Monday, February 8, 2016

Ted Cruz Blows Fuse on Lie Detector Machine

The Republican race for the presidency hasn't excelled in truth-telling, but Ted Cruz decided to press the limits of deception.

I don't like or trust Ted Cruz, but does he have to lie so much just to prove why?

I've been listening to Ted Cruz -- and basically all the GOP candidates -- making stuff up for months, if not years. But HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn caught Cruz uttering a paragraph during Saturday's debate that reinvented the genre of utter falsehood as a way of life. Here's the paragraph:
Socialized medicine is a disaster. It does not work. If you look at the countries that have imposed socialized medicine, that have put the government in charge of providing medicine, what inevitably happens is rationing. You have a scarcity of doctors. ... And that means the elderly are told: We're going to ration a hip replacement; we're going to ration a knee replacement. We're going to ration end-of-life care.
I've lived abroad in both Europe and Asia -- participating in various countries' "socialized medicine" systems -- and know Cruz's statement to be patently false in its entirety. I've also studied the subject for years now and my research bears this out. Cruz had to have made a conscious choice to string this much deception together. It's astounding. It's almost heroic, epic in its commitment to bullshit. It sets a standard that surpasses the previous record for prevarication, set recently by Carly Fiorina.

Read Cohn's article. Then decide which circle of Hell is reserved for Cruz. Fiorina already has reservations there.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Requiem for a Lightweight: Marco Rubio Takes a Licking

The junior senator from Florida needs fresh batteries after his robot got stuck on Obama derangement syndrome.

Water-bottle panic: no longer the most embarrassing Rubio move.

We don't know that this is the end of Rubio's chances to be president, but today dawned on a significantly diminished candidate. Every mag and rag, from Slate and the WaPo to the NYTimes and even the National Review ran with the story of the Thrilla in Vanilla, of Rubiobot walloped by the Brute in the Suit four podia to the right.

I'm no fan of any once and future occupant of the GOP clown car, AKA Republican candidates, but it sure has at least one flat tire this morning. Marco Rubio may manage to get pumped up again for South Carolina, but in line with the expression "politics ain't bean bag" I'd say the Rubio we knew is badly bruised in New Hampshire's aftermath.

Yes, we haven't even counted New Hampshire votes, as we shall on Tuesday. But, going forward, Rubio is a man without a schtick, at least temporarily. Mojo? Marcomentum? A snowball's chance?

I can't imagine at this point what's left.

Schooled from afar.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hey GOP: 17 Clowns in a Car and All I Get Is Stinkin' Marco Rubio?

Rubio might not end up with the Republican nomination, but at this point the idea that he's the "establishment candidate" is nothing short of pathetic.

OK, nice teeth, but what else you got?

I'm not saying I like any of the other candidates, and maybe that's the point. What a dismal field. But the notion that Marco Rubio represents the establishment of his party can only be true if his party, instead of doing an autopsy after the 2012 loss, wound up with a frontal lobotomy.

There's also the possibility that Rubio was produced in a lab, something like a perfect Republican candidate for the ages, or at least for the age. But it seems, by accident, they gave him the Immigration Reform gene, and it turns out to be his fatal flaw. As a last-ditch effort to save their creation, they also gave him the Lying gene, so he could walk back his Immigration Reform mistake.

Beyond that, what do we have in Rubio?

WaPo offers a rundown. Key graph:
Under optimistic assumptions, [Rubio's tax] plan would reduce federal revenue by no less than $2.4 trillion over a decade. That's money the federal government would have to borrow, unless Rubio also made drastic reductions in the budgets of federal programs. The centrist pundit Josh Barro argued Rubio's proposal would be unrealistically expensive, dubbing it the "Puppies and Rainbows Tax Plan."
The Daily Beast offers Rubio no mercy:
Because Trump and Cruz have moved the goalposts on what it means to be bat-shit crazy in a primary, the press will confuse Rubio’s moderate temperament with moderate policies, of which he has none. Rubio was once described as the “crown prince” of the Tea Party. He has a 100 percent rating from the NRA. He’ll appoint justices who will overturn the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. He opposes abortion with no exception for rape or incest. He opposes stem cell research and doesn’t believe in climate change. He’d send ground troops to Syria and trillions in tax cuts to the rich.
As nasty as this portrait is, it has the advantage of being true. And its author, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, hits home on his electability:
But as a general election candidate, Rubio would combine everything people hate about Washington politics with everything they hate about Republican policies. He may be more formidable and disciplined than some of his nuttier rivals, but he will also be utterly predictable and conventional. We Democrats have won that kind of election before. We can do it again.
If you want to wade through Rubio's stated views over the years, have at it.

Boston Globe writer Michael A. Cohen agrees with Jon Favreau that there's nothing moderate about Marco Rubio:
He’s absolutist on gun rights. While all the Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, Rubio has spoken of appointing Supreme Court justices who would roll back the right to same sex marriage, and of reversing President Obama’s executive orders preventing discrimination against the LGBT community.
He believes climate change is happening but doesn’t think it’s being caused by humans, and has said he opposes most environmental laws and regulations because they will “destroy our economy.” On immigration, he has famously reversed his earlier support for reform and now opposes a direct path to citizenship. At least one can say in his favor that he opposes mass deportation and has left the door open on citizenship, but his views on immigration are hardly moderate.
This is pretty standard fare for a Republican aspirant, but that’s telling in itself. The notion that he is the GOP field’s moderate should rest on the idea that he’s slightly to the left of Trump and Cruz. I can find almost no issues where that’s the case.
In fact, on a host of policy matters, he’s gone far beyond his opponents.
Regarding abortion, Rubio is not just antiabortion, but also opposes exceptions in the case of rape and incest. That’s a more radical position than any Republican nominee in recent memory — and more radical than Trump, who supports exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.
His tax-cut plan is perhaps the most regressive of any GOP candidate and is actually three times larger than Jeb Bush’s highly regressive tax plan. According to an analysis by the liberal think tank Citizens for Tax Justice, Rubio “would add $11.8 trillion to the national debt over a decade” and more than a third of his tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent.
The primary season is far from over, and there's plenty of time for the GOP to turn to a bat-shit-crazy candidate. But if Marco Rubio is their idea of an establishment moderate, holy crap, just holy crap.

God help us all. And I'm an atheist!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Paul Ryan Thought He Had a Deal with the Freedom Caucus. He Was Wrong.

The House Freedom Caucus doesn't make deals. That's why they're called the Freedom Caucus, I guess.

Paul Ryan: I gave up power at Ways and Means for this shit? Yes, Paul, yes you did.

Who didn't see this coming?
Over beer, chips, soda and, according to one caucus member who asked to remain anonymous to discuss the private meeting, "all the normal kinds of bagged munchies that you’re not supposed to eat," Ryan hosted caucus members around a large conference table in his office to tell them that, if Republicans want to pass appropriations bills this year, they have to accept the budget number that leaders from both parties agreed to at the end of October.
"There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’ll vote for that," caucus member Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told The Huffington Post after the meeting.
Politico adds:
But conservatives, led by members of the Freedom Caucus who sit on the Budget Committee, such as Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), want additional deficit reduction and are threatening to vote against the fiscal blueprint at its current levels. Members of the conservative caucus want to cut $30 billion from next year's budget. Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have said no so far to any such changes.
The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Ryan's home-state rag, drives the point home:
Members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, the group that forced Boehner out, say they can't support any upcoming budget that endorses last fall's bipartisan pact between GOP leaders and Obama that increased spending for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies.
It took many Democratic votes to pass last fall's budget deal, but any GOP budget effort this spring has to be a Republican-only exercise since it will call for sharp spending cuts opposed by Democrats. The Freedom Caucus is balking at supporting any budget that endorses that year's spending increases.
"I don't think there will be many votes for the Boehner budget in the Freedom Caucus," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).
Failing to pass a budget could be a significant embarrassment for Ryan. He wants the House to finish its budget work quickly this year as a signal the GOP can govern and so Republicans can focus on churning out proposals underscoring the party's ideas on topics like national security, the economy and health care.
Ouch. Ryan took the speaker's gavel because he thought he could wield it in a way the former speaker, John Boehner, could not. For his sake, let's hope he's right.

Tangentially, I wonder what tack presidential hopeful Ted Cruz -- a mentor to the Freedom Caucus -- will take during a presidential election year. My suspicion is he'll be breathing fire and brimstone. What do you think?

How to Solve Income Inequality? Take the Wealth from Where It Is to Where It Isn't.

Shifting wealth is not rocket science. We know how to do it and why, without breaking the bank.

Mitt Romney: not the richest man in the world, but, boy, did he figure
out how to alienate many Americans by making rich look mean-spirited.

Being rich -- like being poor -- doesn't have to indicate bad character. If there's a disconnect between conservative and liberal thought, it lies in that very statement.

Conservatives feel that if you've earned your wealth, you have a right to keep it. That leads to the belief that taxes are a confiscation of a person's hard-earned money, some of it going to the undeserving, also known as the poor.

Liberals feel that leaving the poor in the dust while condemning them as lazy or undeserving is a misreading of the causes of poverty and the reality of shrinking opportunities in America. That leads to the belief that taxing those who can afford it and using it for, among other things, helping the poor survive in an often uncaring world is both wise and moral.

I'm not imagining this difference in political views: This is the message conservatives and liberals make plain in statement after statement. There are, however, a few clarifications that can help.

First, wealth isn't always earned, and it's never earned in a vacuum. Barack Obama's purposely mischaracterized statement, "You didn't build that," was meant to correctly point out that the milieu in which money is made and wealth acquired is the product of all Americans. The roads that carry Walmart merchandise all over the U.S. were built by the sweat of often underpaid workers and paid for by everyone's tax money on the local, state, and federal level.

The financing available for the wealthy to borrow to make more money comes from banks that hold the money of the rich, the middle class, and the working poor alike. And though the middle class participates in the equities market more and more these days, the very wealthy capture more of the profits generated in all markets.

And, finally, using the Walmart model again, the wealth that flows to the Walton family and Walmart's stockholders comes, to great extent, from the wages of the working classes that shop there for the low prices. The Waltons didn't build their wealth out of thin air, they grew it from consumers.

At some point, the Waltons stopped being hard-working, innovative entrepreneurs. Now they're children and grandchildren that inherited an absurd amount of money.

Somewhere between the hideously wealthy beneficiaries of estates they didn't build and recently wealthy entrepreneurs who did the initial hard work and creative thinking that leads to new wealth lies a middle ground. That middle ground does not contain either the billionaires of the top .1 percent or the bottom 50 percent.

The why of shifting wealth is, to me, obvious. When too much accrues to the top, too much is deprived at the bottom. Both extremes are, yes, hideous.

The how of shifting wealth is not difficult, either, and, yes, these aren't novel ideas, but clearly it's vital that we undertake them to restore balance and economic health to our nation:
  • A transaction fee on the sale of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The fee doesn't have to be large, it just has to be ubiquitous.
  • Higher marginal tax rates. And marginal means marginal: a 50-percent rate on income over $1 million means only that portion of income above $1 million. The rates are progressive, e.g. the first $50k is taxed at a much lower rate, and so on.
  • Social Security and Medicare are successful programs for everyone, rich or poor. Expand them! How? By Raising the cap on the payroll taxes.
  • Restore reasonable estate taxes. If you inherit great wealth, you can afford to pass some of it on to spend on the common good. (You'll get some of that back in better infrastructure, a healthier workforce, and better educated and trained Americans.)
  • Raise capital gains taxes and properly tax carried interest. Investment income shouldn't be taxed less than a teacher's salary, for example.
  • Corporations rely on the entire infrastructure American society provides. Don't let them off-shore their profits. It's unfair and immoral.
How to distribute this revenue is open to discussion. It should, at the very least, be used for the common good of society. And, yes, it should be targeted in a way that brings the poor and the working class up the income ladder. I favor, like Bernie Sanders, free public education through college and Medicare for all. These are not novel ideas. They are in regular practice in most developed countries, as we all know, or should know.

I go further, in that I favor folding all welfare programs -- from unemployment insurance, food stamps, WIC, Pell grants, TANF, etc. -- into a guaranteed income, set at something like 120 percent of the poverty line. Finland has instituted such a program, and Switzerland has been toying with it. So it's not CRAZY. Also, if we institute Medicare for all, we pay for it by eliminating health insurance, work-based health insurance (and mandating an equivalent pay raise), and Medicaid and SCHIP. We don't need them, saving billions of dollars we can then fold in to paying for Medicare for all. Again, most developed countries in Europe and Asia offer this to their citizens.

This may shock you or not, but these are not radical ideas. They are progressive, yes, and of course they are popular in the social democracies in Europe and Asia. Japan, for instance, has affordable universal health care and much, much less poverty than we have in America. I know because I lived there for some years and have visited there extensively since. I've lived and traveled in Europe, as well, so I've seen how it works there.

Redistributing wealth is not rocket science and will benefit all, including the wealthy. Yes, they give up some wealth, but what they get in return is a more widely prosperous, healthy, productive, and educated society. How bad would that be?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Krugman Nails (the Meaning of) Iowa

Iowa means everything and nothing. How can that be?

I'm continually marveling at how the media latch onto narratives and hold on for dear life. Of course, the media can turn on a dime -- seemingly as one -- and grasp hold of another narrative as if the old one never existed. Paul Krugman in a blog post today nails Iowa and its narratives:
How does this apply to news coverage and punditry? Well, it’s obvious that the media have strong herding instincts; almost everyone wants to be somewhere close to the middle of the pack, telling the prevailing narrative. But there are many narratives that could, in fact, prevail. Partly that’s because such narratives can be self-fulfilling, and partly it’s because actually being, you know, right isn’t that important compared with being on top of the trend. So anything that gives special salience to a particular narrative can produce convergence on that narrative, even if everyone realizes that what’s going on is basically stupid.
Pretty much it. By the way, that's my take on the media relationship with Hillary Clinton, especially regarding her emails. "She's an extraordinarily knowledgeable, experienced, and competent woman, and the emails are a crude, useless distraction" isn't nearly as fun as "Possibly this email scandal will just fade away, especially if it turns out that none of the emails were classified at the time, but the important and perhaps most damaging effect will be to remind voters of Clinton's trustworthiness problem." Sheesh. We are informed by incredibly stupid people. But at least they all agree!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Just Say It and Stick to It: Hillary Clinton Did Nothing Wrong with Her Emails

This bogus scandal is Kafkaesque: Anything Hillary does is a scandal in Fox News' eyes, and the mainstream media loves the narrative. The hell with the truth. Scandal!

The anatomy of a non-scandal: The media feels a thrill, the dogs begin to bark.

I can hear things when the news is on. I suspect everyone can who's listening. When the latest episode of the Clinton email "scandal" broke yesterday, I heard differing things on different networks:
  1. MSNBC had the State Dept. spokesman on, who said 22 emails were held back from release because elements in the intelligence community had asked that they be reclassified. This was clearly stated: 22 emails that were not classified at the time were now being reclassified at the request of another department, not the State Department where Clinton worked. This a common practice when people leave a sensitive government position.
  2. CNN covered it and had a guest on that pointed out the the emails in question were not classified at the time. I didn't watch long enough, but typically CNN would talk about it for a couple of hours off and on, and someone with say "What effect does this have on Iowa, a couple of people will say "the timing couldn't have been worse, even though it's possible she didn't do anything but she should have known that it just doesn't smell right."
  3. Fox News had on a reporter who said "OH NOES 22 EMAILS WERE DISCOVERED TO BE CLASSIFIED AT THE TIME THEY WERE SENT AND EACH OF THE 22 REPRESENTED A CRIMINAL OFFENSE. Who of us are surprised by that on Fox? Who of us don't assume it's complete bullshit. (Hint: Republicans drooling for more scandal!!)
  4. On MSNBC's "With All Due Respect," show, hosted by two centrist political reporters, Mark Halperin and John Hellerman, the hosts offered the classic political pundit's narrative, which was the 22 emails were apparently not classified at the time but it's a problem for Hillary because there's always something there with Hillary that shows why people don't trust her. They of course said she didn't do anything wrong except she botched the "political optics."
  5. Finally, from two network evening news shows, CBS and PBS, we get reports that said oh no, Hillary's emails were classified and this can't be good, then of course introduce the information -- second or third from the lede -- that they weren't classified at the time and there probably was nothing wrong except it's Hillary and this can't be good because Iowa and optics and Republicans and scandal and stench and trust and oh noes...
 Now, if I might as an outside observer offer what is the bottom-line truth about this whole affair:
  1. Hillary Clinton -- like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell before her -- used a private email system while Secretary of State.
  2. When the news came out about her use of a private server, a whole bunch of political noise erupted.
  3. These emails have been scrutinized because of multiple FOIA requests to see them. These emails would have undergone some kind of scrutiny eventually, regardless of these FOIA requesst, before any of them would have been released. It's a typical process of sorting out records that are too sensitive to realize now, which should be preserved as presidential documents that might end up in a presidential library, and which are fine for public view. It's common that one technocrat or another in the process will request a reclassification for some reason or another. It's a common occurrence.
  4. Who requested these emails through FOIA? Judicial Watch, a foundation established by Larry Klayman in 1994 for the purpose of hounding the Clintons. It filed 18 lawsuits involving Vince Foster, Whitewater, etc. (This foundation received a lot of support from Richard Mellon Scaife, a notorious wealthy conservative who later funded the Swift Boar Veterans for Truth attacks on John Kerry.) Nothing came of any of these scandals, but the Clintons were continually harassed during their administration. This is old news going after new news. Surprised? No one is.
  5. Another FOIA request for Hillary's emails was filed by America Rising, an opposition research PAC that came out of the Mitt Romney 2012 campaign. Now it's dedicated to spreading negative stories about Democratic candidates, among other political operations.
  6. Another FOIA request for Hillary's emails was filed by the conservative news operation Daily Caller, which was founded by conservative gadfly Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, a former adviser to Dick Cheney.
  7. There is a regular clearing and sorting process for government documents, including emails, but that process has been hijacked by the above FOIA requests. Still, in response to those requests, different departments in the Obama administration have undertaken the usual process of clearing documents for public access. It's not unusual that the Intelligence community would be more zealous in protecting information than the State Dept., leading to the reclassification of the 22 emails. Don't be surprised if they demand more reclassification.
  8. At some point, this process will end, not necessarily before the 2016 election.
Very important points to note:
  1. The process is working.
  2. Any email document that is reclassified -- whether rightly or wrongly -- will not be released. These documents may never see the light of day, unless it's determined that they were wrongly reclassified, in which case they may become public after declassification.
  3. Those emails that can be released, will be released.
  4. At this point, there is no evidence that any email documents were at risk, whether on government (non-secured) servers or Clinton's private (non-secured) servers. Both systems may in fact be "secure," meaning essentially unhackable. There has been no evidence of hacking on either system.
  5. There was and is a highly secure State Dept. system for moving documents, cables, and other communications that is typically used for sensitive State Dept. communications. Clinton used this system for sensitive information transmission. This system and its documents are not in dispute.
  6. Again, the process is working, the system is working, and at this point there is no evidence that any emails or documents were ever at risk, even now. Unless, of course, there are leaks after the fact, over which Hillary Clinton no longer has control.
Conclusion: The same assholes that hounded the Clintons through Travelgate, Vince-Fostergate, Whitewatergate, IRSgate, etc., etc., etc. are hounding Hillary Clinton in an attempt to stop her march to the White House. It's bullshit, always has been. That stench that follows the Clintons is the stench of conservative scandal-mongering opposition research run amok.

This all happens with a grotesque assist from the political media that thrives on phony narratives because, ah, who the fuck knows?

Clinton email scandal? There's no there there, and any intelligent, well-meaning human being knows it.

Note. I know that Hillary "apologized" for using a private email server. She did this after being hounded mercilessly by the political media. I guess her advisers convinced her that she should make such an apology. It was a political calculation, not a "real" one. If I were Hillary, I would have told the political press to go fuck themselves and when hounded again I would have told them to reread the original go-fuck-yourselves message. The only point I would concede on this is that Hillary may understand that the apology would mute, if only briefly, the cacophony of nonsense that oppo assholes gin up and upon which political pundits thrive. Maybe she's right. I don't know.

  • Here's a over-wordy (hell, I'm over-wordy) analysis on Vox that explains the over-re-classification problem.
  • Here's a typical political writer, this time on Slate, that gins up the controversy while admitting there may be no there there, but "it couldn't happen at a worse time for Hillary." Disappointing from a usually reliable writer.
  • Here's an AP report that fails to report that State Dept. spokesman John Kirby distinctly announced that all of the 22 emails were not classified at the time they were sent but were subsequently "upgraded" at the request of the Intelligence services. That AP would handle this information they way they did smacks of feeding a narrative that "this couldn't come at a worse time for Hillary who has trustworthiness issues." Bad reporting on purpose. At least Slate avoids this mistake.
  • Here's an example of how Fox News spins the Clinton email story. Kind of odious. Compare and contrast with other reports, please.
  • Both the NYTimes and WaPo carry the story. The Times takes until the fifth paragraph to reveal that

    "The State Department said it had “upgraded” the classification of the emails at the request of the nation’s intelligence agencies. Mr. Kirby said that none of the emails had been marked at any level of classification at the time they were sent through Mrs. Clinton’s computer server."

    Good for the NYTimes for reporting that. Fox News' reporter withheld that. The WaPo's report so completely obscures most facts that it hard to glean anything from it. For instance:

    "Clinton has also said that the information in question was not classified at the time the emails were sent — a point that intelligence officials have disputed.

    "State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday that his agency had not yet made a determination on that key question."

    My beef with that report is that it contradicts what was reported in the NYTimes and also contradicts what I saw John Kirby say on live TV. I saw it. He said that none of the emails were classified at the time they were transmitted. So reports the NYTimes. What's with the WaPo? The "dispute" with intelligence officials is that they now choose to classify previously unclassified material that Clinton doesn't believe needs such treatment. Get it right, WaPo.
I'm done. This is a controversy ginned up by conservative oppo researchers, political operatives, and Hillary opponents with the complicity of the Beltway political media that love to keep shit stirred up, either because they want the narrative to live or have a deep dislike for all things Clinton. Who knows?

Here, I found John Kirby's statement on video. I can't embed it, so here's a link to CNN. Not classified at the time, not classified at the time. Get it?

There's no there there in this email nonsense. Wish it would go away, probably won't.