism.

Now, another GOPer says Romney was actually spot on: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

ThinkProgress asked Paul about Romney’s comments prior to the Republican presidential debate in Ames. Paul rushed to the former governor’s defense, arguing that Romney was correct in his equivalency between man and mega-company. “I think we’re all corporations,” Paul said. “All of us are corporations.” The Tea Party senator later went on to blur the lines further between corporations and people by declaring, “They’re us. They’re the middle class”:

KEYES: What did you make of Mitt Romney’s statement today that “corporations are people”?

PAUL: Corporations are collections of people. I think we’re all corporations. To say we’re going to punish corporations like they’re someone else. All of us are corporations.

KEYES: Do you think that was basically in line with what he was saying?

PAUL: You think about, if you own a retirement fund, you have a 401k, everybody who has a 401k has parts of corporations, so in a sense we are.

KEYES: I think people might argue that corporations can’t be sent to jail.

PAUL: I think those arguments can be made, but I think the fact that a lot of times people want to vilify corporations, saying they’re someone else, that they’re these other rich people. They’re us. They’re the middle class. We all own parts of corporations.

Watch it:

It’s unsurprising that Paul would side with corporations. In the past, Paul has expressed his affection for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was quick to defend BP during its high-profile act of corporate irresponsibility, and during the 2010 campaign, complained that disabilities laws are unfair to the business owner.

A quick glance at Paul’s campaign fundraising finds major contributions from corporations like Koch Industries, AT&T, and Exxon Mobil. Still, as one of the original Tea Party senators, Paul’s defense of corporations flies in the face of the populist movement he purports to represent.

Corporate lobbyists have also played a major role in Romney’s presidential campaign. Indeed, a Huffington Post investigation found that thus far in 2011, Romney has received more campaign cash from lobbyists than the rest of the Republican field combined. As Romney barnstorms the country with his message that “corporations are people,” Paul’s busy watching out for Romney’s flank and making sure people understand that people “are corporations” as well.




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Hartman and Jim Hightower on Perry. A must see.


Hooray, more McJobs than the rest of the country combined! Success!


This is encouraging, in light of all the prayer warriors and Rick Perry and his new apostles;


Kt, this is a really good article. Thanks!

“In particular, an incredible 91% of young non-Christians say that Christianity is “anti-homosexual””.

“the mainline churches have fallen from more than 50% of the American population in 1965 to less than 8% today.”

I found these snippets really interesting.

These trends would seems to indicate that in the future Americans will be split into two large camps: The godless and the zealots? With the casually religious forced to choose between the two camps?

I’m not sure I like the sound of that…..


Maybe. I don’t like the term “godless” though. There are many people who believe in god and don’t care for organized religion. What I am hoping is that more and more people will reject organized religion in favor of their own sense of what god means to them. I think spirituality is on the rise, instead of orthodoxy.


In New Jersey in 2006, a public high school teacher named David Paskiewicz was openly preaching Christianity in the classroom, advocating creationism and telling a Muslim student she would burn in hell if she didn’t convert. A junior named Matt LaClair reported this illegal government preaching to the school administration. In a meeting with the principal, Paskiewicz denied everything — whereupon LaClair produced audio recordings of him saying the things he specifically denied having said.

Damn straight, these stereotypes about the next generation all seem to have one thing in common–a narrative enforced and shoved upon them that doesn’t always fit the reality.


I think, as with any generation, there are smart, informed and involved people, and then there are the constant sensualists seeking diversion from real life issues.
I do find this article to be promising and great news. These “deniers of life,” as Nietzsche would call them really need to be put in their place.

KQµårk 死神

More conservative activist judges deciding to rewrite laws.

I love the dissent though.

“In a joint opinion, Judges Joel Dubina — a Reagan appointee elevated to the circuit court by George H.W. Bush — and Frank Hull — a conservative Clinton appointee — “concluded that the individual mandate exceeded congressional authority under Article I of the Constitution because it was not enacted pursuant to Congress’s tax power and it exceeded Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.”

In a blistering dissent, Judge Stanley Marcus, also a Clinton appointee but a Republican originally nominated to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan, intimated that his colleagues were legislating from the bench. “Quite simply, the majority would presume to sit as a superlegislature, offering ways in which Congress could have legislated more efficaciously or more narrowly,” he wrote. “This approach ignores the wide regulatory latitude afforded to Congress, under its Commerce Clause power, to address what in its view are substantial problems, and it misapprehends the role of a reviewing court. As nonelected judicial officers, we are not afforded the opportunity to rewrite statutes we don’t like, or to craft a legislative response more sharply than the legislative branch of government has chosen.”


On the USPS. I have watched a few hearings on their huge overpayment for HC and pensions to the government. It is actually close to be being in the black if not for these forced overpayments. The last House hearing I watched both the Union and the management begged that these be stopped/reduced. They were turned down.

KQµårk 死神

Hmmm… How did that happen?


Secret video of the “New Prophets.”


I want to have sex with the sun goddess. Talk about an afterglow! 😉






Khirad and his Vast collection of boobs! 😀


Shinto’s greatest goddess looks hot, can’t help that.


Khirad- you have boob shots from every county in every country in the Universe!! 😀


I could really do a series on it, jkk.

Learn about new cultures and countries, through the medium of babes.


@Khirad: Somewhere, I think you have already done that!!!!
But feel free- far as I’m concerned! 😉


Boobs are so great because they are utilitarian AND fun!


@KT- You and Khirad could rule the world with your combined boob collection, I bet!

KQµårk 死神

Beautiful. Love Manga and Anime.

KQµårk 死神

The stimulus did what it was suppose to do after all.



The President’s comments in the last story in your post are excellent. I don’t happen to agree that the payroll tax holiday is a particularly good idea, but this is exactly what the President needs to do to get people engaged and active.

“Here is what I believe that we can do to make this one thing better today. Here is what others believe. They’re wrong. Put pressure on them to act/change their minds”

You may not get what you want Mr. President, but you are clear, concise, and you are spurring others to act. Perfect. I’m so pleased I won’t even grind my teeth over the whole “tell Congress” part.

Its the GOP. Not “congress”.

KQµårk 死神

I’m not a proponent of more tax cuts either but a tax cut that goes mostly to working people for a temporary period of time is not bad.


Politics. I have decided that “politics is war by other means.” That is, reward your friends and punish your enemies. Arguments over policy are the stick to beat you enemy and the means to reward your friends. This has general application; not just the USA.

But, there are real issues and real problems that need to be addressed politically: defense, medical care, unemployment, social security, etc. I do not see those issues being handled well due to the nature of politics.


Agrippa, your namesake would be proud of your clear-headed outlook.


Thanks caru.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the right hand man of Augustus.

The name of the game is ‘muddle’ and ‘dither’, with a great deal of wailing and knashing of teeth while doing both.

The elephant will give birth to a mouse.


And what a treat to gaze at the inscription on the Pantheon while sipping an espresso.

(A lot of people are afraid of mice)


Agrippa, I couldn’t agree more; politics is war. Just as Lincoln took strong (!) measures to save the union, I think Obama must think the same way. We are in a civil war of sorts and he needs to keep the union together not by consensus but by strong leadership.


Al Jazeera has a good analysis and I think that al jazeera is right across the board.


“Gothard’s effort to soft-pedal his teachings—by portraying women as venerated objects, and by saying that “authority” is simply “love” and “love” is “freedom””

Freedom is slavery. It seems that they’ve taken Orwell’s words to heart.


Classic doublespeak!


re: Hawaii Most Democratic, Utah Most Republican State in ’11

This just in: Pope is still Catholic and Israel still Jewish in ’11.

In that vein…

Bert & Ernie are not gay, Sesame Street says in statement


Of course they’re not gay, they’re fuzzy puppets! 😉

“SpongeBob could not be reached for comment. I love it!



HAHA! I take it that wasn’t really Sesame Street.


I think it was Sesame Street, they just used the censored bar to imply something else. Now, this isn’t Sesame Street.

KQµårk 死神

Obviously demographics are at play here and it may be a glimpse into the future. Hawaii is the only state that is majority non-white while Utah along with other mountain west states have vast white majorities.