Friday, February 27, 2009

POLITICS - More GOP Additions to World's Worst Person List

Keith Olbermann
World's Worst Person

"GOP's 'Disneyland to Las Vegas' lie has deeper consequences" by Chad Rubel, BuzzFlash 2/26/2009

Bobby Jindal said it Tuesday night. Keith Olbermann gave Sean Hannity the Worst Person in the World last night for saying it. And those words have come from countless other Republicans.

To use Jindal's exact words from Tuesday, "a magnetic levitation line from Las Vegas to Disneyland." In other words, it's a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Now we know that the GOP loves taking a lie and saying it so many times, it "becomes true." But there is a method to their mendacity.

There is $8 billion for high-speed rail projects. And the Los Angeles-Las Vegas could be one of those lines, but so could Chicago-Madison-Minneapolis; Chicago-Detroit; Charlotte-Atlanta; Houston-New Orleans, and countless others.

As Olbermann pointed out again last night, there is a likelihood that one of the routes would go through the district of House Minority Leader John Boehner.

But on the high-speed rail corridors designations map from 2002 provided by the Department of Transportation, there is no Los Angeles-Las Vegas route.

Why does the GOP keep repeating the lie and embellishing it even further? Harry Reid.

Reid is up for re-election in 2010. The Republicans are worried that Reid's chance of re-election will improve if he can bring a magnetic levitation line from Los Angeles to his home state.

Even though the line isn't in the top 10 of possibilities, if the GOP talks about it now, and if somehow there is a proposal to do such a line, they will cry and scream, "Told you it was in the bill."

We know it's not in the bill. None of the routes are in the bill. But the GOP is almost guaranteeing that Los Angeles to Las Vegas will either a) never be done or b) if it is done, use that to prove their lie was true (even if it never goes to Disneyland).

Paul Krugman has gone on record as saying that route is a good idea, particularly using a magnetic levitation line. It wouldn't be my first choice (the proposed routes from Chicago are my first priority), but it might be viable for a corridor where travel alternatives are more difficult.

The GOP spreads its lies with few objections from the MSN. Then if something might happen, use the lies to cry foul and claim it was true all along. If the Los Angeles to Las Vegas line should be built, the prospect shouldn't be wrecked because the Republicans use lies to make political points.

Reducing car traffic and airline travel in crowded regions benefits us all, whether we travel by car, plane, or high-speed rail. Building and maintaining the rails provides jobs. Smarter travel choices allow us to reduce fuel consumption and traffic and actually increase business productivity.

By and large, Republicans hate trains. And they hate high-speed rail, even if it could bring jobs to their areas. There are a lot of routes in the South. They are using a possible high-speed rail route to hurt the Senate Majority Leader, and damage smarter travel ideas. Just refuting their lies isn't enough. The voices of those who support high-speed rail should be heard. Then maybe the bullies won't be as loud or as wrong.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

POLITICS - NO to Tax Havens

"Obama To Target Tax Havens In Budget" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post


The impetus to change this area of tax law has taken on increased significance in the weeks and months since the election. A GAO report from December revealed that 83 of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations had placed subsidiaries in tax haven jurisdictions to, ostensibly, pay less on their tax bills. This included a number of firms that had received billions of dollars in bailout funds from the federal government, such as Morgan Stanley (158 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and recipient of $10 billion in TARP money), Citigroup (90 subsidiaries and $45 billion in TARP funds), and Bank of America (59 subsidiaries and $45 billion).

"This is a notorious practice. Nobody is there. It is a P.O. box, a way to hide taxable revenue. We have a deficit of $1.2 trillion. Shouldn't we try to reduce that tax gap?" Rep. Rosa DeLauro, one of the lawmakers leading the anti-loophole charge, told the Huffington Post. "The other thing is, it puts companies and corporations who are paying their fair share of taxes at a disadvantage. Many of these corporations...dealt with greed and they took as much as they could, and they got away with it. Now they have brought our financial system to its knees, the federal government is bailing them out, while they are collectively contributing to an average annual revenue loss of $100 billion a year and we are asking tax payers to cover the bailout."

COURTS - Supreme Courts on Guns, Different Decision

"Court upholds curb on gun ownership" Boston Globe, AP

The Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the use of a federal law barring people convicted of domestic violence crimes from owning guns, the first firearms case at the high court since last year's decision in support of gun rights.

The court, in a 7-2 decision, said state laws against battery need not specifically mention domestic violence to fall under the domestic violence gun ban that was enacted in 1996.

It is enough, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her majority opinion, that the victim of such a crime be involved in a domestic relationship with the attacker.

"Firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination nationwide," Ginsburg said.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented in the case of Randy Edwards Hayes, a West Virginia man whose earlier misdemeanor conviction for beating his wife gave rise to a federal felony indictment for gun possession.

The federal government, gun control groups, and women's rights advocates worried that a ruling for Hayes would have weakened the federal law because about half the states, including West Virginia, do not have specific misdemeanor domestic violence laws.

POLITICS - The GOP's Ongoing War on Seniors

"The Deficit Hawks' Attack on Our Entitlements" by Robert Kuttner, Washington Post

First page of 2 page article.

If we just cap Medicare, needy seniors would get bare-bones care while more affluent people could supplement their insurance out of pocket. The decent cure for Medicare's cost inflation lies in comprehensive universal health insurance so that the entire system is more efficient and less prone to inflation. You don't hear many budget hawks supporting that brand of reform.

The deficit hawks' story also contends that we are sacrificing our children's future by too much (deficit) spending on the elderly. In fact, today's young adults are already falling out of the middle class because of the high costs of the investments we don't adequately finance socially -- child care, college tuition and health insurance. But fiscal conservatives seldom call for increased investment in the young. Today's young, of course, will be tomorrow's retirees, and they will need social insurance, too.

The overall bottom line? The economy we bequeath to our children has everything to do with getting growth back on track and almost nothing to do with imagined future deficits.

History provides a parallel. At the end of World War II, the public debt was about 120 percent of GDP -- about three times today's ratio. Yet the heavily indebted wartime economy stimulated a quarter-century postwar boom -- because all that debt went to recapitalize American industry, advance science and technology, retrain our unemployed and put them to work.

We need to increase public spending and debt now to restore economic growth and then gradually reduce the debt ratio once recovery comes. Social Security has little to do with this challenge. Nor does Medicare, if we reform our overall health system.

Since the early 1980s, Peter G. Peterson has been warning that future entitlement deficits would crash the economy. Yet when the crash came, the cause was not deficits but wild speculation on Wall Street.

Now, with 401(k) plans swooning and health benefits being cut, Social Security and Medicare are the two bedrock programs that keep tens of millions of elderly Americans from destitution. Why perversely cut these programs to pay for the sins of Wall Street? The attack on social insurance is really an ideological assault, dressed up as fiscal high-mindedness.

POLITICS - As the Corruption Spreads

"Corruption Touched CIA’s Covert Operations" by Marcus Stern, ProPublica


Within days, Wilkes provided the group with a $132 million proposal that John Doe # 1 described as "unwieldy, cumbersome, and lacking a real understanding of what the Agency needed...If implemented as presented, I believed the proposals would be wasteful, misguided, and contrived."

Nonetheless, Foggo ordered them to proceed quickly. "The rapid decision by Mr. Foggo and the urgent deadlines he imposed on the program meant that we necessarily had to use Mr. Wilkes for the Enhanced Capability, because he was the only option available to us at the time," the official testified. Despite misgivings about the directive coming from Foggo, "we saluted and carried out his orders."

The plan was derailed in August 2005 after Wilkes' and Foggo's roles in the Cunningham scandal surfaced, but not before it had cost the government $40 million in planning expenses, according to the documents.

"Upon being apprised of this, I was greatly relieved that we would not have to proceed with the cover solution with Wilkes, and would have more time to explore the best possible solution," John Doe #1 wrote.

The documents also argue that Wilkes and Foggo tried to incorporate the military's need for armored vehicles into an array of contracts that involved not only the CIA's sensitive air operations but also water for troops in Iraq. Wilkes' and Foggo's deals -- during which they hid their long, personal friendship from other government officials -- included markups of up to 60 percent on the goods and services they sold the CIA.

The documents released Monday provide extensive details about Foggo's efforts to move his mistress from Europe to Langley when he was promoted in November 2004 from chief of support at an undisclosed European location to the agency's No. 3 post, executive director.

Read full article for more.

POLITICS - The Real Face of the GOP Fascists

"GOP punishing members who cross party lines" by Rachel Oswald, RawStory

Determined to enforce the party line, the GOP has taken new steps to punish those members who have crossed the aisle in recent weeks to vote in support of the federal stimulus package and to send the message to any party moderates - turncoats will not be tolerated.

In a Monday interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele said he was open to primary challenges to the three Republican senators who voted in favor of the federal stimulus package --Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania and the two senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Spector is up for re-election in 2010.

"My retribution is the retribution of the voters in their state. They're going to have to go through a primary in their state," Steele said, adding that the RNC would follow the lead of the state parties in choosing which Republicans to back with campaign money. "When the state party says we're going to endorse a candidate, the RNC is behind them. When the state party says we have a problem with them, so does the RNC."

Today the National Republican Congressional Committee will be unveiling its new campaign fundraising program for the 2010 elections. Called the "Patriot" program, the plan will among other things hold members accountable for their votes if they wish to receive any campaign aid, reports Roll Call's John McArdle.

Writes McArdle, "As one Republican source put it Monday, the effort is also designed to 'end the welfare state that the NRCC has become over the past six to eight years' by setting strict benchmarks for Members and adding one big stick to the process. Namely, those candidates who aren’t working to help themselves will be cut off from NRCC financial assistance."

"We have very limited resources," said Mike Rogers, chairman of the NRCC's incumbent retention program, to Roll Call. “It’s not right to ask the whole Conference to help those who aren’t willing to help themselves.”

Some state parties are already punishing members who have crossed the aisle in recent weeks. On Sunday, the California Republican Party voted to withhold party funding in the 2010 election from the six GOP state legislators who voted in favor of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's compromise budget last week. The budget included the largest tax increase in the state's history to balance a $42 billion shortfall.

"The measure was "approved swiftly and without debate Sunday as the party's twice-annual convention wrapped up in Sacramento. An earlier version of the measure contained stronger language, calling for a censure," writes the Associated Press. "Supporters said Sunday's resolution sends a strong message to politicians that there will be consequences for breaking their no-tax pledge."

Achtung! You vill follow orders or be shot!

So much for supporting individual freedom, NOT!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

POLITICS - More Opinion on Conservative Whiners

"Obama recovery plan stimulates whining" by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

We need to get money into the economy. Critics and obfuscators often focus on scoring political points instead.

You just can't please some people.

In the wake of President Obama's signing of a historically ambitious economic recovery program last week, the nitpickers and pettifoggers have come out in force.

The program's too big, the program's too small. It's got too many local make-work projects, it's got too many long-term projects. There are too many tax cuts, there are too few tax cuts. Eight bucks more in your week's take-home pay won't save anyone, let's give millions to corporations instead. And so on.

The same thing happened when Obama announced a housing recovery plan Wednesday encompassing many of the provisions housing experts say are needed to spur more home buying and arrest the foreclosure wave. Among them are more low-interest loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, incentives for loan servicers to keep borrowers out of foreclosure, and new powers for bankruptcy judges to modify underwater home loans.

The next day, Rick Santelli, a market commentator and ex-futures trader on the financial news channel CNBC, staged an extended rant from a Chicago commodities pit about the injustice of helping people in distress, especially while there are still a few people around who aren't in distress.

Santelli asked "if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages or would we like to, at least, buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road. And reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water."

When the futures floor erupted in cheers, he swept his hand about the room and proclaimed theatrically, "This is America!"

Well, no. America is a place where 8 million families are threatened with losing their homes, not a futures pit filled with braying traders.

CNBC should have known that the proper response to Santelli's tantrum was to instruct him to put a sock in it. Instead, it re-ran the video incessantly while its anchors congratulated him for making a big noise.

It may be inevitable that government programs of this magnitude bring out flocks of screeching magpies, for they're big enough to have something for any critic to hate. One reader wrote me to object to "Pork-barrel Pelosi's" inclusion of a skateboard park and a Frisbee park in the stimulus bill, though it wasn't clear whether his chief objection was to skateboarders, recreational facilities or the Democratic speaker of the House.

The risk is that these cavils will obscure the virtues of the stimulus and housing programs. They will get money into the economy, which is 90% of the point.

What was drowned out by Santelli's outburst, for example, is that the housing proposal is aimed not at deadbeats but people who are still working and trying to pay their bills but have been rendered overextended by conditions in the credit and housing markets.

Furthermore, a certain amount of inequity is built into any government assistance program, but it gets trumped by society's needs in times like these. "Life is unfair," Tom Davidoff, a real estate expert at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, observes apropos of the housing bill. "We're doing this so the economy won't crash." For the record, he believes that most of the housing proposal is "healthy," though more help may be needed.

The experience of the New Deal's first year suggests that almost from the moment the stimulus money begins to flow, positive consequences will appear, including a stemming of unemployment, a halt to the deflation trend, and possibly a better tone in the capital markets.

If Obama has revealed a shortcoming in his first month, it's his failure to seize and hold the high ground of optimism; Bill Clinton was not far wrong when he said last week that Obama should be communicating confidence about his stimulus program a lot more forcibly. That was one of FDR's surpassing talents, and no one doubts that it contributed to recovery.

Among other things, Obama should make clear that much of the grousing is partisan. Just look at the Republican governors of Louisiana, Texas, Alaska, South Carolina, Mississippi and Idaho, who have said they will not or might not accept stimulus money for their states, none of which is known to be in roaringly good shape at the moment, budget-wise.

According to White House figures, the stimulus package would create or save a combined 424,000 jobs in those six states, so that makes nearly half a million Americans who no doubt will take it as an honor to be sacrificed for their governors' stand on principle.

And what is the principle, exactly? Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's spokesman griped to the Associated Press that accepting money to enhance unemployment benefits might force his state "to pay benefits to people who wouldn't meet state requirements to receive them." Barbour presumably expects us to defer to his judgment because Mississippi is so nationally famous for its generosity to the downtrodden.

These six paragons of integrity remind me of one of Shakespeare's whiniest characters. That would be Isabella of “Measure for Measure," who upon hearing about all the privileges granted the sisters in a convent she's planning to join tells the abbess sourly that she'd prefer something rather more dismal, thanks. (I paraphrase.)

At least Isabella was no poseur. Can we say that of the austerity governors? Several are lining up to run for president in 2012. (Surprise du jour: Sarah Palin's in the club.) Furthermore, they all know that there's no chance their states will actually be deprived of stimulus cash: Congress, detecting the acrid stench of partisan posturing on the wind, wrote the act so that state legislatures could accept the money over their governors' objections.

The proper approach to these complaints is to tune them out, because they merely represent political opportunism run wild. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) more or less defined the form when he carried on on CNN about how the stimulus package was a "slush fund for states" and "worse than nothing" and designed to "help a bunch of politicians."

Then, asked if his state should accept the money, he said of course it should: "You don't want to be crazy here."

Two words, Sore Losers. And I mean LOSERS.

Monday, February 23, 2009

WORLD - Afghanistan Future

Rachel Maddow and Zbigniew Brzezinski
Discuss the Future of Afghanistan

POLITICS - No NeoCons, Fact or Fiction

There's No Such Thing as a NeoCon?
Rachel Maddow Show

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ECONOMY - American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

"White House Releases State by State Numbers; American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to Save or Create 3.5 Million Jobs"

Use link to read details.

POLITICS - The People First, Consumer Protection

"Obama administration axing proposed Bush rules on meat, food labels..." by MARY CLARE JALONICK, AP (Newsday)

The Obama administration is calling for stricter labels on fresh meat and other foods that would show more clearly where an animal or food came from.

The move comes as Obama prepares to visit Canada — a longtime opponent of the so-called "country of origin" labels — on Thursday. Both Canada and Mexico have protested the labeling in a complaint to the World Trade Organization.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told consumer groups, farm groups and meat industry leaders Tuesday that he will ask the meat industry to voluntarily follow stricter guidelines for new package labels designed to specify a food's country of origin. The Agriculture Department abruptly canceled a scheduled announcement of the decision Wednesday morning, with little explanation.

In calling for the stricter guidelines, the Obama administration would be breaking from rules announced by the Agriculture Department shortly before President George W. Bush left office. Supporters of the labeling law — first enacted in a wide-ranging farm bill last year — were not happy with the Bush administration's version of the rules, which they said allowed meat companies to be vague about where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

If the industry does not comply with the stricter guidelines, the administration will write new rules, according to those who spoke with Vilsack on Tuesday.

The labeling requirements, which would apply to fresh meats and some perishable fruits and vegetables, have long been debated in Congress. While the meat industry and retailers responsible for the labels have protested the changes — saying they are burdensome and could lead to higher prices — consumer groups and northern state ranchers who compete with the Canadian beef industry favor them.

All sides worked out a compromise during debate over the farm bill last year, but much of the law was left open to interpretation by the Agriculture Department.

According to those on the call, including Jean Halloran of Consumers Union and Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, Vilsack said he would like to see labels that would give consumers a clearer idea about the origin of the animal or food.

Vilsack also said the law should cover more foods, Halloran and Lovera said. Many foods that are defined as "processed" — roasted peanuts, for example, or cured bacon — are exempt from the law, but Vilsack proposed narrowing that definition.

Lovera said she was encouraged by the proposals, which Vilsack said he would lay out in a letter to the meat industry Wednesday.

"The bottom line is we think people have a right to know and they can act on it based on their own opinions and preferences," she said.

Some of the law's leading opponents have been grocery stores and large meatpacking companies — many of which mix U.S. and Mexican beef — and other businesses involved in getting products to supermarkets.

ECONOMY - Auto Industry Deathwatch and Other Issues

"Deathwatch" by Jack Lessenberry, Smirking Chimp Blog

When someone you care about is going through their final illness, there often comes a point when you suddenly realize that they aren't going to make it. That while they may rally briefly, or have a few good moments, they are in fact going to die.

That happened for me most recently last week. But this time it wasn't my parents, or my in-laws, but the domestic auto industry.

News Flash: They aren't going to make it. Chrysler, General Motors, and probably Ford as well, are not going to make it. Not, that is, without most or all of them declaring bankruptcy and reorganizing, at a heavy cost to the taxpayers, the workers, the retirees, the unions — indeed all of us.

This hit me while I was talking with Sean McAlinden, who I have found to be about the savviest guy around when it comes to the auto industry and the numbers. That's not surprising; he is both chief economist and vice president for research of Ann Arbor's Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

I wanted to know if there had been any slight improvement in Chrysler and General Motors' situation, since they got a combined $13.4 billion in federal "loans" over the last few weeks.

Well, no. "Actually they've deteriorated further," he said, noting that auto sales in January were about half what they were the year before. The parts suppliers, who haven't gotten a penny from Washington, D.C., are in particularly bad shape. And if they stop making parts, the entire industry will soon sputter to a screeching halt, whether anyone wants to buy Detroit iron or not.

Increasingly, nobody is buying cars, even if they do have money, partly because they have either lost their jobs or fear losing them. The go-go years are gone. President Obama's stimulus plan is designed to get people hiring and spending again, but they are scared. Scared of losing everything.

"We don't see a V-shaped recovery in terms of car sales," McAlinden told me. Not this year or next. "We don't see any way they can reach huge cost savings either," he added. So they are doomed to stagnating where they are now, or worse. In times past, the car companies could just ride it out, but now, all the money is gone. Theirs — and increasingly, ours. But let's say the government is fully committed to keeping them going. How much more money will it take? "Over the next couple years? Oh, $50 to $70 billion," McAlinden said.

Seventy billion more dollars, that is, on top of what they've already gotten. Unless I gravely miss my guess, the government isn't going to give General Motors and Chrysler that much money. Not when they don't appear to be perking up. Not when we are already running the mother of all deficits, with President Obama desperately trying to kick-start consumer confidence before this turns into another major depression.

Incidentally, things took a turn for the worse at Ford recently too. Ford suddenly found out that its pension fund was underfunded, big-time, thanks to the stock market slump. What that means is that starting next year, Ford will have to put another $3 billion to $4 billion into its pension fund. Ford, which has been barely keeping its head above water, doesn't have it. Nor can the company borrow it without joining the federal bailout train.

For years, the experts have said that declaring bankruptcy — even the kind that's meant to give you a breathing space while you organize and prepare to become more competitive — would be a disaster for the auto companies. The reasoning was that it just wouldn't work, because people, afraid they could never get parts and service, wouldn't buy a car from a bankrupt auto company.

Well, guess what? They aren't buying cars from these automakers now, not in numbers sufficient to sustain their survival.

I could be wrong about this. But what I do know is that Chrysler and General Motors have retained law firms who are experts in the arts of bankruptcy filings, just in case. I also know that the Obama administration has also been taking with similar counsel.

The government and the auto companies could even be discussing some kind of creative financing arrangement, where they modify the bankruptcy rules to give them the maximum chance to succeed. I don't know, but I do know that we are in a new economic world. The effects haven't fully hit, yet, but they are going to.

The question is not whether it will be painful. It will be. What we need to do is find a way to take it, learn from it, and survive.

Memo to CNN and the Republicans: Shut up, already.

Normally, when someone loses a presidential election, or leaves office, they shut up for at least a year. See Mike Dukakis on TV lately, or ever? Al Gore, Bob Dole and John Kerry all decently vanished soon after their defeats. But not John McCain. President Obama beat him by a record margin for a non-incumbent — nearly 10 million votes. The people spoke, and they clearly did not want Arizona Johnnie.

Yet there he is, yammering every night. He needs to be ignored, other than perhaps by the nursing home network.

Incidentally, medical science needs to come up with a name for the disease that causes people to blow things out of proportion by watching too much cable news. For the last two weeks, it gave the general impression that the Obama administration was a failure.

Except he just got his massive stimulus bill passed, pretty much exactly as he wanted it. Unfortunately for the broadcast media, some things deserve to be considered for more than nine seconds.

What is true is that Obama should, by now, have learned his lesson about Republicans. No president in modern memory has done more to reach out to the opposing party in a quest for bipartisan cooperation, and none has been so thoroughly dismissed. That is largely because the GOP today is little more than a cranky band of party hacks and inconsistent ideological fanatics.

Why inconsistent? Not one House Republican was willing to vote to support the stimulus package. But vast lots of them rolled over to vote for Dubya's Wall Street bailout, which vanished without a trace, or a trace of accountability, into the bankers' wallets.

The best thing that could happen to today's GOP is defeat after defeat. Eventually something, if only a dull instinct for survival, may click in their primitive brains.

Whatever you do, vote against Matty Moroun: The first of Detroit's many mayoral elections is Tuesday. I won't vote, by the way, mainly because I don't live in the city. Nor do I feel it would be proper for me to suggest who to vote for, though it does seem to me that Freman Hendrix has an edge in executive experience and government financial savvy.

However, nobody should vote for anyone who doesn't proclaim that they will start getting tough with the city's No. 1 slumlord, embarrassment and bad actor, Manuel "Matty" Moroun.

Best known for trying to sabotage efforts to build a new international bridge, Matty last week blamed homeless "trespassers" for the frozen corpse in his Roosevelt warehouse. "What can I do?" the billionaire whined to The Detroit News. Any decent mayor would tell him: Fix up or tear down those buildings, or face fines, lawsuits and, hopefully, jail.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

POLITICS - GOP Do-Nothing Obstructionist

"The passage of the $787 billion jobs bill...." by Brent Budowsky, Consortium News

It was a crushing blow for the do-nothing, obstructionist, recession Republicans who are betting against America.

A popular President with support from the American people that has risen again to the high 60s to mid 70s asked for a jobs bill by Presidents Day, and gets it. The recession-connected Republicans, who suffered landslide losses in 2006 and 2008 because of their diehard support for George W. Bush, sink further into the political hole.

When America recovers, Obama wins; Harry Reid wins; the Speaker wins; Sens. Snowe, Specter and Collins win; and the recession Republicans lose.

So, the Republicans are betting the ranch that America fails, because they know if the stimulus program succeeds, if America succeeds, they are left out on the limb with their old black magic of Republic economics.

These guys have gone so far right, they can't see Main Street with a microscope. They are so politically maladroit, the best they can serve up for a nation that is hungry for solutions is a stone-cold dish of Bush doggie bags.

They tried to cut the jobs bill in half. They tried to take spending for jobs out of a program that was designed to create jobs. They opposed fuel-efficient cars for the federal fleet, weatherizing buildings in the cold of winter, and building schools for the kids. Instead, they supported more tax cuts for the wealthy and repeated, ad nauseam, the sad platitudes of Herbert Hoover and the defeated policies of John McCain in 2008.

The three Republican senators standing almost alone – representing the Northeast where most Republicans are no longer welcome – were denounced as “traitors” and Benedict Arnolds.

The recession party then gloated when Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire declined to serve in Obama’s Cabinet, though he likely will not run again and will very probably be succeeded by yet another Democrat.

The death march of the recession Republicans continues. It is their curse, their failure of economics, the curse that led them to minority status for a generation after Hoover, the curse that led to their latest disaster in 2008, after another disaster in 2006.

The recession Republicans are hoping the President fails, and betting the ranch that America fails, which is a very bad bet indeed.

Sock-it to 'em Brent!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

POLITICS - More On the Bush Legacy, Graft in Iraq

"Inquiry on Graft in Iraq Focuses on U.S. Officers" by JAMES GLANZ, C.J. CHIVERS & WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, New York Times

Excerpt from 2 page article.

Federal authorities examining the early, chaotic days of the $125 billion American-led effort to rebuild Iraq have significantly broadened their inquiry to include senior American military officers who oversaw the program, according to interviews with senior government officials and court documents.

Court records show that last month investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of Col. Anthony B. Bell, who is now retired from the Army but who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when the small operation grew into a frenzied attempt to remake the country’s broken infrastructure. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Lt. Col. Ronald W. Hirtle of the Air Force, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004, according to two federal officials involved in the inquiry.

It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, and both said they had nothing to hide from investigators. Yet officials say that several criminal cases over the past few years point to widespread corruption in the operation the men helped to run. As part of the inquiry, the authorities are taking a fresh look at information given to them by Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004.

Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Mr. Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in “dead drops” around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, two senior federal officials said.

Mr. Stoffel, who gave investigators information about the office where Colonel Bell and Colonel Hirtle worked, was deemed credible enough that he was granted limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his information, according to government documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with officials and Mr. Stoffel’s lawyer, John H. Quinn Jr. There is no evidence that his death was related to his allegations of corruption.

Prosecutors have won 35 convictions on cases related to reconstruction in Iraq, yet most of them involved private contractors or midlevel officials. The current inquiry is aiming at higher-level officials, according to investigators involved in the case, and is also trying to determine if there are connections between those officials and figures in the other cases. Although Colonel Bell and Colonel Hirtle were military officers, they worked in a civilian contracting office.

“These long-running investigations continue to mature and expand, embracing a wider array of potential suspects,” a federal investigator said.

The reconstruction effort, intended to improve services and convince Iraqis of American good will, largely managed to do neither. The wider investigation raises the question of whether American corruption was a primary factor in damaging an effort whose failures have been ascribed to poor planning and unforeseen violence.

The investigations, which are being conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Justice Department, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and other federal agencies, cover a period when millions of dollars in cash, often in stacks of shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills, were dispensed from a loosely guarded safe in the basement of one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.

Former American officials describe payments to local contractors from huge sums of cash dumped onto tables and stuffed into sacks as if it were Halloween candy.

“You had no oversight, chaos and breathtaking sums of money,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who helped create the Wartime Contracting Commission, an oversight board. “And over all of that was the notion that failure was O.K. It doesn’t get any better for criminals than that set of circumstances.”

I recommend reading the full article.

Friday, February 13, 2009

POLITICS - WikiLeaks, Helping Get the Truth Out"

The following is an Editorial from WikiLeaks, a donation supported organization dedicated to public access of quasi-secret reports via the Freedom of Information Act and other sources. (Site link in side-bar)

"Change you can download: a billion in secret Congressional reports"

WikiLeaks has released nearly a billion dollars worth of quasi-secret reports commissioned by the United States Congress.

The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to the financial collapse. Nearly 2,300 of the reports were updated in the last 12 months, while the oldest report goes back to 1990. The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress's analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year.

Open government lawmakers such as Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) have fought for years to make the reports public, with bills being introduced--and rejected--almost every year since 1998. The CRS, as a branch of Congress, is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

CRS reports are highly regarded as non-partisan, in-depth, and timely. The reports top the list of the "10 Most-Wanted Government Documents" compiled by the Washington based Center for Democracy and Technology. The Federation of American Scientists, in pushing for the reports to be made public, stated that the "CRS is Congress' Brain and it's useful for the public to be plugged into it." While Wired magazine called their concealment "The biggest Congressional scandal of the digital age."

Although all CRS reports are legally in the public domain, they are quasi-secret because the CRS, as a matter of policy, makes the reports available only to members of Congress, Congressional committees and select sister agencies such as the GAO.

Members of Congress are free to selectively release CRS reports to the public but are only motivated to do so when they feel the results would assist them politically. Universally embarrassing reports are kept quiet.

Each time the topic of opening up the reports comes up, it runs into walls erected by opposing lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who "like many members of Congress, views CRS as an extension of his staff,". If the reports were made public, "every time a member requests a particular document, the public may infer that he's staking out a particular policy position." (Aaron Saunders, Stevens' spokesman, Washington Post, 2007).

However that hasn't stopped a grey market forming around the documents. Opportunists smuggle out nearly all reports and sell them to cashed up special interests--lobbyists, law firms, multi-nationals, and presumably, foreign governments. Congress has turned a blind eye to special interest access, while continuing to vote down public access.

Opposition to public availability comes not only from members of Congress but, also, from within the CRS.

One might think that the CRS, as an agency of the Library of Congress, would institutionally support having a wider audience. But an internal memo reveals the CRS lobbying against bills (S. Res. 54 and H.R. 3630) which would have given the public access to its reports (Project on Government Secrecy, FAS, 2003).

The primary line pushed by the CRS is the one that appeals most to Congressional members--open publication would prevent spin control. The memo states this in delicate terms, referring to such spin failures as "Impairment of Member Communication with Constituents".

Of course the CRS doesn't really care about politicians facing much needed voter discipline, but it does have reasons of its own to avoid public oversight. Institutionally, the CRS has established an advisory relationship with members of Congress similar to the oversight-free relationship established between intelligence agencies and the office of the President.

Free from meaningful public oversight of its work, the CRS, as "Congress's brain", is able to influence Congressional outcomes, even when its reports contain errors. Arguably, its institutional power over congress is second only to the parties themselves. Public oversight would reduce its ability to exercise that influence without criticism. That is why it opposes such oversight, and that is why such oversight must be established immediately.

In 1913 Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a forceful proponent for open government, stated "Sunlight is the best disinfectant; electric light the most efficient policeman". Those wise words are still true today.

Welcome, Congress, to our generation's electric sun.

There are some real eye-opener reports you can access via this site.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ENVIRONMENT - Climate Change in the West

"Climate change affecting mountains most" by Eric Newhouse, Greatfalls Tribune

The swift meltdown of the glaciers in Glacier National Park has led scientists to a surprising realization: Mountains are more susceptible to global warming than the lowlands around them.

"During the past 15 years, there has been a faster rate of temperature increase for mountains than for lower elevations," said U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Dan Fagre in West Glacier.

"For the Glacier Park area, that annual increase is almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit ... almost as much as occurred over a century for low elevation sites," he said. "This helps explain why we are seeing fairly dramatic reductions in glaciers and changes to our annual snowpacks."

The evidence is striking, as anyone can see by looking at a before-and-after photographic comparison of the park's glaciers on a Web site run by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Today, Glacier National Park has only 25 of the 150 glaciers that were large enough to name in 1850.

"Temperatures here (in western Montana) have gone up at higher elevations two or three times more than just global warming would suggest," Fagre said.

But it's not just us.

"Across the globe, the rates of temperature increase in the mountains have been greater than in the adjoining lowlands," Fagre said.

Now geologists are seeking an explanation for this scientific puzzle.

One theory is that global warming leads to greater evaporation, more moisture in the system and greater cloud cover.

"Under clear skies, particularly at night, the mountains radiate heat, but under a cloud cover they retain that heat," Fagre said.

That cloud cover may also generate additional heat, he said.

"When clouds come to the mountains, they rise and condense and turn into rain," he said. "When they do so, they release heat.

"Now they do it more in the mountains than down in the lowlands so they're warming the mountains more than the lowlands," he said.

Or perhaps the lowlands are used to that warming, where the mountains have not been.

At any rate, western Montana's nine weather stations have found a 2.03-degree increase in the average daily high temperatures since records were first kept in 1892.

But the average daily low temperature has gone up 2.79 degrees since then, Fagre said.

"The greater increase in minimum temperatures is because our winters are not getting as cold and nighttime temperatures don't drop as much," he said.

"Both of these affect glaciers because the ice doesn't get as cold and, therefore, can begin melting earlier in the summer melt season," he said.

Both Shepherd Glacier and Boulder Glacier, which were hundreds of acres in size a century ago, have been reduced to small slivers of ice that no longer function as a glacier, he said.

"And Grinnell Glacier has lost 400 to 500 feet of its ice depth," Fagre said. "It has not only shrunk to about 28 percent of its original area, but it has lost 90 percent of its ice mass.

"Most of our major glaciers are only a quarter of what they had been," he said.

That's the message that USGS is presenting on its Web site.

USGS scientists paired historic glacier images with contemporary photographs of the same areas.

USGS researcher Lisa McKeon spent numerous hours in the backcountry of Glacier National Park taking repeat photographs of the remaining glaciers.

"While our original intent was to use the photography for science, through time we've found that these photographs do more than document; they inspire," McKeon said.

The concept was inspired by the discovery of historical park images from as far back as 1861, when the first photographs were taken of the boundary markers between Canada and the U.S.

The USGS, based out of the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in West Glacier, began the repeat photography project in 1997. Scientists set out to replicate exact historical images to illustrate glacier recession over a century.

Since the onset of the project, over 70 photographs of 19 different glaciers have been repeated in Glacier National Park.

WORLD - Our Australia Friends, Deadly Fire

Blamed Man-Made Australia Deadly Fire

Monday, February 09, 2009

POLITICS - More GOP/RNC Dumb and Dumber

"WE TRIED" by Randi Rhodes, Randi Rhodes Show

We tried courteous. We tried inviting. We tried group hug. What'd we get?

The same pit bull Republican extremism that got us into this mess. Okay. Plan B. Time to take the gloves off and take these petulant corpses to task.

"Corpses" because that's what they are. The walking dead. The Republican Party is utterly out of ideas, hope, vigor and the stamina needed to pull this country through her critically dangerous hour of economic peril. Their leaders are codgy, ghost white advertisements for funeral home makeup....Mitch McConnell? John McCain? John Boehner? Newt Gingrich? Tired relics of nearly two decades of failed financial Darwinism. Wallowing in the bitterness of defeat, this whole crew knows they likely won't live long enough to see their worldviews ever regain prominence. It's their leafless, cracking dried up tree, and they despise the fact that they're sitting in it. Their solutions are as dead as Milton Friedman, and so are they. It's just that no one bothered to tell the oxygen in their lungs.

The Republican solution....the only one, by the way, which we're supposed to believe is a one-size-fits-all answer to everything from unemployment to bank execs charging hookers to the to cut taxes. Cut, baby, cut. Never mind the glaring FACT that whatever cash Americans have right now they're hoarding....that's how scared we are. Never mind the fact that the last universal tax refund we supposedly got went from the US Treasury directly to an oil industry that conveniently decided we needed $4 dollar a gallon gas just as the checks arrived. Never mind that no one....from your neighbor looking to replace their 8 year old Honda to private equity firms looking to gobble up 8 more companies....has ANY kind of credit to use any quick cash infusion as a base for.

No one is SPENDING. That's why the government has to.

This is NOT tough math, here, folks. Trickle down tax cuts are a 4 minute rainstorm in a parched desert. The Stimulus is a slow but steady release of dam water that pools here, pools there....and gradually fills up the entire economy. And the key to opening those floodgates are JOBS. Today we find out that our national jobless rate is creeping toward double digits. We find out that every time a job comes open, 4 people are ready to grab it. That leaves 3 out in the cold. Literally. President Obama knows that once that ratio is brought down, when each one of those 4 job-seekers is secured with a paycheck, then they'll actually be confident enough to spend a little cash. A family pizza night at first. Then maybe the whole crew gets new shoes. Before long, they might be confident enough to think about a new mini van. And then, wonder of wonders.....there are some cheap houses out there, and the family is growing.

That's how it'll work. If you believe. If you have hope.

Last night on the floor of the Senate, Lindsay Graham....bitter neo-Confederate, failed guardian of our well being...actually said 'America's best days are behind it.' No, Senator. Your best days are behind you. You & the fawning cowboy capitalists, the chuckling power company execs, the high flying Wall Streeters, the smirking hedge funders, the pious free marketeers, the menacing oil oligarchs. The best days in America for all of you was when you could operate unhindered, unregulated, at will and for your own greedy ends.

You're right, Senator. If those were the days you thought were the best, they're dead. As dead as you look & sound.

"RNC chair: Only real jobs are those business creates" by David Edwards & Muriel Kane, Raw Story

Most state governors, including many Republicans, are strongly behind a stimulus bill that will fund government projects to put large number of people back to work and get the economy moving again.

"It comes at a time when we need it," Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, recently stated. "People need jobs. It's about jobs, jobs, jobs."

However, newly-elected Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele believes that government-funded jobs don't count as real employment because "a job is something that a business owner creates."

"What this administration is talking about is 'making work.' ... It's not a job," Steele explained during a Sunday appearance on ABC's This Week. "It ends at a certain point. ... These road projects that we're talking about have an endpoint. ... There's no guarantee that there's going to be more work when you're done that job."

ABC host George Stephanopoulos objected, "We've seen millions and millions of jobs going away in the private sector, just in the last year."

"They come back though," Steele insisted. "That's the point. They've gone away before and they've come back. And the point is, the small business owners take the risks. They're the ones that are out there in the morning putting the second mortgage on the house ... so that they can employ your kids."

Describing the present once-in-a-generation economic crisis as merely "the downside" of a recent period of economic expansion, Steele told Stephanopoulos that all we really need is "tax credits and relief for small-business owners, incentives for people to get back into the credit markets, to deal with the mark-to-market rules that have stymied the banks and deal with the housing crisis."

The idea that the government should focus its efforts on creating "permanent" jobs has recently taken hold among conservative editorial-writers as well as Republican spokespersons. For example, the Kalamazoo Gazette recently wrote, "The smartest way to invest our tax dollars is in initiatives that create and grow jobs for our citizens. Permanent jobs. Jobs that support families. Jobs for the future. ... If the benefits provided don't directly affect job creation or economic growth, we say they shouldn't be included."

As Newsweek argues, however -- responding to comments by Steele, among others -- "Borrowing and spending are pretty much how the government has pulled itself out of every modern recession. ... In a period when Americans are losing jobs at a furious clip, when the economy is shrinking rapidly, when monetary policy is near exhaustion, and when tax cuts aren't likely to work as they do in ordinary times, the highest priority is simply to stop the downward spiral."

"Big Spending Republicans Suddenly Wary of Deficits" by Mike Lillis, Washington Independent

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is scheduled to hold a press conference today to decry the Democrats’ stimulus package “and the trillions of dollars being added to an already $10 trillion debt,” as his statement puts it.

This is an old argument, of course. The GOP has long-fancied itself the party of fiscal responsibility, which is strange because the image has no basis in reality.

Consider the following: When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the federal debt was about $908 billion, according to Treasury Department figures. Over the next eight years, that figure rose to $2.6 trillion, representing more unpaid spending than the previous seven presidents combined could fritter — all in the name of smaller government, of course.

By 1992, President George H.W. Bush had bumped that figure to $4.1 trillion, to which Bill Clinton added another $1.6 trillion by 2000 — meaning that Bush the elder racked up about the same amount of debt in four years that Clinton did in eight.

Then the real spending started.

Under the eight-year tenure of George W. Bush, the country accumulated another $4.3 trillion in unpaid bills. For roughly six of those eight years, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, meaning they wrote and approved the budget bills that dictated federal spending.

The result? Well, in 2007, roughly nine percent of federal outlays — or $237 billion — went to pay the interest on the debt alone. That’s nearly one-third of the cost of the economic stimulus bill moving through Congress right now.

We know that McConnell will blame the Democrats for their reckless spending and failure to tilt the stimulus bill more heavily toward tax cuts. It would be nice also to hear an apology for his party’s own binge.

Friday, February 06, 2009

POLITICS - CEOs, Height of Irresponsibility

"Obama reining in CEO pay" by Foon Rhee, Boston Globe

This is just one paragraph from the article.

We all need to take responsibility. And this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves their customary lavish bonuses. As I said last week, that’s the height of irresponsibility. That’s shameful. And that’s exactly the kind of disregard for the costs and consequences of their actions that brought about this crisis: a culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else.

I suggest you read the entire article.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

IRAQ - Baghdad, the Vote

"No results, only declarations" by Leila Fadel, McClatchy News

So you may be wondering why we haven’t done a conclusive story on election results. It’s because there aren’t any conclusive results.

Based on observing at polling stations across the nation political parties are declaring winners and losers. But there are no real exit polls here.

Based on a series of interviews McClatchy News did across the nation many Iraqis seemed to have cast their ballot for Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Coalition of the State of Law. A large number of Sunni Arabs said they voted for Shiite secularist and ex-Baathist Ayad Allawi. But that’s about as scientific as it gets.

“I am astonished by these political arguments and this escalation by some political parties. Let them wait and be patient,” said Faraj al Haidari the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission. “We have no results.”

Preliminary results aren’t expected until Thursday and final results won’t be available for weeks. But it hasn’t stopped parties from declaring victory.

Already people are battling over fraud and declaring winners and losers. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq spent the past few days going back and forth, declaring victory in southern provinces and then calling it unclear. Currently they control most of the southern provinces.

In Anbar tribal fighters flooded the streets on Monday with accusations of fraud against their Sunni rival the Iraqi Islamic Party. Tribal leaders threatened to take revenge if results declared the wrong people the winner i.e. not them.

Maliki’s party is likely right that they’ve taken a high number of seats if not the majority of seats in councils across the country. In Baghdad the campaign manager for the group declared victory.

I could go into a long analysis based on an educated guess.

It seems that most Iraqis turned away from the Islamists they voted for in the past. This year Iraqis could pick specific candidates on a slate. Some said they picked a neighbor, a friend or a cousin. Others tried to pick a person who they thought might give them a few more hours of electricity, long-lasting security and clean water.

Many want someone who will stop foreign influence from Iran, end a foreign occupation and restore sovereignty to a nation whose government so often defers to the United States and Iran before making a decision.

Iraqis also seem to be searching for a strong man, a leader with an iron fist. In the past year Maliki grew into that at the behest of other parties in the government. His office often circumvented security ministries to deal with operations and he took down Basra where Shiite militias ruled as Americans looked on doubtingly.

Of course after he attacked and the militias took to the streets to fight back, American fire power and Iranian negotiations helped him succeed.

Despite Maliki’s role as a Shiite Islamist he’s been able to recast himself as a nationalist in the past year. He’s the only Shiite Islamist with some Sunni support as well as Shiite support. If indeed he has swept positions in provinces across the nation we are likely to see a government that morphs into a very strong central state versus a group of federalist states with a weak central government.

Allawi is also seen as a strong man. The first U.S.-installed Prime Minister of post invasion Iraq is an ex-Baathist with once strong links to the CIA. He supported brutal military incursions in Najaf and Fallujah during his leadership and at the time was seen as a Washington puppet.

But his tough leadership and willingness to crush his enemies now seems to be one of the best options many voters said on Election Day. At least then they’d have security.

With all that said we don’t know who won and who lost. Without results we also don’t know what they could indicate for national elections at the end of this year.

When preliminary results come in we’ll tell you what it means and what the fallout could be.

HEALTHCARE - On the Horizon

"BAUCUS, KENNEDY, SAY HEALTH CARE 'THIS YEAR'" by Ezra Klein, American Prospect

Bad as the news on Daschle is, it doesn't change a couple central facts. First, the administration would still like to reforming health care. Second, that doesn't matter if Congress isn't committed. In 1994, Clinton was committed, but Patrick Moynihan, Chairman of the Finance Committee, was not. Even Tom Daschle, then a member of the Senate, couldn't overcome that bit of toxicity. So the fact that Ted Kennedy, chair of the Committee on Health, Education, labor, and Pensions and Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee, sent out a joint letter calling for health care reform this year is a big deal. Bigger, arguably, than even Daschle's fall. They write:

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Sir:

We were saddened to hear about Senator Daschle’s decision to withdraw from the nomination process. While we continue to believe that Senator Daschle is highly qualified to hold the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services, we respect his decision and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

We are writing to affirm our continuing commitment to enacting comprehensive health care reform this year, and to express our confidence that you will swiftly choose an exceptionally qualified and dedicated alternate nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services to assist in our efforts. As you have emphasized, we must act now. The ranks of the uninsured grow larger each day. The cost of health care to families, businesses and government are crippling and, although we spend more on health care than any other country, the quality of care provided by America’s health care system is often uneven compared to other industrialized nations.

We have a moral duty to ensure that every American can get quality health care. We must act to contain the growth of health care costs to ensure our economic stability; to help American businesses deal with the health care challenge; and to make sure that we are getting our money’s worth. Incremental efforts will no longer suffice and we cannot afford to wait any longer. With your continued leadership and commitment, we remain certain that our goal of enacting comprehensive health care reform can be accomplished this year.

POLITICS - "Pressing" Matters

Two articles....

"REPORT: GOP Lawmakers Outnumber Democratic Lawmakers 2 To 1 In Stimulus Debate On Cable News" Think Progress

UPDATE: Two more appearances by Democratic lawmakers have been brought to ThinkProgress’s attention, one on CNN and one on MSNBC. They have been added to our tally.

As Media Matters has documented, during the Bush administration, the media consistently allowed conservatives to dominate their shows, booking them as guests far more often than progressives. The rationale was that Republicans were “in power.”

It appears that old habits die hard. Even though President Obama and his team are in control of the executive branch and Democrats are in the majority in Congress, the cable networks are still turning more often to Republicans and allowing them to set the agenda on major issues, most recently on the debate over the economic recovery package.

On Sunday, conservatives began an all-out assault on President Obama’s economic recovery plan, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) both announcing that they would vote against the plan as it stood. Despite Obama’s efforts at good faith outreach, congressional conservatives have continued to attack the stimulus plan with a series of false and disingenuous arguments.

The media have been aiding their efforts. In a new analysis, ThinkProgress has found that the five cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC — have hosted more Republican lawmakers to discuss the plan than Democrats by a 2 to 1 ratio this week.

In total, from 6 AM on Monday to 4 PM on Wednesday, the networks have hosted Republican lawmakers 51 times and Democratic lawmakers only 26 times. Surprisingly, Fox News came the closest to offering balance, hosting 8 Republicans and 6 Democrats. CNN had only two Democrats compared to 7 Republicans.

The drastically imbalanced coverage isn’t the first time that the news networks have effectively supported attacks on the recovery plans. As ThinkProgress reported on Monday, the cable networks, the Sunday shows and the network newscasts promoted a controversial CBO non-report 81 times before the actual CBO analysis of the stimulus plan was released.

"Right on cue, the White House press awakens from its Bush slumber" by Eric Boehlert, Media Matters

Pulling a collective Rip Van Winkle, the White House press corps has awakened from its extended nap just in time to aggressively press the new Democratic administration, just as it dogged the last Democratic president during his first days in office back in the 1990s. Conveniently skipped over during the press corps' extended bout of shut-eye? The Bush years, of course.

Suddenly revved up and vowing to keep a hawk-like watch on the Obama administration ("I want to hold these guys accountable for what they say and do") and all of a sudden obsessed with trivia, while glomming onto nitpicking, gotcha-style critiques, Beltway reporters have tossed aside the blanket of calm that had descended on them during the previous administration, a blanket of calm that defined their Bush coverage.

Can't say I'm surprised about the sudden change in behavior, though. Taking the long view, I recently went back and contrasted how the press covered the first days and weeks of Clinton's first term in 1993 with its coverage of Bush's arrival in 2001. The difference in tone and substance was startling. (Think bare-knuckled vs. cottony soft.)

One explanation at the time of the Bush lovefest was that reporters and pundits were just so burnt out by the Clinton scandal years that they needed some downtime. They needed to relax; it was human nature. Conversely, the opposite now seems to be true: Because the press dozed for so long -- because it sleepwalked through the Bush years -- it just had to spring back to life with the new administration. It's human nature.

When contrasting the early Clinton and Bush coverage, I noted it would be deeply suspicious if, in 2009, the press managed to turn up the emotional temperature just in time to cover another Democratic administration. But wouldn't you know it, the press corps' alarm went off right on time for Obama's arrival last week, with the Beltway media taking down off the shelf the dusty set of contentious, in-your-face rules of engagement they practiced during the Clinton years and putting into safe storage the docile, somnambulant guidelines from the Bush era. In other words, one set of rules for Clinton and Obama, another for Bush. One standard for the Democrats; a separate, safer one, for the Republican.

"I don't think there is a honeymoon" for Obama, Jon Banner, the executive producer of ABC's World News, announced last week. "The accountability starts immediately." See, accountability suddenly reigns supreme. Just like right after Clinton was sworn in. But Bush in 2001? Not so much.

For folks who, understandably, weren't paying attention 16 years ago or who haven't read up on their White House media history, it's hard to appreciate just how uncanny the similarities are between how the suddenly hyperactive, conflict-driven press corps (baited by the right to prove their independence) is dealing with Obama's first days and how the hyperactive press dealt with Clinton's opening days, as journalists then also seemed determined to prove their un-liberalness.

The early Clinton and Obama scripts are at times interchangeable (i.e. baseless, negative stories like the cost of Obama's inauguration and the cost of Bill Clinton's haircut). The only part that doesn't fit in with the rest of the mosaic is how the press lovingly treated the Republican in 2001 during his arrival in town.

The media's abrupt transformation last week in terms of greeting the new president -- a transformation that unfolded with great pride and even apparent glee among reporters -- was showcased during the new administration's first White House press briefing, where many reporters, previously comatose during the news-free Bush-era briefings, rose up in anger and demanded answers during a contentious session.

"Game On! Obama's Clash With The White House Press Corps" announced The Daily Beast. And under the headline, "Obama press aide gets bashed in debut," The Washington Times' Joseph Curl reported:

Although President Obama swept into office pledging transparency and a new air of openness, the press hammered spokesman Robert Gibbs for nearly an hour over a slate of perceived secretive slights that have piled up quickly for the new administration. It wasn't pretty.


And so it went at the first official White House briefing of the new Obama administration -- a fiery back and forth dispelling the notion that journalists would go easy on the guy that many reports show it went easy on during the marathon primary and general election campaigns.

Halfway through the interrogation, a reporter asked succinctly: "Is the honeymoon over already?"

Curl also reported there was yelling and shouting from journalists inside the White House press room that day. (One "spat.") Now, if you're having trouble recalling all the times the same press corps "hammered" Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer for nearly an hour -- yelled, shouted, and spat questions at him -- back in January 2001, don't worry, your memory isn't going bad. It's just that those contentious hardball sessions never actually happened.

In fact, the media's lullaby treatment of Bush at the outset of 2001 became so pronounced that even some members of the Beltway press corps acknowledged the unfolding phenomenon and how it so obviously contrasted with the high-octane coverage the outgoing Democratic administration had been bombarded with. "The truth is, this new president [Bush] has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton," Politico's John Harris, then with The Washington Post, wrote during Bush's first months in office. (Harris went on to cheer, "[G]ood for Washington in giving a new president a break at the start.")

The other Clinton/Obama connection is how the press detests the way new Democratic White Houses treat the media. Of course, the irony is thick, considering the utter contempt the Bush White House displayed toward the press. The way former chief of staff Andrew Card famously dismissed the press as just another D.C. special interest group desperately seeking access, the way aides quickly formed habits of not returning reporters' calls for weeks and months, and the way the Bush White House waved in a former male prostitute using an alias and without any valid journalistic credentials to toss softball questions during briefings. That's how Republicans brushed back the press. But it's the Democrats whom reporters lash out at. It's the Democrats whom reporters denounce with righteous indignation within days of the new administration's taking office.

Back at the outset of 1993, journalists complained that the new Clinton communications team limited their access by closing off portions of the White House to reporters, that aides didn't sufficiently schmooze journalists, and that the new president did not have enough formal press conferences. (And don't even ask what reporters did when their pals in the White House travel office got fired.) "They're dissing us," Los Angeles Times California editor David Lauter, then-White House reporter, complained in April 1993.

Well, fast-forward to last week, and it's déjà vu all over again. Here's how Politico cataloged the media's petty laundry list of grievances that sparked the press "frustration":

There have been a handful of rocky moments so far. Some press staffers found their name cards misspelled on Wednesday and phone lines weren't properly hooked up. Reporters trying to reach the press staff got emails bounced back.


And in the hours before Gibbs' briefing, the northwest gate of the White House started running out of temporary passes.

No wonder NBC's Chuck Todd compared the White House press room to Gitmo -- reporters' names were misspelled!

It was telling that in its piece about Obama's press woes, Politico noted how the Clinton administration had also run into trouble with the press over issues of access. Noticeably absent from the Politico article was any mention of how the Bush administration dramatically limited media access, regularly cordoned off information from the press, and warned reporters that edgy questions posed at the daily sessions were "noted in the building." That's all been tossed down the memory hole. It's only new Democratic presidents who are asked to play nice with the press and get badgered when they do not.

But back to the showdown at the White House briefing last week: CNN's Ed Henry, while appearing on The Situation Room, stressed to host Wolf Blitzer that he didn't think the new White House press secretary had answered his query that day about Obama's pick to become deputy defense secretary. Think about that premise for a moment (i.e. a White House press secretary artfully dodges a reporter's question) while recalling what the White House press briefings were like for reporters under Bush. Dan Froomkin at did his best to capture the vacuous nature of those exercises:

The spin, the secrets, the non-answers and the unprecedented lack of access are an insult not only to journalists, but to the public that depends on us to fully inform them about what's really going on in the White House.

Added blogger and J-school professor Jay Rosen:

The point here was to underline how pointless it was even to ask questions of the Bush White House. And reporters got that point, though they missed the larger picture I am describing. Many times they wondered what they were doing there.

And TNR's Jonathan Chait:

Much of the time [Ari] Fleischer does not engage with the logic of a question at all. He simply denies its premises -- or refuses to answer it on the grounds that it conflicts with a Byzantine set of rules governing what questions he deems appropriate. Fleischer has broken new ground in the dark art of flackdom: Rather than respond tendentiously to questions, he negates them altogether.

But suddenly for Henry, when a Democrat's in power, it's news when a White House press person doesn't answer a reporter's question during a daily briefing. After eight years of having a succession of Bush flacks who, almost with robotic precision, refused to answer weeks, months, and years' worth of daily briefing questions from reporters -- to the point where journalists stopped showing up at the daily briefings or even trying to draw out useful information from the uncooperative White House press operation -- against that backdrop, the CNN correspondent thought it was newsworthy that his question wasn't answered by the new Democratic White House spokesman.

In other words, a routine, everyday press occurrence under Bush (a reporter gets a non-answer) suddenly transformed itself into a news event under Obama.

Do reporters deserve to get straight answers at the White House? Yes. Was Henry's query a legitimate one? Absolutely. But when the non-answers came from Bush spokesmen and women, the working press corps seemed to shrug it off. On Obama's first day, though, an unsatisfactory response was suddenly worthy of discussion on cable television. Why? From the press' perspective, Democratic administrations are supposed to answer all questions. They're supposed to grant carte blanche access to the press. Republicans could do whatever they wanted to the daily briefing and defang the process to the point of irrelevancy. But Democrats? Sorry, a different set of rules apply.

That double standard explained why there was so much media chatter last week after Obama, while making a good-natured social visit to the White House press workspace, waved off a substantive question about a high-level appointment of his. Pressed again by Politico's Jonathan Martin, Obama responded good-naturedly, "We will be having a press conference, at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys. That's all I was trying to do." ("A testy exchange," gasped Politico.)

But did the press ever needle Bush with uncomfortable questions when he made social calls? Please note that in August 2006, when Bush made a rare unannounced visit to the White House press room -- and this was years after Bush had broadcast his open contempt for the press -- there were no tough questions. As Froomkin reported at the time:

So there was something entirely appropriate about Bush stopping by the briefing room yesterday not to answer (or even be asked) a single substantive question -- but to insult pretty much everyone in spitting distance.

Bush mocked members of the media to their face that day by tossing out several insults, and none of them asked a substantive question. Obama was gracious with reporters and was rewarded with a gotcha moment, which the press corps then obsessed over.

More proof that the Rip Van Winkle press corps has been stirred from its slumber.

Today's media, of all pedigrees, are not at all balanced. Then again, the fair and balanced media could be a myth from the days when the media was actually about News and not entertainment.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

POLITICS - Bush He Ain't

"Obama and the audacity of putting blame on his own shoulders: 'I screwed up.'" by CALVIN WOODWARD, AP

The White House approaches each day with talking points but none like this one.

Normally the picture of calm and confidence, Obama performed mea culpas in a series of TV interviews following Tom Daschle's withdrawal from consideration as health and human services secretary.

Daschle and Obama's pick for federal spending watchdog both pulled out of contention Tuesday because of personal tax problems. Earlier, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew as Obama's choice as commerce secretary because of an ethical investigation in the state. Timothy Geithner won Senate confirmation as treasury secretary despite $34,000 in tax arrears he had belatedly paid.

The president invited network news anchors into the Oval Office one at a time and offered basically the same message, that he had been slow to recognize the double standard obvious to ordinary Americans who are cut no slack if they fall behind on their taxes.

Obama to Fox: "I take responsibility for this mistake." He vowed his best effort to "make sure we're not screwing up again."

Obama to ABC: "This is a self-induced injury that I'm angry about, and we're going to make sure we get it fixed."

Obama to CBS: "It's frustrating for me, and it's something that I take responsibility for."

The audacity of acknowledging — even emphasizing — poor judgment came in marked contrast to his predecessor. George W. Bush pronounced himself stumped when asked, midway through his presidency, to name mistakes he'd made. Much later, he thought of some.

Obama didn't just do a lightning round with top names from the five networks; he did it in the Oval Office, the hallowed room that is not often used for such a rapid-fire succession of interviews. The setting showed Obama in the very seat of power as he owned up to mistakes on a rocky day.

Still, Obama denied that his vetting process for nominees was flawed or that his promise to set new ethical standards in Washington was at all tainted by his decision to exempt several high-level appointments from his restrictions on hiring lobbyists.

The mistake, he said repeatedly in interviews with Charles Gibson of ABC, Brian Williams of NBC, Anderson Cooper of CNN, Chris Wallace of Fox and Katie Couric of CBS, was in seeming to give credence to the notion that one set of rules exists for VIPs and another for average Americans.

Like many presidents before him, Obama lamented that the towering business of the day — in this case saving the economy — had been obscured by dust kicked up over something else.

Unlike many, he said he only had himself to blame for that.

"I'm frustrated with myself, with our team" he told NBC.

"And I'm here on television saying I screwed up and that's part of the era of responsibility, is not never making mistakes; it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them and that's what we intend to do."

How refreshing.

POLITICS - Bush Missing Memos

My readers, I suggest you look at the following ProPublica page.

"The Missing Memos" by Dan Nguyen and Christopher Weaver

The Bush administration’s controversial policies on detentions, interrogations and warrantless wiretapping were underpinned by legal memoranda. While some of those memos have been released (primarily as a result of ACLU lawsuits), the former administration kept far more memos secret than has been previously understood. At least three dozen by our count.

The decision to release them now lies with President Obama. To help inform the debate—and inject an extra dose of accountability—we’re posting the first comprehensive list of the secret memos. (The ACLU first compiled a list, which ProPublica verified and expanded on.)

Note: Our list is quite inclusive, but we have chosen to leave off some documents, such as early drafts of later memos.

Go to the page to see their list and what they have.

POLITICS - The GOP, Dumb and Dumber

"They (the Republicans, of course) still don't get it" by Deb Della Piana, OpEdNews

You know, you've got to love the Republicans if for nothing other than the entertainment value. Let me preface the heart of this article by telling you where the Republicans are in the scheme of things. They are no longer the majority on Capitol Hill. They do not occupy the White House either. They lost the 2008 election on all fronts, not because Sarah Palin is a fool and John McCain is a mean-spirited hothead, but because the American people had absolutely no faith in their ability to get the country out of the economic mess it's in (especially if left to a fool and a mean-spirited hothead). We know they can get us into an economic mess because, well, here we are! Getting us out of one, however, is another thing entirely. The Republicans also lost because the American people have had just about enough of their mean-spirited, partisan attitude that, frankly, has been amply on display in the early days of the Obama presidency.

So what is it that the Republicans don't get about what the American people want? How many different ways do they need to be told something? I thought being voted out of power in such a decisive fashion might help them get it, but apparently it didn’t. Maybe there is something to this theory that the Republican Party is the party of non-thinkers. Their media mouthpiece is, after all, Rush Limbaugh – a moronic blowhard who hides behind a microphone and says he hopes Barack Obama “fails.” Now, it seems to me that if Obama fails, America fails. It’s hard for me to label anyone wishing that as being either ‘patriotic’ or a thinking man, but that’s what Rush and the GOP want you to believe. Where were the Republicans to tell Rush Limbaugh that he did not speak for them? They were missing in action, because Limbaugh does indeed speak for them. As it turns out, that was just the passive-aggressive part of the program. The GOP wasn’t done yet.

If that wasn't insult enough, not one Republican voted for an economic stimulus package that is finally aimed at the American people. They voted to bail out the greedy Wall Street financial firms who played fast and loose with everyone else's money. They bailed out the greedy banks that then sent their executives on high-flying spa junkets and handed out bonuses like it was ice water on a hot summer day. Hell, our government even bailed out the American auto industry, an industry that hasn’t had an forward-thinking idea in what seems to be centuries. White-collar crime has become so commonplace in America that Bernard Madoff, the poster boy for greed, isn’t even behind bars after defrauding billions of dollars from the unsuspecting. He's sitting in his penthouse with some bling on his ankle, watching a big ole' flat screen TV and eating caviar. We finally have a piece of bailout legislation that gives the American people some hope that they haven’t been forgotten (make no mistake about it, the people want this package passed), and instead of showing their support for the American people, the Republicans band together to deliver a big, fat zero.

After this move, we got the typical Republican response: You know, it's fiscally irresponsible to spend money we don’t have. Really? Well, that doesn’t stop us from borrowing money from China to fund the war in Iraq. Hell, we might as well label ourselves a wholly owned subsidiary of China. Bailing out the taxpayers is not fiscally irresponsible when compared to a $12 billion a month illegal war and the $700 billion, no-strings-attached and no-need-to-change-your-bad-behavior-bailout given to the greedy and corrupt financial world. This bailout was passed with nary a blink of the eye. Yet, the House Republicans collectively thumbed their noses at the American people by voting 'no' on the Obama stimulus package. You know what? The package passed easily without them, but somebody might want to tell the Republicans that this new tactic may not play in their favor. At the end of the day, the American people can see through the Republican excuses for not supporting the package. The 'no' vote is less about wanting more tax cuts than wanting Barack Obama to fail. There's chatter out there that, should Obama's economic policies succeed, the Republicans could be out in the cold (and out of power) for years to come. Wouldn't want that.

Someone should tell the Republicans they are irrelevant for a good reason. It's not like Barack Obama didn't try to appease them. He did. In fact, many feel Obama went too far trying to attract the Republicans and, in doing so, compromised the package. We all know by now (and if we don't, we all should know) that the Republican tax-cut strategy did not stimulate the economy. It never does when the tax cuts are going to those who don't need it (like the nation's top earners). We've been working this losing formula since Ronald Reagan postulated his 'trickle down' theory. The only problem is that the trickle never trickled. That tax cuts stimulate the economy is absolute urban legend. It sounds good. Tax cuts. The Republicans have been insisting tax cuts are the answer since the economy began to falter and their tax cut package has done absolutely nothing to stop the hemorrhaging. Yet, how did John McCain respond to the Obama plan? He called for making the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy permanent. These tax cuts haven’t helped stimulate anything but anger over the past couple of years. Then McCain (you know, the man who helped to invent the Blackberry) complained about the inclusion of a $6 billion investment to expand Internet access and services.

With the stimulus package now moving upstream to the big fish, the smell from the senate isn't much better. A conservative faction, led by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss), has vowed to fight the package. Wicker said, “A trillion dollars is a terrible thing to waste.” You know what, I couldn't agree more. How's that for common ground! I sure wish the Republicans had adopted that attitude before we bankrupted this country on the black hole known as Iraq. Washington has managed to bail out just about every white-collar dirt bag it could find, yet it has taken it's sweet time making an investment in tax-paying citizens who are losing their jobs and homes at an alarming rate. You remember them, don't you? Hell, you work for them, Senator Wicker.

Pssst. Come here. I don't want my Democrat friends to see or hear me aiding and abetting the enemy. But in the true spirit of bi-partisanship, I'd like to tell the present crop of Republicans that they no more look like the party of the common man (read: poor-to-middle class) than did the version that was in power prior to the 2008 election. That doesn’t bode well for the future. Millionaires are in the minority, and their ranks are falling fast.

Sock-it-to 'em, Deb

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

ECONOMY: The Proposed Stimulus Plan

The following transcript is the best I've seen on the subject of what a Stimulus Plan can, and cannot do, and why.

"Reporters Assess Effectiveness of Proposed Stimulus Plan" NewsHour Transcript, PBS

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour Reporter): Even as the Senate now takes up the nitty-gritty details of a stimulus plan -- the particular programs and tax cuts, the exact dollars and cents -- larger questions abound about short-term needs, longer-term goals, and the ambitions and tensions of tackling so much at one time.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times tackled these questions in a story titled "The Big Fix" that appeared in yesterday's Times magazine. Greg Ip has been watching and writing on them as U.S. economics editor for the Economist magazine.

Welcome to both of you.

David, in terms of balancing short term and long term, how do you define the ambitions and tensions that arise?

DAVID LEONHARDT; New York Times: Clearly, the first goal here is to stimulate the economy, which is the short-term goal. You want to get money out and you want to try to make this recession less deep than it would otherwise be.

But given that you're going to spend $800 billion or $900 billion by the time the Senate is done with it, you want to try to also do some good. Yes, you could just dig ditches and then fill them again and that would be stimulus, but obviously wouldn't do any good, long-term good.

And given we're spending this vast amount of money, it would be a waste not to try to accomplish some long-term good. That's the theory. The tension is that it is hard to accomplish long-term good and to spend it quickly.


DAVID LEONHARDT: Because long-term good is often investments. You want to be careful with it. You don't just want to dig ditches. You want to think about where the ditches should go and what you should then do with this hole.

JEFFREY BROWN: What they connect to and all, right?

DAVID LEONHARDT: Exactly. And how do you spend the money in education? How do you spend it in health care?

And so there are some projects that clearly can do both the short and the long term, but there aren't enough to spend $900 billion doing both short-term and long-term good, and that's where you get into trade-offs.

  • Setting long-term priorities

JEFFREY BROWN: How do you see the trade-offs, the tensions here?

GREG IP, The Economist: Very similarly, Jeff. I mean, you can stimulate the economy two ways, basically. One is by spending more, and the other is by taxing less. And they both have advantages and disadvantages.

As David said, with spending, if you want to do it well, it takes a very long time. The advantage, however, is that every dollar the government spends will generally result in at least a dollar of additional economic output and maybe more, if it's done the right way.

Now, with tax cuts, the issue you face there is that, if you give a person a dollar more of after-tax income, you can't guarantee they'll actually spend it. They may save it. And, in fact, in the temporary tax cuts that we had last year, we think that two-thirds to three-quarters of that money was saved.

Now, the advantage of those tax cuts is you can do them fairly quickly. You can actually reduce the tax withholding in people's paychecks within a matter of months.

And they're also less distorting. And by that I mean, when you let households and businesses decide how to spend the money, it will happen in a way that maximizes their welfare instead of having the government trying to guess at the best way.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, things like education, health care, energy, infrastructure you named, are these kind of debates seeping into -- you guys both cover these things -- are people worrying about those things while they worry about the short-term stimulus? How much is that getting into the discussion right now?

DAVID LEONHARDT: It is getting into the discussion. I mean, President Obama has very clearly said he doesn't want this just to be a stimulus package. He wants it to be a down payment on some longer-term things.

And so that then gives rise to two debates. The first is, well, what should our long-term priorities be? Should they be alternative energy? Should they be education? Should they be infrastructure?

And the second debate is, well, in the course of doing that, do you end up slowing down how quickly you're spending this? As Greg was just saying, when you do government spending, it tends to be slower than tax cuts. And certain forms of government spending are slower than other forms of government spending.

  • Using stimulus for health care

JEFFREY BROWN: But when you translate these kind of big ideas into legislation, then we get down to what I was referring to as nitty-gritty, right?

GREG IP: Yes. And from where I sit, the nitty-gritty has not been pretty to watch, Jeff. I do not see any of the long-term sort of thought going into this fiscal stimulus. It ought to be associated with what, as David said, could be some very profound changes in the way we run social programs in this country.

Just to give you a simple example. Obama during the campaign had many thoughtful ideas on how to increase health care coverage for lower-income and poor people. Instead, what we have here is a one-time block grant to the states to aid with Medicaid funding and a supplemental payment to people who are unemployed to help keep their private-sector health care coverage.

There might be merits to both those ideas, but I don't see any way that those are integrated with a more comprehensive health care proposal.

DAVID LEONHARDT: I actually think health care is a nice way to see both the good sides and the bad sides about it. I agree with Greg. That's a real downside of this. You're building on already this very inefficient health care system through the programs that he's talking about.

The good side of health care is that they're also going to spend money to install these electronic medical records, which we hope will...

JEFFREY BROWN: Long-term goal?

DAVID LEONHARDT: Long-term goal. Well, it should provide some stimulus in the short term, installing them, employing people to do that, giving subsidies for them. But we also hope that it will give us enough information about how our health care system works and doesn't work so that down the road we'll be able to reform it and basically make it more efficient.

  • U.S. economic epicenter in D.C.

JEFFREY BROWN: I want to ask you something about -- another thing you wrote in your article, a very provocative thing from your piece. I'll quote it. "For the first time in more than 70 years, the epicenter of the American economy can be placed outside of California or New York or the industrial Midwest. It can be placed in Washington."

So not Wall Street, not manufacturing companies out there, Detroit or wherever anymore? Washington.

DAVID LEONHARDT: Yes. And I know that will rub a lot of people the wrong way. They'll say, "Private enterprise is the heart of our economy," and it is the heart of our economy. I don't question that for a second.

But what we need Washington to do is really two things fundamentally. One, we need it to regulate in ways that it hasn't been doing over the last decade or two, to make sure that we don't have the Bernie Madoffs or that, when we do, they're caught.

And the second thing it needs to do is it needs to make investments that the private sector will not make to a sufficient degree on its own. Most of those investments will still be made by the private sector. But we now see Wall Street shrinking. We see, obviously, Detroit shrinking.

And so I think there's really a role here for Washington to come in and not only regulate and not only stimulate the economy, but try to make the kind of investments we've made in the past, things like building the Internet. The government did that. Building the highway system, the government did that. Funding biotechnology so that we have an industry that's the envy of the world, the government did that, and try to find more things along those lines.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you want to weigh in? A little skepticism?

GREG IP: Well, I'm just a little bit worried about mission creep here, Jeff, which is that there are certain things we do need the government to do because there is nobody else well suited to do it. And regulating certain business activities is definitely one of them and, quite clearly, not enough of that went on in this country in the last 10 years, especially in the financial area.

But government doesn't do a lot of things well. Among those are deciding, for example, who should -- what businesses should we lend money to? What businesses should get capital? I mean, Silicon Valley didn't need government's help deciding how to, you know, develop the Internet and so forth. That was the creativity of American entrepreneurs.

And when I hear people in Congress saying, well, if we're going to give banks this money, we need to tell them how much to lend and to who, I get very worried, because I haven't seen any evidence that, bad as the private-sector bankers have been, the government bankers are necessarily any better.

  • The fine line of intervention

JEFFREY BROWN: But, of course, out in the world, you hear a lot of public uproar saying, "Well, if we're going to give them the money, we should be telling them things like that," right?

DAVID LEONHARDT: Yes, and it's true. I mean, the government's record on things like that, on these fine-grain things is really not good, with setting prices and telling businesses when to do what.

The problem is now, because we didn't have enough government role before, we find ourselves in the situation of having to bail out these companies for the good of the whole economy and now we're in this difficult situation.

To me, one of the arguments for smarter and a little bit bigger government intervention -- maybe more than a little bit bigger -- is that it saves you from having to nationalize entire sectors down the road.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you're saying part of the debate here is this -- finding that fine line between more government and letting the private sector do its thing?

GREG IP: Right. And, for example, just to look at the banks for a minute, absolutely the taxpayer should get some upside from this. You know, and they can do that by purchasing common shares in these banks.

And if in the case of the weakest banks that need the most capital, that results in the nationalization of that bank, so be it. But it should not be the premise of the government's intervention that they want to own the banking system.

And if there are certain things that we as a society want to do, for example, to encourage a less energy-intensive society or one that uses less fossil fuels, let's look at the most economically efficient way to do that.

For example, if you want people to use less gasoline and to conserve on that and to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil, raise the gasoline tax. You know, you can ask 1,000 economists -- Republican, Democratic -- they'll agree that is the most efficient way to do that.

DAVID LEONHARDT: And that's a great example of how short and long term are hard to do together. A reasonable gasoline tax would be the very opposite of stimulus, and so it's not something we can do now.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, thanks very much. To be continued. Thanks very much. David Leonhardt, Greg Ip, thanks.


GREG IP: Thank you.