Crony Capitalism

That's when capitalists manipulate government to gain subsidies and loopholes. Wall Street uses a revolving door to high government positions. Big-business capitalists rely on K-Street lobbyists instead. But the Koch brothers, the Supreme Court, and Fox-Wall-St. are building a pro-corporate tea party. Occupy Wall Street and some tea baggers should join to fight corpocracy.


The right takes the cake for extremism. David Koch, the billionaire founder of AFP, the group that invented and organized the Tea Parties, ran as a Libertarian against Reagan in 1980. He favored an end to public schools, Social Security, the FBI, CIA, and IRS, and also favored legalizing gambling, drugs and prostitution. The left dabbles in extremism (but without the big bucks) and only manages to help the right wing fanatics.

Lakoff-the-political-mind.pngMaking Sense

Sensible politics requires that two old-fashioned conservative principles be applied to an empathetic interpretation of the three long-recognized goals of government: protect the public, [#promote the general Welfare], and stabilize the economy. The two conservative principles are (1) don't waste public funds, and (2) don't discourage personal responsibility.

Obama_official.jpgObama vs. Progressives

The far left has turned on Obama for being too conservative, and the right calls him a socialist. In truth, he has governed from the middle. The left has always been disappointed with their presidents, and if they don't understand why, they will hand the 2012 election to the Koch brothers.


Romney is the most liberal and reasonable (except for Huntsman) of the Republican candidates, but he has proven himself willing to take whatever position is popular. This will likely continue if he becomes president, which would mean he would reflect much of the Tea Party agenda.



[=promote the general Welfare] From the first sentence of the U.S. Constitution. This does not mean the federal government can do whatever it wants. But it does mean that it should do things for the common good that are within its powers.
[=myself] I'm Steven Stoft and I approve this message. See About zFacts.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.

Crony Capitalism

Wall Street Cronies

This is where the high-level action is. I'm just starting to round up stories, but here's one on Treasury Sect. Paulson (under Bush) going to talk with top investment bankers, and giving them insider information on government policy.


K-Street Cronies

About $3,500 million per year is spent buying government favors — mostly on K Street, Washington DC, mainly for business. That's the definition of crony capitalism. Want to know how that works? You've got to see this amazing interview with Jack Arbamoff ("I only owned 100 Congressman") — he's now out of prison.

Koch-David-Charles.jpgThe Koch Brothers

What if one (or two) of America's super-rich decided just buy itself a political party? That's how truly serious crony capitalism works, like under Putin in Russia. But what would that cost? The last presidential race cost only about a billion—for both parties. So, about 3% of the Koch brother's wealth. But their doing it far cheaper than that. To follow the election you need to know how.



Elections Inc. — The Supreme Court vs. Democracy

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court overturned the Bipartisan Election Reform (McCain-Feingold) Act, and allowed corporations and unions to make unlimited contributions to influence elections. In June 2011, Charles Koch, quoting Saddam Hussein, declared the 2012 presidential election would be the "mother of all wars." What's the connection?


Why Fox = Wall Street

Fox News cites the Wall Street Journal far more than all other papers put together. Their politics is identical. What don't you know about the Wall-Street Media?


Occupy Wall Street

Facing hard times and an out-of-touch, tea-party Congress, the country was ripe for an anti-greed movement, and who better to target than the fat cats that caused the mess, got bailed out and thumbed their noses at us. Occupy Wall Street got the country talking about the real problem instead of the tea-party's manufactured debt crisis. But OWS needs to focus—it needs a "cause," if it wants to make a significant change. Luckily, the pieces of this puzzle fit together.



Wall Street

How Bush's Treasury Sect. Paulson, gave hugely valuable insider-trading information to top Wall-Street players.


K Street, DC


  See this amazing 60-Minutes interview with Jack I-only-owned-100-Congressman Arbamofxlnk.gif. Abramoff explains in fascinating detail, exactly how crony capitalism works — and just how easy it is for business to buy our government. Crony capitalism is much of what wrecks our government and make people hate Uncle Sam. You can't get much more un-American.

In 1985, Abramoff joined Citizens for America, a pro-Reagan group that helped Oliver North build support for the Nicaraguan Contras. In 1986 he received a minor appointment from Reagan. In 1989 he wrote and produced with this brother a propaganda film for the apartheid government of South Africa. In 2001 he was part of the Bush transition team. In short, he has impeccable conservative credentials. That's why what he says now is so completely credible.

Abramoff grew the biggest and most successful K-Street lobbying firm, and as he explains, most of what he did was perfectly legal because the laws are designed for crony capitalists and their lobbyists. But defrauding Indian tribes and "corrupting" (bribing) public officials is not legal, and Abramoff landed in (minimum security) prison on Nov. 15, 2006. He was released from a halfway house, and his job at Tov Pizza earning $10 an hour, on Dec. 3, 2010. As you will see in the film, working at the kosher Pizza parlor seems to have produced a remarkable transformation.

Oh, and by the way, Abramoff was no loner. The following accomplices were either forced to resign, convicted or pled guilty.

  • Tom DeLay (R-TX) The House Majority Leader.
  • Susan B. Ralston (R) Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to Karl Rove.
  • Bob Ney, U. S. Representative, (R-Ohio), 2½ years in prison for taking bribes.
  • Steven Griles, (R) former Deputy Interior Secretary, under George W. Bush.
  • Italia Federici, (R) co-founder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.
  • Roger Stillwell (R) Staff in the Department of the Interior under George W. Bush.
  • David Safavian, (R) former White House top procurement official.
  • Neil Volz, (R) a former chief of staff to Ney.
  • William Heaton, (R) former chief of staff for Ney.
  • Thomas Hart, (R) former chief of staff for Ney.
  • Mark Zachares, former aide to U. S. Representative Don Young, (R-Alaska).
  • Kevin A. Ring former staff to John Doolittle (R-CA).
  • James Hirni, former staff to Tim Hutchinson (R-AR).
  • Michael Scanlon (R) former staff to Tom DeLay.
  • Tony Rudy (R) former staff to Tom DeLay.
  • James W. Ellis (R) executive director of Tom DeLay's political action committee.
  • John Colyandro executive director of Tom DeLay's political action committee.
  • John Albaugh former chief of staff to Ernest Istook (R-OK).
  • Jared Carpenter (R) VP of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.
  • Robert E. Coughlin (R) Deputy Chief of Staff, Criminal Division of the Justice Department.
  • For details on crimes and times served.

Koch Brothers


David & Charles Kock. $50,000 million.

 What if two of America's super-rich decided just buy itself a political party? What would that cost? The last presidential race cost only about a billion—2% of the Koch brother's wealth—for both parties. But why spend so much? If you're clever and secretive, just fund a fake grass-roots foundation, train some organizers, start party chapters, run some candidates, and let them raise the money. $100 million should should do the trick. That's pocket change.

If it worked, that would be the ultimate crony capitalism. Just buy a whole political party and uses it gain government favors.

So what influence would they want to have? If they owned a big oil company, they'd want to stop any climate-change laws. If they emitted a lot of air pollution, they'd want to go after the EPA. If they didn't want to pay taxes they'd want to cut any government spending and cut taxes on the rich. And if they owned a lot of different industries, they'd want their party to be anti-regulation down the line.

And to further such a project, it would be nice to end restrictions on corporate political contributions. But, then you'd need the help of the supreme court. Why not invite a couple of supreme court justices to your secret political meeting and have a chat with them? Sound far fetched?

It if worked it would be a fabulous investment. And most of those in your Tea Party would never need to know.

When the conservative financier Charles Koch sent out invitations for a political retreat in Palm Springs later this month, he highlighted past appearances at the gathering of “notable leaders” like Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court. (NYT)

The Koch brother's combined fortune of $50 billion xlnk.gif is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said,

“The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

"The brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus." —The New Yorker

"In my mind, without a doubt nobody has had more influence on the anti-Obama campaign than the Koch-funded groups."  —Taki Oldham, an Australian documentary film maker who spent months following Tea Party activists

From the extremely conservative The WashingtonExaminer:

Americans for Prosperity is led by billionaire Republican donor David Koch, whose endorsement Romney seeks. An Oct. 4 internal Romney campaign memo obtained by The Washington Examiner describes Koch as the "financial engine of the Tea Party".

The quoted phrase in from a secret internal Romney campaign memo.

"Five years ago, my brothers Charles and I provided the funds to start Americans for Prosperity,"  —David Koch, 2009, at annual AfP gathering

It is the Kochs' links to a welter of mass mobilisation campaigns opposing Barack Obama that is making the biggest impact. Political monitoring organisations say the Koch-connected Claude R Lambe Charitable Foundation has given $3.1m to Americans for Prosperity.

"[T]his is the mother of all wars over the next 16 months for the life or death of this country."  —Charles Koch, June 2011, election planning meeting


Iran, Spills, etc.

From Bloomberg (the leader in global business and financial information)

By Asjylyn Loder and David Evans - Oct 3, 2011 10:28 AM PT, Bloomberg Markets Magazine

... David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket, pledging to abolish Social Security, the Federal Reserve System, welfare, minimum wage laws and federal agencies -- including the Department of Energy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. ...

A Bloomberg Markets investigation has found that Koch Industries -- in addition to being involved in improper payments to win business in Africa, India and the Middle East -- has sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, a country the U.S. identifies as a sponsor of global terrorism. ...

From 1999 through 2003, Koch Industries was assessed more than $400 million in fines, penalties and judgments. In December 1999, a civil jury found that Koch Industries had taken oil it didn’t pay for from federal land by mismeasuring the amount of crude it was extracting. Koch paid a $25 million settlement to the U.S. ...

In 1999, a Texas jury imposed a $296 million verdict on a Koch pipeline unit -- the largest compensatory damages judgment in a wrongful death case against a corporation in U.S. history. ...

Sally Barnes-Soliz, who’s now an investigator for the State Department of Labor and Industries in Washington, says that when she worked for Koch, her bosses and a company lawyer at the Koch refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, asked her to falsify data for a report to the state on uncontrolled emissions of benzene, a known cause of cancer. Barnes-Soliz, who testified to a federal grand jury, says she refused to alter the numbers.

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” she says. “They were really kind of baffled that I had ethics.”

... Koch Industries has spent more than $50 million to lobby in Washington since 2006. ...

The brothers have backed a foundation that has trained thousands of Tea Party activists. ...

The EPA had sued Koch Industries a year earlier for a series of pipeline leaks in several states, including one that left a 12-mile-long oil slick on Nueces and Corpus Christi bays in October 1994. ...

Two days before Christmas 1999, the jury delivered the verdict: Koch Industries had made 24,587 false claims in buying oil, underpaying the U.S. government for royalties on Native American land from 1985 to 1989. ...

Three months after the Smalley verdict, Koch settled the five-year-old EPA case for pipeline leaks, along with a second EPA case brought in 1997. The company paid $35 million to resolve those cases, which covered more than 300 oil spills in six states.

For six decades around the world, Koch Industries has blazed a path to riches -- in part, by making illicit payments to win contracts, trading with a terrorist state, fixing prices, neglecting safety and ignoring environmental regulations. At the same time, Charles and David Koch have promoted a form of government that interferes less with company actions.

‘Overall Concept’

“My overall concept is to minimize the role of government and to maximize the role of the private economy and maximize personal freedoms,” David Koch told the National Journal in May 1992.

In his 2007 book, Charles Koch says his company had difficulty keeping up with changing government regulations and that it did eventually build an effective compliance program for 20 areas ranging from environmental to antitrust to safety regulations. 

“We were caught unprepared by the rapid increase in regulation,” he wrote. “While business was becoming increasingly regulated, we kept thinking and acting as if we lived in a pure market economy.”


Koch and Cato

Ed Crane

Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute (Originally called the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc.) with Ed Crane in 1974 in Wichita Kansas. Koch had the money and Crane was broke. Each of the Koch Brothers has retained a 25% share of the institute, although Charles left the board of directors in 1992 and reduced his contributions. His brother David remained on the board and a major funder of the institute.

Now they are suing for control, and the institute is resisting. But just what is going on remains a mystery.

Source: The New Yorker

Elections Inc.

Conservative favor interpreting the Constitution exactly as the founding fathers did. This requires a bit of mind reading, but it is hard to see how anyone could have thought they were talking about corporations when they guaranteed free speech. Corporate law at the time was focused on protection of the public interest, and not on the interests of corporate shareholders. Corporate charters were closely regulated by the states.

So how did it come to pass in that on Jan. 21, 2010, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court gave corporations the same right to spend in elections as ordinary citizens, in a case deceptively called "Citizens United."?  (slate)

Why Fox = Wall St.

Fox-Murcoch-WSJ.pngRupert Murdoch, the owner of the Wall St. Journal and Fox News, is the epitome of crony capitalism, having top-to-bottom links to the British government. (Tony Blair is godfather to one of Murdoch's children and his paper used to bribe the police.) So it is hardly surprising the Wall St. Journal and Fox agree on all things crony, and much more.

To illustrate the connection consider the web links from FoxNews to the the Wall Street Journal (Google: link:wsj.com site:foxnews.com, Dec. 31, 2011) and other papers:

Links from FoxNews to Number of Links
Wall Street Journal 64,900
New York Times 8,460
Washington Post 1,340
Chicago Tribune 94
Los Angeles Times 86
Atlanta Journal Constitution 39
Dallas Morning News 30
Houston Chronicle 17

Clearly the Fox News is almost totally aligned with Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street

Stop Corpocracy !
view full

 Facing hard times and an out-of-touch, tea-party Congress, the country was ripe for an anti-greed movement, and who better to target than the fat cats that caused the mess, got bailed out and thumbed their noses at us. Occupy Wall Street got the country talking about the real problem instead of the tea-party's manufactured debt crisis.

But OWS needs to focus—it needs a "cause." To get people talking is one thing. Camping en masse in NY City will do that. But scoring a victory against the 1% is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. In fact we'll be lucky if we can even elect Elizabeth Warren, who's strong on her own and is fighting in Massachusetts—OWS territory.

What's to be done? Listening to OWS and to what the country is asking for, some points are obvious. But these points get lost in confrontations with police.

  • "99%" is brilliant, because it's true, on point, and inclusive.
  • [#The 1% problem] is the crony-capitalism problem.
    • Cronies use politics to gain wealth and wealth to control politics.
  • The Supreme Court decision:  Corporations are people too. Wrong!
  • The 1% problem  =  crony capitalism  =  "Corporations are people"


OWS should adopt The End of Corpocracy as their cause.

Corpocracy is the root of the problem, and most of the country agrees, including many in the tea party. The tea party has taken up crony capitalism as a cause, but it has long been a cause of Democrats. And the Supreme Court decision flies in the face, not just of democracy, but also the right wing view that the Court follow the thoughts of the founding fathers. There is no way James Madison was thinking of corporations when he introduced the Bill of Rights. So even extreme-right tea partiers will have a hard time arguing that corporations are people.

Focus on corpocracy and OWS could go down in history as more than a flash in the pan.

The original OWS blog post (July 13, 2011) says "The most exciting candidate [for a single demand] that we've heard so far is ...

that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington. It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we're doomed without it."

But I suggest it not be a "demand," which implies that we are handing power to someone who will grant the demand, and that OWS is not taking responsibility for the hard work needed to achieve this goal. The end of corpocracy is a "cause;" it is cause that will make all other progress possible. It is what [#America] wants now, and it is much bigger than any demand that can be granted.


Some links:

The original OWS Blog Post.
How it started:   SF Chronicle,  New Yorker
Top GOP strategist is scheming.
Bank Lobbyists plan to undermine Occupy.

  Luntz figures how to defeat Occupy xlnk.gif

  Lakeoff explains to Dems that Luntz is smart xlnk.gif




[=The 1% problem] Many of the 1% are not the problem. This is not about personal attacks. But there is a huge problem located within, and represented by, the 1%.
[=America] Except for corporations, almost no one favors out-of-control lobbying or secret super PACs and their attack ads.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.

Other Twitter Protests


May 20, Madrid. (click)

  First there was Tunisia (14 Jan 2011), then Egypt, Lybia, Bahrain, Syria, and more Arab-Spring Countries. But even more similar are Spain's M-15 movement (15 May, 201), and the Israeli Summer protest beginning in July 2011. And new, perhaps the Moscow vote-fraud protests are the next step.

1000's protest, hundreds arrested.
Moscow and St. Petersburg

  Occupy is part of something much bigger, and the web is definitely part of it. Senator John McCain just offered Putin a warningxlnk.gif on Twitter: "Dear Vlad, The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you." McCain should know, Occupy just showed up in his neighborhood. We heard less about the Israeli Summer, but it is the most similar to Occupy — with tents and similar goals.

Alexei Navalnyxlnk.gif. At 2:15 p.m. on Monday, he called his huge internet following to a 7 p.m. demonstration at the Chistye Prudy park to protest “the rotten total fabrication of Moscow election results.”  He wondered why some Moscow districts reported 20 percent while identical districts next door reported 70 percent votes for United Russia. Thousands ...



There is extremism on both the left and the right, but right now, tea-party extremism is the most dangerous. In the '60s the left was radical and hated the government, and the right wingers (many now in the tea party) said "America: Love it or Leave it." Now the right wing hates the American government.

Both Extremes Hate Obama

Google finds 6 million left-extreme web pages calling Obama a Republican, and about the same number calling him a fascist, socialist or communist. Of course there's a few million more right-wing pages calling him a Muslim and a gay, queer or fag. Unfortunately opposite bozos do not cancel out, and both sides end up hurting the country and our government. Find out how.

Tea Party History: a Scoop

The Tea Party is full of real people, with real problems, many of whom volunteer time and money, and genuinely believe what they say. But almost no one knows where the Tea Party came from. The three standard myths are:

  1. It grew out of Ron Paul's campaign fundraiser held nation-wide on January 16, 2007.
  2. It was triggered by CNBC's Rick Santelli call from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for a bankers' revolt against the undeserving poor, February 19, 2009.
  3. It started as income-tax protests in 2009.

In fact, the call for a tea party dates back to 2005, and the Koch brothers have provided crucial support, from food and refreshments to organization, speakers and information. Consequently, the Tea Party reflects the extreme right-wing and libertarian views of the Koch brothers.


Abolish pubic schools, and social security, the CIA, FBI and IRS; legalize drugs, prostitution and gambling. Sound extreme? That was the libertarian position when guess who was the libertarian candidate against Ronald Reagan in 1980.

How the Far Left Helps the Right

Jim Jones, who murdered 908 American progressives in his Peoples Temple in Guyana, is an extreme example of the far left. Although he was extreme, he was not ostracized and was able to do tremendous damage to the progressive cause, tarnishing people as high as Rosalynn Carter. Without Ralph Nader, who handed Bush the presidency in 2000, we would not have had the Iraq war. If you're progressive, you need to understand the connection and the dangers.

Socialism? Fascism? What's the Difference?

Fascists hate socialists (Hitler jailed them and killed them), hate gays and unions. Many big German corporations backed Hitler, but under socialism, the government takes over big corporations. So Fascism is an extreme version of the guess what and Socialism is an extreme version of guess what


Both Hate Obama

Extremists are damaging America.

  • Left extremists say "Obama is a Republican" and they hate him.
    • Google that phrase and find 5.7 M (million) web pages.
  • Right extremist say "Obama is a Muslim" (6 M), a "fascist" (4 M), a "socialist" (3 M), a "communist (1 M), is"a fag", "gay"  or "queer" (1.6 million).

This tells us two things. The extremists are nuts, and Obama is well aligned with the average American.

Extremists don't cancel each other out — just the opposite.

  • Left extremists hurt progressives and are a godsend for right extremists.
  • Right extremists harm reasonable conservatives but help left extremists.

Together they could wreck the country. Right extremists are fueled by the Murdoch's FoxNews/WallStreet empire and Koch's political organizations that created the Tea Party. Left extremists have no such backing and can't get anyone elected. But they can discourage progressives and take votes from  Democrats. With the two extremes working hand-in-glove (while hating each other passionately), the extreme right could take both the Presidency and the Congress.

This is what recently happened in Hungary, with the result that the ultra-right party has radically re-written the constitution, and although their popularity has dropped to 20%, there's no getting rid of them.

This is also roughly the tragedy that befell Italy under Berlusconi (three-time Prime Minister) who is both a media mogal like Murdoch and an industrial tycoon like the Kochs.


Tea Party

Histories of the tea party leave out its earliest beginnings which clearly demonstrate that it was, from the start, project of the Koch brothers (pronounced Coke). The earliest information is all from the Americans For Prosperity (AFP) website. AFP was started by David Kocxlnk.gif in 2004.

  • AFP reports that "people of Maine have taken to firing cannons and staging tea parties. "At the Windham ... the thundering kickoff to the Second Great American Tea Party." This refers to a page on the AFP website that explains what prompted this tea-party kickoff by referring to findings of the Tax Foundation, which is, in part, funded by the Koch brothers.
  • The AFP Texas blog, posts and an essay claiming "Well, Boston’s a long way off and environmental regulations will preclude tea dumping in the harbor. So, taxpayers, with the help of groups such as AFP, are going the metaphorical tea party route." and concluding "But you know what does rock? A Tea party!
  • The AFP Texas blog reports on the Texas Taxpayer Tea Party Event August 16, 2007.
  •  From the AFP Texas Newsroom: Encourage all candidates to ... [sign] AFP's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) pledge. //  Special message from Carol Jones: I will be saying goodbye to Americans for Prosperity on September 5th. ... I have been associated with AFP Foundation for ten years. [This makes AFP older than previously reported.] What folks are saying about AFP:  Coryell Tea Party members would like to thank you and the other members of AFP for your hospitality at today's rally. We found the food and refreshments to be first rate and the event to be well organized. Our group members were impressed by the speakers as well as the amount of information you put forth.
  • The information above is documented in this PDF of AFP web pages.

What this and much more on the AFP web site makes clear is that David Koch's AFP conceived and orchestrated the birth of the Tea Party. It also shows that the Tea Party did not grow out of Ron Paul's January 16, 2007 fundraising tea-party events.


The premier libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, was  founded by the Koch brothers, and David Koch ran as the vice presidential candidate against Reagan in 1980. Libertarian positions at the time included:

  • Abolish public schools, welfare and Social Security
  • Do away with the I.R.S, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the Border Patrol
  • Legalize drug use, prostitution and gambling.

You get the drift. Big government is bad, so get rid of government and let big corporations (like the Koch industries) have the run of the land. Eventually Koch learned that these ideas were not popular and so he decided, to take a secretive approach instead of running for Vice President. Now he sells toned-down versions of his ideas through the Tea Parties by using deceptions. It's working much better.

Who Wrote Ron Paul's Newsletters?  Answer: Lew Rockwell, but could Paul really have never read them? What you need to know about Paul's letters.

[#Frum], a thoughtful conservative, asks if the Founding Fathers were libertarians, and in the process explains libertarian ideology. And check out this page on Ron Paul's ex-Grand Wizard (KKK) and white supremacist supporters.



[=Frum] David Frum is credited with inventing the term "axis of evil" in Bush's second State of the Union Address, and he worked at the American Enterprise Institute until 2010.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.

Ron Paul

ron_paul.jpg  That may sound harsh, but it's just a fact. Ron Paul has been studying (and fighting) social security for 40 years or more and he consistently misstates the single most basic fact about the program. And people believe him and repeat his lie (but without knowing it's a lie). Here's an example.  

Q: Are you still in favor of abolishing Social Security?
A: Yes, ... I’d like to get the young people out of it, just the younger generation, because there’s no money there, and they’re going to have to pay 50 years and they’re not going to get anything. ([#source])

Social Security is now collecting about $750 billion a year in [#payroll tax]. That's been going on for 64 years and according to law it will continue. Since the country keeps getting richer, in 50 years Social Security will be collecting much more. And that money must be used, month-by-month, to pay Social Security benefits. So in 50 years Social Security will collect about $2 trillion/year in revenue and will pay out $2 trillion a year to retirees. That is not  "no money there. they're not going to get anything." He's just lying.

The actual problem, and it's one that has been fixed many times in the passed, is that the benefits are scheduled to get ahead of the the revenue. So, if the tax revenue is not [#adjusted up] , then in 50 years, retired people would not get as much as they are now scheduled to get. But they would still get more than retired people get today. That's not nothing. Ron Paul is just a liar. He's an expert on Social Security and he knows what he's up too.

“I have gradually and steadily grown weary of the Republican Party’s efforts to reduce the size of the federal government. Since then Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party have given us skyrocketing deficits, and astoundingly a doubled national debt. How is it that the party of balanced budgets, with control of the White House and Senate, accumulated red ink greater than all previous administrations put together?”  —Ron Paul in the March-April 1987 issue of Libertarian Party News


[=payroll tax] If you have a regular job, look at your paycheck and find the FICA payment. This is mostly social security, and you employer contributes an equal amount.
[=source] Ron Paul's Full Answer
Yes, but not overnight. As a matter of fact, my program’s the only one that is going to be able to take care of the elderly. I’d like to get the young people out of it, just the younger generation, because there’s no money there, and they’re going to have to pay 50 years and they’re not going to get anything. I’d take care of all the elderly, all those who are dependent, but I would save the money from this wild spending overseas. — Source: 2008 GOP debate in Boca Raton Florida , Jan 24, 2008.
[=adjusted up] (say by not exempting all income over $106,000 per year)
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Far Left

The left gets extreme in several different ways, but because it does not have backing from corporations and billionaires, it is far less dangerous. As discussed under Extreme Enviro, a leading climate-change journalist has claimed the ocean is rising a foot a year, when it's actually rising about 1/8 of an inch per year. [#That's extreme]. And, Al Gore has published a picture suggesting the same error, and I've never found a single environmentalist correcting this. And then there are the 9/11 truthers. But let's start with Jim Jones.

Jim Jones vs Obama

Let's start with a clear example. I have a friend who spent years thinking Jim Jones, the mass murderer of 908 progressives, was nearly Jesus Christ. He almost got himself killed. But, even before Obama's election he hated Obama with a passion, and loved Ralph Nader. That's extreme.

He's a very nice, calm, intelligent guy. How could he make a such mistake? And how could he learn so little from it?

I believe, he has a simplistic view of change — Change happens if we see the light and do what's right. So he will only trust a leader who reflects that simple vision, but not one who thinks change is an incremental process that requires compromise and dialog along the way.

He's also missing an understanding of the power of the constraints that keep status quo in place. He would read this and think I was arguing for the status quo. I'm not. I'm arguing that the system that protects it is powerful. To change it for the better requires hard work, and even then, positive changes come gradually.

Strategy vs Goal

Even more difficult for extremists to understand, is the need for strategy. Not only is positive change slow, but it must often be indirect. If people are sick of confrontational politics, and the opposition demands X which cuts entirely in the wrong direction, it may be best to offer to compromise on X/2, knowing they will reject it, look unreasonable, and fail to gain their demand.

But the extremist will see the offer of X/2 and a sellout and morally reprehensible. Of course politics is far more complex, and the strategies needed to accomplish anything are also far more complex then X/2. All of this escapes the extremist, and that is why the left splinters and turns on itself. For a brilliant 80-year look at this phenomenon, read Jonathan Chait, or watch Monte Python's The Life of Brian.




[=That's extreme] Climate Change Is Not a Hoax
The best science is telling us there's a huge risk from what we're doing. Since we can begin to address this risk very cheaply, it is completely irresponsible not to. Also, I am not saying that environmental exaggerations are nearly as bad as those paid for by Exxon and the Koch brothers, but this is no excuse. And the enviro extremism only serves to discredit environmentalists.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Jim Jones vs. Obama

From Jim Jones to Ralph Nader to hating Obama 

  This is a true story. Only the name has been changed. Although its details are extreme "Mark's" thought process is shared by most of the extreme left, and in a much attenuated version is widely distributed among Progressives. From what I know of the extreme right and conservatives, they are afflicted with exactly the same curse.

Mark is a kind and thoughtful person, genuinely concerned with the plight of others, which is how he became a follower of Jim Jones, who had helped integrate some schools, churches and hospitals in Indiana. Unfortunately, although very smart, Mark tends to see things in black and white. This made him an easy mark for deception, and Jim Jones, a 50's era communist turned preacher, was a great deceiver. Luckily for Mark, he eventually got close enough to Jones to see his dark side, and fearing for his life, he escaped and hid out while Jones took his cult followers to Jonestown, Guyana.

In November 1978 U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited the "Peoples Temple" in Jonestown to check on complaints and was murdered along with four others. This led to a coerced mass suicide by cyanide-laced "kool-aid" in which Jones and 908 followers died, 303 of them, children. This is the worst mass murder (excluding 9/11) in US history, and it targeted idealistic progressives like Mark.

Before Jonestown, Jim Jones had gained the public support of such progressive leaders as, George Moscone, Walter Mondale, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Willie Brown, Jerry Brown, and Harvey Milk. All of these people were nothing like Jones, but were deceived by him, and by lending him their support, they were, to some extent, discredited by him. In fact progressives have had to live with the epithet, "you drank the kool-aid," ever since.

Now you might think Mark, who was genuinely horrified by Jones, even before Jonestown, would have been chastened by this experience and become cautious about who he followed. But personalities don't change easily. Extremists tend to stay extreme even when they flip from one extreme to another. But Mark didn't flip and the last I heard, he was following Ralph Nader who has done just as much damage to the progressive cause. By taking 98,000 votes in Florida, he handed George Bush the [#election] (Gore only needed 538 votes). And this was no accident; Nader hates Clinton and Gore, but had pledged to stay out of close state races. In the end, however, he couldn't help himself and actively campaigned in Florida.

So Mark has remained an extremist. And, of course, seeing that Obama was anything but extreme, he hated him with a passion from the start. This is part of how I knew, even before the election, that the extreme "left" would turn on Obama if he were elected. These so-called-left extremists will likely join the right extremists and bring victory once again to the Republicans.


[=election] Yes a fair recount might have saved Gore. And a bit of charisma might have, and X might have and Y too. But none of that negates the fact that if Nader had not gotten in the way, Gore would have won easily, and we would not have had the Iraq war.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Strategy vs Goal

Two Causes of Extremism

Aside from personality disorders, hubris and the ends-means confusion are the two main sources of extremism. I  Let me explain.

Suppose a group of friends are driving to a restaurant and once says "turn right" and the other "turn left." Why did they disagree? There are only two generic answers: ends and means. It could be one doesn't actually want to go to that restaurant (disagrees on the ends) and is trying to disrupt the plan. Or it could be that they just have a disagreement about which route is best (means).

Normally, with friends, we assume the disagreement is about means — what's the best route, approach or strategy. Normally. But not with politics. Were the restaurant political, these "friends" would probably assume someone was a traitor to their cause, and forget that their can be honest differences over how to get there.

A Case In Point:

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation:

"And here's a no brainer: after a year of being knifed by the GOP at every turn, isn't it time to give up on faith in genteel postpartisanship?" (p. 26, The Change I believe In.)

Now she has not, in this case, assumed Obama has a different goal on issues, but she has assumed that he is trusting in "genteel postpartisanship" — that his intermediate goal is to have a friendly chat with the Republicans and work things out. So what's wrong with that analysis?

  1. She thinks her view is a "no brainer," which means his goal is brainless. That's hubris.
  2. She thinks that because he acting non-partisan he is expecting it to work. That bipartisanship is and one of his goals (ends) and not just a means.

Here's the alternative explanation she forgot to consider. By taking a bipartisan approach, he demonstrates the Republicans are the extremists. He may well believe, that only after this is revealed will he be able to win. And winning, is never just about the issue at hand, it's also about the 2012 election. Now I can't read Obama's mind much better than Katrina, although I have the advantage of knowing he has a brain and and thinks strategically, but it is clearly wrong to ignore the possibility that Obama is working a strategy. And even if she thinks it's a poor strategy, it is unhelpful at the least to pretend he is simply empty headed.

This Case Is the Rule, Not the Except;on

So far in Katrina's book, in spite of dozens of opportunities, I have no found one case in which she has said, "I can see that Obama is in a tough position and acting as he does for strategic reasons, which are clever, but it looks like he's misjudging factor X." That is what is called for in every case. Obama is not a no brainer, and he is not "malleable" as to his goals, as Katrina seems to believe.

Obama is, in an extremely difficult position, needing blue dogs for support, and up against a country whipped into an irrational frenzy over "ObamaCare." He is choosing strategies (means) after intense and prolonged debate. And, yes he's made a lot of mistakes — assuming you could do better as president is where hubris comes in again. But worse than hubris, is the assumption that Obama has gone back on his principles (ends) every time he takes an indirect approach for strategic reasons (means).

Extreme Enviro

Environmentalists tend toward simple strategies, such as locking in the next 40 years of carbon policy right now based on a magic number like 80% by 2050. That's a hard sell and they get frustrated. Then they try scare tactics and then they start believing their own rhetoric. Here's an example.

A hundred fold exaggeration 

Ross Gelbspan, one of the best known and most prolific popularizes of global warming has a chapter claiming that certain islands in the South Pacific are being flooded by the ocean rising a one foot per year. I found this a bit odd, since everywhere else it is rising about 1/10 of one inch per year. And since water seeks its one level, we can't very well have a big mound of water in the South Pacific. As it turns out, Gelbspan had simply misread the newspaper report he had posted on his own website. Hence the 100 fold exaggeration. (full story)

Al Gore too

Unfortunately, Al Gore fell for this story as well. He has a picture in his book of waves crashing over such an island, and there is no way to interpret his text except to mean that the photo is showing the actual effect of global warming that has already occurred. This is complete nonsense, as he could have found out by contacting James Hansen, the leading environmentalist climate scientist, who specializes in sea level rise.

Why this is disastrous

This and many other environmental exaggerations are disastrous not because they will scare us into taking un-needed drastic actions. Just he opposite. What environmentalist need more than anything is credibility, and such exaggerations destroy credibility. In the long run, it is completely counter productive, as is all of the left extremism.

Islands vs the Sea

This is an excerpt from my book Carbonomics. After documenting the deceptions perpetrated by the anti-science, warming-deniers funded by the oil industry, I turn to and example of gross exaggeration by one of the best known environmental reporters. (from chapter 4)

Of Islands and Sea Levels

Exxon is worth about half a trillion dollars. Ross Gelbspan, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, rather less. But he enjoys taking on the giant. Al Gore, for one, has commended him for his efforts, and he deserves the praise.

But page 2 of Gelbspan’s 2004 book Boiling Point begins with a curious statement: “The evidence [for global warming] is not subtle.” Gelbspan finds the case for global warming terrifyingly obvious. But if the evidence really is so obvious, why don’t the scientists notice? Why do they keep doing all these complicated studies and end up only 90 percent sure? Are they a bit dense? Perhaps they should read Gelbspan’s book.

Gelbspan’s certainty that global warming is obvious runs through his work as a reporter, making him incautious. Consider this excerpt from Boiling Point about a group of Pacific islands:

In November 2000, officials began the permanent evacuation of more than 40,000 people from their traditional home. As the British newspaper The Independent noted, “[this] could be the dress rehearsal for millions of people around the globe affected by risingsea levels.” … The islands are just 12 feet above sea level, and water levels are rising at 11.8 inches per year.

Gelbspan tells us—based on an article in The Independent—that the sea level is rising 11.8 inches per year due to global warming. But an experienced reporter writing his second book on global warming should have noticed something fishy about 11.8 inches per year. That really is awfully fast.

So how might an investigative reporter proceed? First, a close reading of the source newspaper article, which can be found on Gelbspan’s Web site, reveals it does not say the sea level was rising 11.8 inches per year. Instead it says “The islands … are sinking 11.8 inches a year.” That’s a little different.

To check further, a reporter might next try the IPCC’s 2001 report. Download the Summary for Policymakers from the group’s Web site, and search for “sea level.” The second hit reads, “Global mean sea level: Increased at an average annual rate of 1 to 2 mm during the 20th century.” That’s in Table 1. There are about 25 millimeters to an inch. Two millimeters annually is less than a tenth of an inch per year.

So 11.8 inches per year is about 100 times too fast to be caused by global
warming. The islands’ problem is not the tenth-of-an-inch per year rise in sea
level. The problem really is that the islands are sinking. Here’s a news report
from 2000 explaining why.

The move from the Duke of York group [of islands] is mostly due to a spectacular clashing of tectonic plates. The shift is extremely violent and this month saw a magnitude eight earthquake and several in the seven range. … The islands are sinking 30 centimetres (11.8 inches) a year. (Michael Field, Agence France Presse, November 28, 2000)

The problem really is that the islands are sinking, and they are sinking because of plate tectonics—that is, one part of the earth’s crust is sliding under another. This has nothing to do with global warming.

Unfortunately, Gelbspan’s misstatement of the facts appears to be part of a pattern in which Gelbspan and some other members of the press inadvertently undermine the credibility of the science of global warming by overstating its conclusions. For example, in the same book, Gelbspan says, “Were the Greenland Ice Sheet (or a substantial part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet) to slide into the oceans, it could cause a rapid rise in sea levels. Since about half the world’s population lives near coastlines, the consequences could be chaotic.”

“Slide,” “rapid,” “chaotic.” All possibly true on the centuries-long timescales that climate scientists normally consider. But when I read that passage, I formed an image like one in an old-time newsreel, in which someone breaks a bottle of champagne across a ship’s bow, and the ship slides into the water with a great splash. What Gelbspan and other reporters need to point out when they say “rapid” is that in a worst-case scenario—beyond anything the IPCC predicts—“rapid” means Greenland’s ice will take 100 years to slide into the sea and the sea level will rise about half an inch per year.

Warning of extreme possibilities is valuable so that people can consider the risks. But reporting extremes as if they are the likely outcome, and reporting them in misleading language, ends up making people more skeptical of the science—to the delight, I am sure, of the oil companies.

Socialism? Fascism?

Answer: So Fascism is an extreme version of the Tea and Koch Party and Socialism is an extreme version of Occupy Wall Street. Well, it's quite a bit more complicated, but that's the rough alignment. Fortunately, most people in both groups are no where near the extreme.

  Republicans like to call people socialists.  

  • Michele Bachmann calls Newt Gingrich a "frugal socialist."
  • Michele Bachmann calls G. W. Bush a "socialist."
  • The Wall St. Journal calls the Federal Reserve "socialist."
  • New Gingrich call the Congressional Budget Office a "social institution."
  • Fox News calls the Muppets socialists.

And they all call Obama and the Democrats socialists. The idea is that if it's related to government and you don't like it, then it's socialist.

But until the Republicans started this name game, socialist meant government "owning the means of production." You can define "production" pretty broadly, but traditionally it did not mean the fire department, even though those departments are quite productive. And it did not mean the defense department or the police department.

Presidential hopeful Rick Perry wants to eliminate the departments of Commerce, Education and, when he can remember, Energy. They're "socialist" because he doesn't like them. They have nothing to do with actual socialism, which means having the government own banks, steel mills and car companies.

Socialism vs. Fascism

Hitler's first target for destruction, was the German Socialist Party. The socialists fought Franco. He was a fascist. At first however Hitler subscribed to socialist views regarding capitalists, hence the name National Socialists. However once in power however the conservatives Hermann Göring and  Heinrich Himmler moved Hitler away from these views and Germany end up essentially fascist. Big capital was allowed to operate profitably provided it cooperated with the state, and workers were completely excluded from power.

The difference between the two can be summarized roughly as:

  • Under socialism the government—not capitalists—own the major industries.
  • Under fascism, the big capitalists basically own the government.

Here's a little more detail:

What is Socialism?

Republicans now uses "Socialist" instead of "Communist" or Commie -- the terms they used in Senator McCarthy's (R-WI) right-wing witch hunting days of the 1950's. But look in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Socialism means the government owns "the means of production," and that paychecks are "unequal" and people are paid according to "work done."
That means the government, and not capitalists, would own things like auto plants, oil refineries, and perhaps services like: restaurants, banks, police, parks, and libraries. The idea was that the government would earn a profit, and people would be paid for work. (I once ate in a government restaurant in semi-socialist Yugoslavia.)
So, has Obama nationalized any banks? No. Oil refineries? No. The only thing even close is that the government will basically extend Medicare to about 10% more Americans who didn't have health insurance. So if you think Medicare is socialist because the government has taken some business away from our wonderful health insurance industry, then that's a bit of socialism. But compared with public schools, police, roads, and parks, it's tiny. And most people think that roads-and-parks "socialism" is just fine.

Was Hitler a Socialist?

Don't believe everything Hitler and Rush Limbaugh say. Hitler called his party "National Socialists." North Korea calls itself the "Democratic People's Republic." What? You're not buying what Dear Leader tells us? So the truth was the opposite of what Hitler said. No! Hitler and Rush would not lie to us, would they?
Hitler was a Fascist. He hated the Socialists, Communists and trade unions most. After he set the Reichstag fire in February 1933, he pinned it on the Communists and banned the German Socialist Party. Communists and Socialists were swept into concentration camps or forced to flee the country. Rush would have been thrilled. (Truman Libarary xlnk.gif)

Communist Hunters

May 26, 2012. Dr. Deer (aka James Kroll) Wisconsin Governor Walker's appointed "Deer Czar" says hunters are communists if they favor deer hunting on public lands instead of on private deer ranches surrounded by eight-foot fences. Check this out, and "Like" it if you like it. Wisconsin deer.

He says public game management "is the last bastion of communism." This is all revealed in "Texas Monthly." Dr. Dough, as he's known down in Texas, has is only high-fenced 200 acre spread, and he backs up his money-making plans with stories from South Africa, where they apparently don't know how to manage their game.

But does Wisconsin need to fence in all its deer just because South Africa has problems and because he see's communists anywhere government performs a service that he thinks he can make a buck off of?


Making Sense

Two Conservative Principles Worth Following

Currently, the dangerous politics is on the right, orchestrated by the libertarian Koch brothers, Murdoch, and a few other extremely rich capitalists. In spite of this, there are two old-fashioned conservative ideas that progressives need to pay more attention to:

These provide a path to good government and are not a prescription for no government. But what should government do?

The Three Roles of Government

  1. To protection us from bad people (with laws), bad business (with regulations), and from external threats (with the military).
  2. To "[#promote the general Welfare]":
    • parks, highways, clean water, inventing the internet ...
    • unemployment insurance, disaster relief, medicare, social security, ...
  3.  To stabilize our market economy — for jobs and growth.

In all cases, the government should do what markets do not do well and should not do what markets are better at doing. For example, if the market provided the streets leading your house, each would be owned by one company with a monopoly on that street. Would you want to pay tolls to such a free-market company? On the other hand, would you want the government to take over the car companies? Markets do some things extremely well, but for other things, we really need the government. It seems silly to need to say this, but we live in silly times.

Is This Site Liberal or Conservative?

Liberals are more optimistic about human nature and conservatives more pessimistic. So liberals favor cooperation and conservatives, competition. Competition is great in sports and business, but cooperation is the right approach for most of life — families, education, religion, science, non-competitive sports, health, etc. Liberals often try to push cooperation too far, at least for this stage of history (say the next 200 years).

Cooperation is good to the extent we can make it work, but that requires a hard-headed approach that most liberals find uncomfortable. The result of being too "liberal" is failure — and less cooperation. Occupy Wall Street is showing us just that badly disorganized cooperation can make a little progress, but will soon fail.  Also, the most extreme 1% of the left gets heavy handed. That's just ugly. If there were such a thing, I'd be a compassionate conservative or a hard-headed liberal. Since there's not, I'll call [#myself] progressive, which, in honor of [#Humpty-Dumpty], will mean just what I choose it to mean.

If you think this site is just liberal, read this. If you think this site is just conservative, read this.

What the Righ Gets Right


[=promote the general Welfare] From the first sentence of the U.S. Constitution. This does not mean the federal government can do whatever it wants. But it does mean that it should do things for the common good that are within its powers.
[=Humpty-Dumpty] 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'  (Through the Looking Glass) And, so it is with "progressive."
[=myself] I'm Steven Stoft and I approve this message. See About zFacts.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


  • Libertarian conservatives emphasize personal responsibility and oppose social responsibility except for enforcing property rights.
  • Liberals emphasize social responsibility and tend to leave personal responsibility out of policy considerations.

Both sides have a point. Both personal and social responsibility have always been essential to the success of America, and indeed are essential to any society most of us would want to live in.

But each side makes an error:

  • Conservatives believe that any responsibility society takes will undermine personal responsibility.
  • Liberals believe that there is little chance of this, and little cause for concern.


A natural disaster will serve to illustrate where both sides go wrong. Suppose there were three magnitude 7.5 to 7.7 earthquakes centered at the [#corner of Missouri], KY and TN, as there were in 1811-12. And suppose these killed 100,000 Midwesterners instantly, and forced more than 7 million people out of their homes, as estimated in a recent simulation.

Except for a few extreme libertarians, we would want the federal government to respond vigorously—and spend a lot of money helping families and communities get back on their feet. We would not want them checking who had bought how much earthquake insurance in the free market. Of course we want the response to be well-run and not to waste money, but possible waste is no excuse to shirk our social responsibility, it's only a reason to create a good government. Libertarian principles are simply immoral in such circumstances.

But consider flooding on a once in 30-year scale. Certainly, emergency relief should be provided, but for those who did not buy flood insurance, the government should not step in and pay for damage as if they had. This rewards and encourages a lack of responsibility. And this is not just a matter of rewarding those who didn't buy insurance, the wrong policy will also encourage people to build houses where houses should not be built.

Note that taking care of earthquake victims is federal earthquake insurance. Worse yet, from a libertarian point of view, it is free, subsidized, federal earthquake insurance. And that's the way it must be if it is going to work. We cannot expect all Midwesterners to pony up for FEMA earthquake insurance and then have FEMA checking everyone's insurance papers before they help them.

The conclusion must be that simple-minded answers such as, "No government insurance," or "Free insurance for everyone," are worse than useless. We need government and we need good government. And that takes more than protest signs and sloganeering.


[=corner of Missouri]  The New-Madrid earthquakes occurred on 12/16/1811, 1/23/1812 and 2/7/1812. The first of these was followed by a 7.0 after shock, and it cause strong shaking in an area 10 times larger than the San Francisco quake of 1906. The last one woke people in New York City.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.

Waste Not

One thing most progressives need to learn from conservatives is that not wasting public money really is important. Yes, it's true, that progressives don't like waste. And conservatives often tolerate huge waste in the military, but that is no excuse. It's also true that conservatives often use waste as an excuse not to spend even when the waste would be minimal and the benefit great. But that's no excuse either.

The point is that conservatives are much more likely to show concern about waste, and that, by itself, is good. It is also true that progressives, I'm thinking now of Van Jones, can write a whole book on schemes for greening America, a fine idea, and barely mention the need to spend money efficiently. It's also possible for California's Air Resources Board to evaluate 20 low-carbon approaches and decide that not even the most expensive should be ruled out  or minimized. And they did not even feel a need to comment on this decision. (full story)

Jobs First

America now has 17 million unemployed, up from the normal level of about 7 million. This is directly effecting something like 40 million, counting their families. And the worst thing about unemployment is not the loss of income per se, but the permanent damage to the unemployed and their families.

If this were unavoidable, that would be one thing, but it's not, and so it is wrong to let it happen. Partly this is being done out of ignorance, but there are economic and political forces driving this ignorance.

The rich do not want the necessary spending because they might have to pay, and the Republican politicians don't want to see unemployment reduced because high unemployment is what damages Obama most.

But could we end unemployment?

We could. As every politician knows, ear-marking federal money for their district creates jobs. That is the main reason they want earmarks. In good times, when unemployment is as low as it will go, this won't work.

But whenever there's excess unemployment, it will work—hence the desire for earmarks. Now I am not(!) advocating earmarks. I'm saying we know how to reduce unemployment — just hire people. All the crazy supply-side rhetoric in the world will not wash away that simple fact. (see What to Do)


China's poor regulations: China has a bad reputation for unsafe products including food. Why is that? Because they don't have good regulations or good enforcement.

Next question. Why doesn't China have good regulation? Because Chinese business does not want government regulation, and ordinary people are not free to organize protests in China.

America's good regulations:  Business in the US is similar to business in China. No business wants to be regulated (although they do want their competitors regulated to keep the up the reputation of their industry). But in the US, we citizens still have some say, and so we have laws (regulations) that keep us pretty safe from dangerous business practices. We should congratulate ourselves for this.

Regulating the Jungle.  As Reagan said: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' And so the government spent some time terrifying the Chicago slaughter houses after Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906. The result is we have much safer food. And just four months ago the CDC tracked down the 26-state outbreak of antibiotic resistant Salmonela and knocked on the door of Cargill, which then recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey.  And that's why our food is some of the safest in the world. Or from a conservative viewpoint, those are the so-called [#job-killing] regulations that make food cost so much and terrify us.

Why regulations don't kill jobs

Businesses don't make dangerous products because they want to kill us. They just do it because it's cheaper to make bad products. And it's mainly cheaper because it takes less work to make a bad product. So when regulations force a safer product, it almost always requires more workers to make it. Regulations usually do make things cost more — you get what you pay for. But they do not cause unemployment. This is just a propaganda from businessmen like the Koch brothers who don't like to be fined for oil spills and what not.


Markets for Insurance

Markets are fantastic for some purposes, but not for everything. Suppose you have health insurance with your job, an develop a chronic disease. Then you get laid off, and start working on your own. You will find it next to impossible to get insurance for your illness because insurance is for risks, not for for certain problems. Even if there were time you could not by fire insure for a burning house.

Another problem with medical insurance is that insurance companies profit from not paying claims. So they spend a lot of money—your money—avoiding payments and you have to spend a lot of time trying to get paid. This is not how a normal market works, and economics tells use there are serious problems with some (not all) insurance markets.

Health insurance is one such market, and it works better if the government provides basic health insurance.

A Few of the Market Failures in the Health Insurance Industry

  • If you get a chronic illness, try to use your insurance and find out your insurer is terrible, the free market will not let you quit and buy insurance from another company.
  • If you start collecting on your insurance (instead of just paying), the insurance company has a motive to avoid paying and to make your life miserable.
  • If you lose your health insurance after you get a chronic illness, it's almost impossible to buy insurance.

Romney's Mistake

What Romney said: "I was talking about insurance companies. We like to be able to get rid of insurance companies that don't give us the service that we need." This comment concerned heath insurance.

Aaron Carroll explains why Romney is essentially wrong, and incidentally explains a fundamental problem in health-insurance markets.

"The real issue, unfortunately, is that very, very few people have the luxury that Gov. Romney is endorsing. Let’s say that you are self-employed, and lucky enough to have found a company to provide you with health insurance. Then, let’s say you develop cancer. You suddenly find out that your insurance company stinks. So you fire them, right?

Of course not. You’re screwed. Now you have a pre-existing condition. There’s not an insurance company out there that wants to cover you. So you don’t fire them. You scream, and curse, and cry, but you’re stuck. Only healthy people have the luxury of picking and choosing.

Let’s also not forget that most people don’t find out that they’re not getting “good service” until they’re sick. Healthy people don’t make much use of their insurance, so they don’t know how bad it is. They only find out after they’re ill, and then it’s too late. It’s only fun to fire the insurance company if you’re sure you can go to another company to get what you need. Almost no one can."

Say What?

  • Don't say you're against corporations.
    • You almost surely are not — think of your cell phone, iPod, car, refrigerator ...
    • Saying that allows the right brand progressives as socialists, and we're not.
  • Talk (and think !!) about avoiding government waste.
  • Don't exaggerate.
    • E.g. Do not say that on our present course global warming will definitely be catastrophic in 50 years. The UN scientists were very careful NOT to say that, and you do not know more than they do.
  • Listen to your opponents and let them know when you agree
    • Except for the crazy ones,  you will find something in common with most people, and you will learn a little from many.
    • If you show them you listen they will be much more likely to listen to you.
  • Keep it simple
    • Simple accurate points are for more persuasive.
    • Complicated leads to mistakes.
  • Explain why your view is moral or ethical
    • Economic stimulus matters because getting laid off due to a financial/housing bubble is unfair and harmful to millions of families who did nothing to cause the problem.
  • Don't rant. Don't be offensive
    • It may feel satisfying, but hurts your cause and hence, your friends who are with you.

Self-Defeating Left

The People's Front of Firedog Lake

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian (a left-wing Jesus), bitterly feuding splinter groups — the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, and on and on — all hate each other more than they hate the Romans. The Self-Defeating Left (SDL) is nothing new and is so widely recognized it needs no introduction.

The SDL has plagued every Democratic president starting with Roosevelt — yes, even FDR. It gave us Bush & Cheney (remember Ralph Nader's 2% share of the Florida [#vote] in 2000?), and it is about to usher in Romney and a T-Party Congress. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and in-fighting.

There are two types in the SDL:

  1. SDL extremists (like [#fireDogLake]) despise or even hate the most effective progressives.
  2. SDL regulars are disappointed because of unrealistic views of the past and of present obstacles.

The self-defeating extremists view it as their job to demoralize progressives and, if possible, convert them to bitterness.

What You Can Do

First, don't listen to the extremists. They are [#not progressives].  Second, if you are an SDL regular or know one, take heart. Many things that seem discouraging are actually signs of smarter thinking than we've had in the past. The first step is to see the past clearly -- it was far less rosey than extremists claim, and by comparison Obama is actually doing better against heavier odds. For example, LBJ, that master of Congress, alienated his base so badly that he could not even run again (and his 500,000 troop escalation of the Vietnam war deserved that reaction).

Here are three important illusions to dispell: 

How Flawed Thinking Causes Self Defeat

A fundamental logica fallacy causes all the trouble. The "logic" goes like this:

  1. It would be good to have X (for example an end to war).
  2. Obama should just (1) say "I'm for X," or (2) do X immediately.
  3. Obama is not doing (1) or (2), and he knows he should.
  4. Obama must be a Republican.

So what's wrong with that? Usually #2 is wrong. Here's why:

  1. Saying "I'm for X," may have no effect. And doing X may be impossible.
  2. Either may cause a very harmful backlash.

The world contains many powerful and mean-spirited forces. Some are obvious, but many are stealthy. Although the left claims to know this, in practice they forget and assume that Obama could easily overcome all such forces if only he would speak out. This is the illusion at the heart of the flawed thinking. Evil is powerful, we need much more power before we can overcome it.

A Facing Reality Will Make You Happier

Strange as it may seem, admitting the power of the dark side, should make you happier.

If we face up to how tough the struggle for a better world actually is, and shed our illusions about the rosy past, we will be rewarded by the discovery that many are on our side who we thought had betrayed us. This is worth the candle. If you have the courage, click the three links above.



[=fireDogLake] For example see FireDogLake,
where blogger Attaturk leads the attack on Obama's Sept. 8, 2011 "Pass this jobs bill" speech. His rant about how many people Obama has killed is accompanied by a poster suggesting mass-murderer Charles Manson would make a better president. The 48 following comments generally agree with him, and none disagree.
[=not progressives] Spouting ultra-left slogans, like Stalin or Jim Jones, does not make you left. The test is, are you actually being effective at making the world a little better.
[=vote] Yes a fair recount might have saved Gore. And a bit of charisma might have, and X might have and Y too. But none of that negates the fact that if Nader had not gotten in the way, Gore would have won easily, and we would not have had the Iraq war.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Rose-Colored Glasses

Rose-Colored-Glasses.jpgBefore President Obama was elected, I lived in dread of two outcomes, that he would not be elected and that he would be elected. No one shared my twin concerns. But I was absolutely sure that if he was elected, progressives would be dreadfully disappointed and would turn on him.

And so they did. And they were surprised at "who he really was." And I [#was not]. Neither was I surprised with their disappointment and resentment. The test of a good theory is its ability to make predictions of non-obvious outcomes, so I say my theory of political dynamics passed with flying colors, and the hunches of self-defeating progressives failed.

One thing I had going for me — I'm old. I had seen this before with Clinton, Carter, LBJ, and in local politics. I also had a theory of why it happens; that comes under "Complex Strategies."

But I didn't know the half of it, and Jonathan Chait does. He's done the historical research and his article takes a fascinating look at this phenomenon back to Roosevelt.

Warning: the following history is a bit dismal,
but the point may not be what you expect, so check the Conclusion 

Obama is compared unfavorably to Clinton, the master politician:

  • Clinton took office in a recession and tried to pass a $19.5 B stimulus package. It was blocked. He tried for $15.4, and that got killed.
  • Obama passed a $787 B stimulus in three weeks. That's $100 B more than Bush got passed for his six years of the Iraq war.
  • Clinton raised the top tax rate and passed an earned-income tax credit — Liberals were disappointed.
  • He failed to integrate gays into the military. 
  • Bob Herbert of the NYTs said "“The disappointment and disillusionment with President Clinton are widespread …  because he tries so hard to be liked by everyone.”

Carter was a complete disappointment.

Obama is criticized for his Afghanistan surge, and compared to Johnson (LBJ) the president who knew how to get things through Congress.

  • LBJ's Vietnam surge was 480,000 troops, 16 times bigger than Obama's Afghanistan surge, and LBJ's lasted much longer. And that war cost 50,000 American lives, two million Vietnamese and untold Cambodian lives before it was over.
  • The left held frequent protests to call him a murderer, and drove him from office.
  • Then it was so disappointed with Humphrey that he lost to Nixon.

Kennedy is hard to match in our Memories:

  • Three months after taking office he launched the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba — a complete fiasco almost leading to [#nuclear war].
  • Kennedy lacked the votes in Congress to push his civil-rights legislation, so he placated James Eastland, a powerful Jim Crow senator from Mississippi, by nominating the arch-segregationist judge William Harold Cox to the federal bench.


  • Liberal columnist Max Lerner decried Truman’s mania for “cooperation” and his eagerness “to blink [past] the real social cleavage and struggles,” attributing this pathological eagerness to avoid conflict to his “middle-class mentality.”  (I'm quoting Jonathan Chait)

Roosevelt, the president most often used to belittle Obama:

  • He ran against Hoover's high deficits and immediately passed an austerity budget. Ooops. Then in 1937 he repeated the mistake.
  • After 5 months in office he created the "Federal Emergency Relief Administration" (WPA) and funded it at half a billion. Relative to his economy, that's still 5 times smaller than Obama's stimulus. 
  • Roosevelt's Social Security bill passed the House 372 to 33 with 81% of Republicans voting for it and with 64% of Republican Senators voting for it.
  • In spite of having such a strong hand, the meager benefits were financed by a regressive tax, and domestic workers and other black-dominated professions were excluded.
  • By Executive Order 9066, he sent 110,000 Japanese to internment camps for a year and half, most of them US citizens.
  • Imagine if Obama had done something equivalent.


The point is not to condemn these presidents. Sometimes they were mistaken but many times they had to make painful tradeoffs  I have left out their accomplishments, because my point is only to show that the past has never been so rosy as the memory of it when we use it to condemn the present. So let us take off the rose color spectacles and have a look at what real presidents are up against and how they deal with fickle friends and implacable foes. Next: Complex Strategy.




[=was not] I'm not saying that I could
see through Obama before the election. That's a tiny bid true, but mostly I'm saying, "He still is who you thought he was, he just has to look different as President than as a candidate." I foresaw his change in appearance. In fact, if you listened closely he warned us this had to happen. (see Complex Strategies)
[=nuclear war]  The invasion led Castro to accept Russian missiles. This led to the Cuban missile crisis, which is the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. 
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


SDL History

When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?
New York Magazine (link)
By Jonathan Chait, published Nov 20, 2011. (Clean PDF)

In a rush? Here's a half-length version of Chait's long but superb article.

Jonathan Chait

If we trace liberal disappointment with President Obama to its origins, to try to pinpoint the moment when his crestfallen supporters realized that this was Not Change They Could Believe In, the souring probably began on December 17, 2008, when Obama announced that conservative Evangelical pastor Rick Warren would speak at his inauguration.  ... On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow rode the story almost nightly: “I think the problem is getting larger for Barack Obama.” Negative 34 days into the start of the Obama presidency, the honeymoon was over. ...

“We are all incredibly frustrated,” Justin Ruben, MoveOn’s executive director, told the Washington Post in September. “I’m disappointed in Obama,” complained Steve Jobs, according to Walter Isaacson’s new biography. The assessments appear equally morose among the most left-wing and the most moderate of Obama’s supporters, among opinion leaders and rank-and-file voters. In early 2004, Democrats, by a 25-point margin, described themselves as “more enthusiastic than usual about voting.” At the beginning of 2008, the margin had shot up to over 60 percentage points. Now as many Democrats say they’re less enthusiastic about voting as say they’re more enthusiastic.

(“I’m like everybody, I want more action,” an apologetic Chris Rock said earlier this month. “I believe wholeheartedly if he’s back in, he’s going to do some gangsta shit.”)

There are any number of arguments about things Obama did wrong. Some of them are completely misplaced, like blaming Obama for compromises that senators forced him to make. Many of them demand Obama do something he can’t do, like Maddow’s urging the administration to pass an energy bill through a special process called budget reconciliation—a great-sounding idea except for the fact that it’s against the rules of the Senate. Others castigate Obama for doing something he did not actually do at all (i.e., Drew Westen’s attention-grabbing, anguished New York Times essay assailing Obama for signing a budget deal with cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid that were not actually in the budget in question).

I spend a lot of time rebutting these arguments, and their proponents spend a lot of time calling me an Obama apologist.

Some of the complaints are right, and despite being an Obama apologist, I’ve made quite a few of them myself. (The debt-ceiling hostage negotiations drove me to distraction.) But I don’t think any of the complaints—right, wrong, or ­otherwise—really explain why liberals are so depressed.

Here is my explanation: Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.

Bill Clinton
"The disappointment and disillusionment with President Clinton are widespread." —Bob Herbert, New York Times, 1993. (Photo: Steve Liss/Liaison/Getty Images)

One variant of liberal disappointment has taken the form of resurgent Clinton nostalgia. Hillary Clinton, removed from the undertow of partisan combat in her role as secretary of State, has enjoyed soaring approval ratings, while Bill has burnished his credentials with a book on fixing the economy. If Bill Clinton (or Hillary Clinton—admirers tend to blur their identities) were in charge, pine their devotees, they wouldn’t have rolled over on the economy. They’d have fought the Republicans on the stimulus and won. “If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama,” James Carville told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast last year, “he’d have two.”  ...

It is odd that Bill Clinton’s imagined role as ass-kicking economic savior has become the object of such extensive liberal fantasy. We don’t have to speculate as to what Clinton would have done if Republicans had blocked his economic stimulus. It actually happened. Clinton had campaigned promising a stimulus bill to alleviate widespread economic pain, with unemployment at 7.5 percent at the start of his term. Like Obama, Clinton needed a handful of Republican senators to pass it (Obama needed two Republican votes to break a filibuster, Clinton three). Clinton’s proposed stimulus was $19.5 billion. Unable to break a Republican filibuster, Clinton offered to pare it down to $15.4 billion. Republicans killed it anyway, creating an image of a Clinton administration in disarray.

Certainly, the circumstances faced by Clinton were different. (For one thing, the recession was far less deep and passed its worst point shortly after he took office, making the case for stimulus less urgent.) Still, nothing in this episode suggests Clinton possessed any special communicative or legislative skill that would have enabled him or his wife, had either held office in 2009, to pass a larger stimulus than the $787 billion bill Obama signed. [Note: this is what Bush spent in 6 years on the Iraq War.]

Clinton did enjoy one major triumph in his first year, when he passed a budget bill that raised the top tax rate, expanded the earned-income tax credit, created a new national-service program for graduates, and reformed other parts of the budget. This was the progressive apogee of the Clinton administration. Liberals at the time viewed it as a sad half-measure. ...

Six months into Clinton’s presidency, after he had abandoned his effort to integrate gays into the military, Bob Herbert summarized what had already settled as the liberal narrative: “The disappointment and disillusionment with President Clinton are widespread … He doesn’t seem to understand that much of the disappointment and disillusionment is because he tries so hard to be liked by everyone.” Hardly anybody contested that portrait. ... 

After Republicans swept the midterm elections, Clinton moved further rightward. He famously declared that “the era of big government is over” and brought in reptilian operator Dick Morris—not yet the right-wing conspiracy-monger seen on Fox News these days, but distinctly right of center—as his chief political adviser. He signed a welfare-reform bill containing such Draconian provisions that several liberals resigned from his administration in protest. ...

"He has failed by both the general standards of competent administration and the special standards of the liberal agenda." —Editors, The New Republic, 1980 (Photo: MPI/Getty Images)

Today, Carter is remembered as a president anchored in liberal values, a revision of history both conservatives and Carter himself are happy to leave uncorrected. But the truth is that Carter’s domestic agenda carried only small bits of liberalism, and those small bits (a consumer-protection agency, tax reform) met with total failure in the Democratic Congress.

Before Carter came Lyndon Johnson. You probably remember this presidency didn’t go well. Protesters outside the White House were calling him a murderer every day; he was challenged in the Democratic primary and pressured to quit his reelection race. So strong was the animus against Johnson that it transferred almost completely undiminished onto his successor, Hubert H. Humphrey, a liberal stalwart. (The demonstrations in Chicago in 1968 were, of course, directed not at Richard Nixon or even Johnson but Humphrey, whom angry demonstrators stalked on the campaign trail until the election.) [Note: LBJ's "surge" in Vietnam was 480,000 troops compared with Obama's 30,000, it lasted much longer and kill roughly ten times as many Americans.]

Kennedy’s domestic agenda slogged painfully through a Congress controlled by a coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats. He campaigned promising federal aid for education and health insurance for the elderly but didn’t get around to passing either one. The most agonizing struggles came on Kennedy’s civil-rights agenda. His soaring campaign promises quickly grew entangled in a series of bargains with Jim Crow Democrats that liberals justifiably saw as corrupt. Kennedy understood he lacked the votes in Congress to push the civil-rights legislation he promised. He placated James Eastland, a powerful Jim Crow senator from Mississippi, by nominating the arch-segregationist judge William Harold Cox to the federal bench. 

Liberals are dissatisfied because they are incapable of feeling satisfied.

"A weak, baffled, angry man." —The Nation, 1946  (Photo: American Stock/Getty Images)

Harry Truman has become the patron saint of dispirited Democrats, the fighting populist whose example is invariably cited in glum contrast to whatever bumbling congenital compromiser happens to hold office at any given time. In fact, liberals spent the entire Truman presidency in a state of near-constant despair. Republicans took control of Congress in the 1946 elections and bottled up Truman’s domestic agenda, rendering him powerless to expand the New Deal, as liberals had hoped he would after the war had ended. Liberal columnist Max Lerner decried Truman’s mania for “cooperation” and his eagerness “to blink [past] the real social cleavage and struggles,” attributing this pathological eagerness to avoid conflict to his “middle-class mentality.” 

"Many liberals are saying good-bye to hoping and praying." —William Harlan Hale, Common Sense, 1934 
(Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images)

An exception to this trend, but only a partial exception, is Franklin Roosevelt, the most esteemed of the historical Democratic president-saints. Roosevelt is hard to compare to anybody, because his achievements were so enormous, and his failures so large as well (court-packing, interning Japanese-Americans). But even his triumphs, gleaming monuments to liberalism when viewed from the historical distance, appear, at closer inspection, to be riddled with the same tribulations, reversals, compromises, dysfunctions, and failures as any other. Roosevelt did not run for office promising to boost deficit spending in order to stimulate the economy. He ran castigating Herbert Hoover for permitting high deficits, then immediately passed an austerity budget in his first year. Roosevelt did come around to Keynesian stimulus, but he never seemed to understand it, and in 1937 he reversed himself again by cutting spending, helping plunge the economy into a second depression eventually mitigated only by war spending.

Liberals frustrated with Obama’s failure to assail Wall Street have quoted FDR’s 1936 speech denouncing “economic royalists,” but that represented just a brief period of Roosevelt’s presidency. Mostly he tried to placate business. When he refused to empower a government panel charged with enforcing labor rights, a liberal senator complained, “The New Deal is being strangled in the house of its friends.” Roosevelt constantly feared his work-relief programs would create a permanent class of dependents, so he made them stingy. He kept the least able workers out of federal programs, and thus “placed them at the mercy of state governments, badly equipped to handle them and often indifferent to their plight,” recalled historian William Leuchtenburg. Even his greatest triumphs were shot through with compromise. Social Security offered meager benefits (which were expanded under subsequent administrations), was financed by a regressive tax, and, to placate southern Democrats, was carefully tailored to exclude domestic workers and other black-dominated professions. ...

Progressive senator Burton Wheeler complained that FDR, “for all his fine talk, really preferred conservatives to progressives.” And actually, the Roosevelt era had the same pattern we see today, of liberals angry with the administration’s compromises, and the administration angry in turn at the liberals. In 1935, Roosevelt adviser Rex Tugwell groused of the liberals, “They complain incessantly that the administration is moving into the conservative camp, but do nothing to keep it from going there.”

And this is only the liberal mood during Democratic presidencies.

For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. (Except for Johnson, who was a bloodthirsty warmonger.)

Conservatives are an interesting counterexample. While they are certainly capable of expressing frustration with Republican presidents, conservative disappointment is neither as incessant nor as pervasively depressed as the liberal variety. Conservatives are at least as absolutist as liberals in the ideological demands they make upon their leaders, as evidenced by the willingness of large chunks of the base to commit electoral suicide by nominating the series of clowns and half-wits who have taken turns leading the polls alongside or even above Mitt Romney. At the same time, they are far less likely to turn against their president altogether. They assail the compromise but continue to praise the man. ...

Why? Because conservatives are not like liberals. They think differently.


The 1968 Democratic convention—“which consisted of spokespersons for about 253 major ideological factions giving each other the finger through clouds of tear gas,” as Dave Barry put it—is the sort of scene that could not occur within the Republican Party. Or consider the contrast in style between the tea party and Occupy Wall Street. These two movements, allegedly mirror images of each other, perfectly display the differences between the right and the left. The Occupy activists abhor anything that would force any member to subsume his or her individual autonomy to the greater good. Did the drum circles drive everybody else to distraction? Too bad—you can’t tell the drummers what to do, man.  ...

Democratic Party politics, obviously, do not have the anarchist style on display at Zuccotti Park for almost two months. But liberals’ chronic discontent with their leaders is a fainter version of the same impulses. ... 

Republicans are focused only on dismantling government, and the great movements to reform politics have all come from the left. Some liberals attribute their disappointment in Obama to the excessive hopes he raised about representing better, cleaner, more uplifting politics. But the euphoria surrounding Obama’s election differed only in degree from that of previous presidents. Clinton was the Man From Hope, touring the country with Al Gore and promising the renewing spirit of a younger generation. Carter frequently pledged, “I will never lie to you,” and moved the 1976 Democratic convention hall to tears.

Is it really likely that all these presidents had the same flaws?

What, by contrast, are we to make of third-party activists like Thomas L. Friedman or Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz? They have a president who supports virtually everything they want—short-term stimulus, long-term deficit reduction through a mix of taxes and entitlement cuts, clean energy, education reform, and social liberalism. Yet they are agitating for a third party ...  the closest Friedman comes to explaining why we should have a third party ... is to say that such a party “would have offered a grand bargain on the deficit two years ago, not on the eve of a Treasury default.” He agrees with Obama’s plan, in other words, but proposes to form a new party because he disagrees with his legislative sequencing.

As political analysis, this is pure derangement. It’s the Judean People’s Front for the Aspen Institute crowd. But these sorts of anti-political fantasies arise whenever liberals are forced to confront the crushing ordinariness of governing. 

There is a catchphrase, which you’ve probably seen on bumper stickers or T-shirts, that captures the reason liberals have trouble maintaining political power: “Stop bitching, start a revolution.” At first blush it sounds constructive. If you consider it for a moment, though, the line assumes that there are two modes of political behavior, bitching and revolution. Since the glorious triumph of revolution never really pans out, eventually you’ll return to the alternative, bitching. But there is a third option that lies between the two—the ceaseless grind of politics.

Which brings us back to Obama. ... Activists measure progress against the standard of perfection, or at least the most perfect possible choice. Historians gauge progress against what came before it.

By that standard, Obama’s first term would indeed seem to qualify as gangsta shit. His single largest policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, combines two sweeping goals—providing coverage to the uninsured and taming runaway medical-cost inflation—that Democrats have tried and failed to achieve for decades. Likewise, the Recovery Act contained both short-term stimulative measures and increased public investment in infrastructure, green energy, and the like. The Dodd-Frank financial reform, while failing to end the financial industry as we know it, is certainly far from toothless, as measured by the almost fanatical determination of Wall Street and Republicans in Congress to roll it back.

Beneath these headline measures is a second tier of accomplishments carrying considerable historic weight. A bailout and deep restructuring of the auto industry that is rapidly being repaid, leaving behind a reinvigorated sector in the place of a devastated Midwest. Race to the Top, which leveraged a small amount of federal seed money into a sweeping national wave of education experiments, arguably the most significant reform of public schooling in the history of the United States. A reform of college loans, saving hundreds of billions of dollars by cutting out private middlemen and redirecting some of the savings toward expanded Pell Grants. Historically large new investments in green energy and the beginning of regulation of greenhouse gases. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. Elimination of several wasteful defense programs, equality for gays in the military, and consumer-friendly regulation of food safety, tobacco, and credit cards.

Of the postwar presidents, only Johnson exceeds Obama’s domestic record, and Johnson’s successes must be measured against a crushing defeat in Vietnam. Obama, by contrast, has enjoyed a string of foreign-policy successes—expanding targeted strikes against Al Qaeda (including one that killed Osama bin Laden), ending the war in Iraq, and helping to orchestrate an apparently successful international campaign to rescue Libyan dissidents and then topple a brutal kleptocratic regime. So, if Obama is the most successful liberal president since Roosevelt, that would make him a pretty great president, right?

Did liberals really expect more? I didn’t.  ... Yes, his accomplishments were more substantive than Nixon’s or Clinton’s, but they were not quite the sweeping, nation-transforming stuff [Reagan liberals enjoy recalling in horror. In terms of lasting change, Obama probably has matched Reagan—or, at least, he will if he can win reelection and consolidate health-care reform and financial regulation and tilt the Supreme Court further left than he already has.

And yet Obama will never match among Democrats Reagan’s place in the psyche of his own party, ... They are going to question their leader, not deify him, and search for signs of betrayal in any act of compromise he or she may commit. This exhausting psychological torment is no way to live. Then again, the current state of the Republican Party suggests it may be healthier than the alternative.



[=1] Sample
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Python Paradox

bees.jpgThe far left hates each other the most

This is such an infamous left problem that Monty Python satirized it in "The Life of Brian."  Only the far left is this hilariously sectarian, but the tendency plagues the left as a whole. This is demonstrated by progressives turning on Obama rather than fighting the Tea Party. Of course, most progressives are not so confused, but enough are, that they stymie the rest.

So what causes the Python Paradox? It all stems from a single mode of thinking:

  1. I'm right, he's wrong. (inevitable)
  2. It's totally obvious that I'm right (fatal error)
  3. Since it's obvious, the other guy knows I'm right. (logical, given #2)
  4. Since he does the wrong thing anyway, he's bad. (logical)

For example: (1) I'm right; the drug war is stupid and Obama should stop it. (2) This is totally obvious, it kills 1000s with no results. (3) Obama is smart so he knows this. (4) But he refuses to stop it, so he must have some evil intentions.

Thinking you're right and the other guy's wrong is not the problem, because that's inevitable and there's a good way to deal with it. Step 2 is the Python Fallacy—the cause of the Python Paradox. We'll come back to that shortly. Once you take this step, then steps #3 and #4 are completely logical and cannot be faulted.

The Python Fallacy. If something is totally obvious to you, it does does not mean it's totally obvious to others. Two other possibilities: (1) You just might be wrong (once in a blue moon). (2) The other person could be confused.

So why doesn't the far left get this? Why can't people at least admit that the other guy might be an idiot instead of evil? That would be so much nicer. And, if the other guy is just confused, then he's worth talking to and trying to set straight. But if he's evil, then just hate him.

In other areas of life—sports, business, military, etc.—people are not so nasty. They are happy to just conclude the other guy's an idiot and try to set him straight. They don't have to hate everyone they disagree with.

The Fix. It's far more helpful, and  much more often correct, to think like this:

  1. I'm right, he's wrong.
  2. It's totally obvious to me, but he's not so smart.
  3. So he's not likely evil, just confused, or just maybe, I made a mistake.
  4. So let's try to figure out why we disagree.

Let's put that into practice:

  1. I'm right; the drug war is stupid and Obama should stop it.
  2. Obvious to me, but perhaps Obama knows something I don't.
  3. So he's not likely evil, just confused (overly worried) or perhaps he knows he couldn't and it would just cost him the election.

Learning to think like that—which is how scientists argue—is the necessary first step toward progressive politics. So why is that so hard?

  • Why the far left is so sure their ideas are obvious.
  • The missing idea: Strategy.
  • The far left won't change, so what do we do?



[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Not So Obvious

There are two areas where people get really nasty—politics and religion. Those are the same two things you "should not discuss at the dinner table."

Why are these two different from other topics?  The difference lies in how people "know" they are right:

  • I'm right because it's logical (most of life)
  • I'm right because it's immoral to think anything else (politics and religion)

People don't trust their logic as much as they trust their own morals. So when they "know" something because of their religion (or political morals), then they are really, truly 100% sure.

And since it's so obvious to them, they think it must be obvious to others, or at least to anyone who isn't evil. Now you might think that the problem is that religious beliefs are not always right, and you'd be right. They are not. But it turns out that's not the most common problem.

The usual problem is that people bundle two ideas together, one moral and one strategic. But they don't notice that the second one is strategic, because when they think religiously, or morally, they think strategy shouldn't enter the picture.

For example: Some says: "The drug war is bad, so Obama should stop it now." Quite likely they are right that the drug war is bad. But then they tack on their strategy for ending it: "Obama should stop it now." That's a complicated statement, because doing so may well prevent him from doing other good things, and maybe he can't even do it. That's why the second part is strategic.



Strategy Is Good


Why do progressives think there's just one obvious strategy?

  1. They are strategically challenged and can think of only one strategy.
  2. The don't even think it's a strategy — it's just "right."

1. Strategically challenged: If you think strategy is a bad idea, you won't be very good at thinking up strategies. And, progressives tend to think strategies are nefarious schemes that should be shunned. Just "speak truth to power." Job done. Oh, sometimes they envy Carl Rove's dirty tricks, but again, this is the "nefarious" view of strategies. But progressives aren't into nefarious so they prefer to lose honorably than think strategically. It's sad, because there's nothing immoral about [#good strategy].

2. Just do the right thing: There can be only one right answer, and that's what should be done. I know what's right, and if you don't, there's something wrong with you. Believe this, and anyone who disagrees with you is on the wrong side. Their north star is in the wrong place. Now "the right thing" is not always so obvious, but that's not my point. Even if we agree on the right thing, that's our goal and it, almost always, it will be a struggle to achieve.

The problem is people think, somebody (not them for sure and usually the President) can and should just "do the right thing." This is where understanding the Dark Side comes in. That's next, but for now, hold this thought — it ain't as easy as it sounds. Actually getting the right outcome, is complex. Extremely complex. And, natural people arrive at different approaches, especially if they are in the thick of the battle and thinking hard. And those are the kind of people who get the job done, not the Monday-morning quarterbacks.

Bipartisan Strategy

Pundits large and small criticize Obama most mercilessly for his bipartisan strategy. And perhaps it is a great mistake. But what I find striking is that the critics always attack a straw man, and never the mention the likely argument in favor of a bipartisan strategy. In fact the critics appear to be strategically challenged in the extreme.

The straw man: Obama believe that if he's nice to Republicans long enough they will come around.

Here's a paragraph from Paul Starr's book Remedy and Reaction xlnk.gif, on Health Care Reform.


The search for bipartisan support had advantages beyond whatever Republican votes it might net. Even a few Republican votes for the bill would provide political cover for Democrats from states that went for McCain. Some extra Republican votes for the legislation would also reduce the ability of any individual senator to extract special-interest concessions. And the effort to work with Republicans fulfilled Obama's promise of an open-minded, inclusive process.


What to Do?

Here's the contradiction. Sectarians criticize cooperators, but cooperators, try to cooperate, so they don't criticize sectarians. The result is sectarians get away with their destruction.

Put another way, Sectarians judge well-intentioned progressives as sleazy or evil, but cooperators, do not make the sectarian mistake, so the recognize that sectarians are mainly just confused. Since they view them as well intentioned, they respect them and withhold criticism.

Both the sectarians and the cooperators are involved in an unhelpful dynamic. The only way to break this is for the cooperators to change. They should not give up their view that sectarians are well intentioned, but they should listen to an old and wise proverb:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Sectarianism is truly the road to hell, and it should not be tolerated by the cooperators. This cooperators should speak out and dismiss sectarian nonsense. This is particularly difficult because the sectarians always say they are more "left," in other words, holier than those they rail against, and this "holier than thou strategy fools many." But there is nothing holy about the sectarians, and they are generally "more left" in the sense that Stalin was "more left."

The Dark Side

darth-vader.jpgThe far left is fond of proclaiming the power of corporations. For example, adBusters' Micah White, who sparked OWS, speaks of the "overwhelming power of corporations." Yet he hopes to achieve "reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall act" and the "the revocation of corporate personhood" by camping out in parks and holding all-day General Assemblies with up to 500 people. These have gained press coveraged, but the gap between that and reversing the Supreme Court is so fantastically large that Mr. White must have no comprehension of the power he is up against.

It is likely, though I can't prove it, that no president could stand up to the full weight of corporate power and survive politically. That doesn't mean presidents don't have backbones, that means the world is not such a rosy place as the self-defeating left (SDL) extremists (for example Firedoglake-com) like to think. This is why, even the best politicians must act strategically.

The Petty Dark Side

But it's the petty Dark Side that determines the crazy maneuvering that makes the daily papers and looks so dispiriting to the SDL regulars. Lets look at a well-known case, the health care bill and the reconciliation process.

Background: The senate can pass any bill 51 to 49, but if the 49 choose to, some of them can filibuster and block majority rule. But if 60 Senators vote for "cloture" that ends the filibuster. So, in reality the health care bill needed 60 votes — unless it was a reconciliation bill. That type of bill can only be used once a year and no filibuster is allowed.

The SDL reconciliation myth: The first part is that Obama blocked using a reconciliation bill because he wanted bipartisan support, which [#any fool could see] was impossible. The second part runs as follows.

"If the Democrats had used reconciliation, a more progressive health care reform package could have been passed almost a year earlier. Instead every Democratic senator had to walk the plank by voting for the bill. That meant the bill had to be changed to appease every member of the caucus. At almost every step, the Democratic leadership made stupid decisions."  —SDL extremists at Firedoglake.

The actual story:

  • According to the Byrd Rule, reconciliation can only be used for tax and spending measures.
  • According to Sen. Kent Conrad xlnk.gif (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee that oversees xlnk.gif reconciliation, "reconciliation for comprehensive health-care reform wouldn’t work." The Byrd rule "would mean the insurance market reforms and delivery reforms would be stricken." The result "would look like Swiss cheese."
  • So a complete health-care bill was passed by the House, 220 to 215 on 11/7/2009, and the vast bulk of the Affordable Care Act xlnk.gif was passed, 60 to 39, by the Senate on 12/24/2009.
  • But the differences could not have been ironed out under the Senate's 60-vote requirement, so ...
  • The House passed the Senate version on 3/21/2010 by 219 to 212.
  • This was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.
  • But to get the House version passed some deals were made concerning modifications, and a few other improvements were needed.
  • So we have the "Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act," to clean up financial-only details.
  • Two chunks were passed by the House on 3/21/2010. And rest was passed by the House, and all of it by the Senate (56-43), on 3/25/2010.
  • It was signed into law on March 30.

Some conclusions:  Obama and the leading Democrats fought hard and strategically for all they could get, and as a consequence it passed by the narrowest of margins. This meant holding on to every single Senate Democrat and independent in the crucial Senate vote, and letting go of some Democrats in all other votes. Compared to, say Roosevelt's passage of social security with huge margins from both parties, while leaving equally huge amounts of progressive policy on the table, this was extremely hard fought and brilliantly strategic.

But, given the Senate's filibuster rule and small-state bias, the most conservative Democrats, and those who lobbied them had tremendously disproportionate power, and they used it. This is the petty Dark Side that causes us to lose faith in those we should trust. We can't see them exercising their power, or we think there's some magical way around it, but the Dark Side really is powerful, and progress is slow.

Another health care angle — some Darth Vaders:

The left was also incensed by the deal the White House cut with Big Pharma prohibiting, as part of the legislation, direct negotiations with Medicare over prescription drug prices and excluding medicines imported from Canada. In return, the industry group PhRMA agreed to find $80 billion in discounts to Medicare, and to pay for an ad campaign supporting the legislation.

Was this wise, or was it a sellout? Given that there was not one vote to spare in the Senate, and only 7 in the House, I would say that it was. But let's consult the man who knows best, John Boehner.

In the letter, which Boehner forwarded to the executives of PhRMA's member companies, the House Minority Leader charges that PhRMA's alliance with the White House on health care reform amounts to appeasement. "Appeasement rarely works as a conflict resolution strategy," Boehner writes. "The simple truth is, two wrongs don't make a right. And the short-sighted health care deal PhRMA struck with the Obama Administration at your urging provides confirmation of this time-tested maxim on an epic and tragic scale."  —TPM xlnk.gif

The health insurance industry wrote an $86.2 million check to the Chamber of Commerce to mount a campaign against the legislation. “If Obama and the Democrats had been in a stronger position politically, they could have insisted on stronger cost containment and avoided making as large concessions to PhRMA and the hospitals as they did.” —Paul Starr

P.S. On Reconciliation:

There have been several other attacks on Obama for not using reconciliation, but a bill must be tagged for reconciliation early on, so the original Health-Care bill was tagged in April 2009. That used up the reconciliation quota for 2009 (one a year). I believe the actual Reconciliation bill that was passed March 25, 2010, used up the quota for 2010.



[=any fool could see] "Maybe if a single person in Obama’s team of “political experts” had understood this most basic of political realities [Republicans won't vote for taxes], health care reform would have been passed months ago using reconciliation–instead of wasting time chasing the futile hope of bipartisanship." Firedoglake
[=Byrd Rule] Senator Robert Byrd's (D-WV)
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


AdBusters and OWS

Micah White, an old-left
sectarian in disguise

Micah White, of Adbusters, the guy that sparked OWS with a tweet, has issued a manifesto against his most recent mortal enemies: MoveOn,  Ben & Jerry (yes, the ice cream guys) and Obama (see links below).

He doesn't want Occupy consorting with Dems and certainly not with Rs. So what's left of the 99%? Only those who follow Micah's over-the-top crazy plan to hold all-day OWS "General Assemblies" and pass "a Tobin tax on financial flows, reinstate the Glass-Steigall Act, and revoke corporate personhood." Say what?!

I know this sounds too fantastic to believe, but he says it all plainly on Huffington Post. Obviously, if OWS follows Micah it will self destruct—hopefully just fizzle without doing too much damage. But it will damage at least the spirits of the good people who supported its call for a fairer economy. And that's why its important to speak out.

Progressives are generally cooperative, and so they get suckered into cooperating with strident sectarians who hate cooperation. The only hope is for the cooperators to learn to stand up against these crazies. A first small step is the petition I've started on MoveOn. No it will not change OWS. But if it gained popularity it could help progressives start to think about their sectarian problem, which is their main cause of failure.

What's going on? Within OWS there is a turf war between those who fear that some OWSers may be induced to work for Obama and those who support Obama. Since MoveOn supports Obama and has also helped fund some non-violent training for OWS they are under attack by Micah and others for trying to co-opt OWS. Same with Ben and Jerry.

Micah claims that by staying pure, and separate from politics, that the OWS encampments and general assemblies with spark an American revolution and "topple the corporate power structures in this country." In reality this is just the old-left sectarian path, that is so familiar that Monte Python satirized it years again in The Life of Brian. The hilarious Palestine-Liberation-Front clip is here.

A Turf War Worth Weighing in On

OWS-black-bloc-protesters.jpgIf progressives are every going to make progress, we must isolate the crazies who always show up to take advantage of legitimate social movements. Yes, these people (like the Black Bloc of OWS pictured at the left) will claim they are being discriminated against and that we are not as dedicated and pure as they are! Don't fall for this nonsense, and don't let your friends fall for it. 

This is not a minor problem. The crazy sectarians not only cause chaos within the progressive movement but give the right wing an endless supply of photo opts and quotes for their propaganda machine. And such propaganda is most effective because it contains a kernel of truth. There really are "moonbats" on the left.

Obama v Progressives

 Obama could've changed everything. So says the left (including Krugman). If Obama had just started his presidency with strong speeches attacking Wall Street (like Roosevelt) and explaining the need for Keynesian economics, middle America would've rallied around the left agenda; the Democrats would've won a landslide in the midterms, and Congress would've passed enough job stimulus to pull us right out of the recession. The right would have been knocked on their collective asses. But ...

  • [#Krugman] himself couldn't convince the econ community to go Keynesian.
  • In three weeks, Obama passed, with far greater opposition, a [#stimulus] package 5 times larger (relative to GDP) than Roosevelt's.
  • [#Roosevelt] ran on an [#austerity] platform in 1932.
  • When elected, Roosevelt passed an austerity budget.
  • In his 1st [#fireside chat], Roosevelt [#rehabilitated the bankers].
  • He [#drastically weakened] Social Security to gain huge Republican support.
  • By executive order, he sent 110,000 Japanese to concentration camps.
  • He failed in his strongest persuasive attempt—to pack the supreme court.

But, pay no attention to these random facts, and instead, read Ezra Klein's brilliant and thoroughly-researched article on presidential attempts to use the bully pulpit.

Conclusion: Perhaps, if Obama had followed the left's Monday-morning quarterback strategy, everything would've come up roses. But debating whether it would've or wouldn't have is itself the problem. What is obvious is that we don't know, and Obama didn't know. He thought hard; he tried his best. He might've gotten it wrong, or the left, even with hindsight, may have it wrong—and there's plenty of evidence for that. Or we may all be wrong. The point is, we really don't know.

And, idle counter-factual speculation is no excuse for turning on your friends. And this, according to Jonathan Chait, is the difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives "assail the compromise but continue to praise the man." This is not just good strategy, it morally commendable. Progressives, on the other hand, convict their friends on the basis of unchecked hindsight or theories of how the world should work. I think these are an honest mistake, but they are deadly sins nonetheless. Progressives are simply positive that the one true path (e.g., the right speech) is completely obvious. And since it is, everyone can see it. Hence, anyone who chooses not to follow the true path must be from the dark side. (See Monte Python.)




[=Krugman]Krugman has his economics right, but for the first couple of years he was extremely naive about his ability to persuade. This is understandable. But, note that Obama did not adopt this naive view, and Krugman has been upset with him ever since for not joining in Krugman's attempt  to sell Keynes. Nonetheless, I think Krugman, as an op-ed writer, was right to take on this challenge.
[=austerity]"I accuse the present Administration of being the greatest spending Administration in peacetime in all American history."
[=stimulus]This stimulus was on top of equally large automatic stimulus—such as unemployment insurance—not present in the 30s.
[=Roosevelt]My point is <b>not</b> to criticize Roosevelt. He was a great president. But he was not Jesus Christ. He had heart, but he did not have a particularly progressive agenda. He wanted to save capitalism and he did — somewhat accidentally. His economic policies were weak. It was the deficit spending of World War II that saved the economy.
[=rehabilitated the bankers]The chat concerned only the banking crisis, and he mentions the bankers only once, near the end — "Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people's funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government's job to straighten out this situation..."
[=drastically weakened]Roosevelt had 335 votes to spare in the House and 70 in the Senate, and he gave away the store—just to win his huge bipartisan consensus. If you have any doubt about Obama, here's the comparison.
[=fireside chat]There were only 8 in his first 4 years.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Too Bipartisan?

Does he cave in to Republicans? Is Obama too bipartisan. He does offer compromise and avoid divisive rhetoric, but there are two possibilities.

  1. He sincerely tries to make peace and compromise but stands his ground.
  2. He just has no backbone and needlessly caves in.

Progressives try to figure out which describes the real Obama by listening to his words. And, those don't sound tough, so they think he has no backbone. But what did Teddy say? "Speak softly but carry a big stick." There are two reasons to speak softly, (1) strategy and (2) weakness. Let's look beyond the surface to tell which is at play.

I say, there's a damn good chance—no a certainty—that Obama's bipartisanship is [#strategic], not weak. This doesn't mean he's deceptive. He really does think extremism is a bad thing, and he knows most American's agree. So sincerely trying for bipartisanship is good strategy—most American's are sick of extremism. It's also what Obama believes. But he knows that when the extreme right blocks all progress, his bipartisan stance (his strategy) [#pays off].

I say that's Obama's strategy (more or less), but how can I prove that? Strategies aren't public. It's simple. Compare Obama to Roosevelt, who progressives agree had a backbone and was not too bipartisan.

Who Caved In, Roosevelt or Obama?

Both have a signature piece of legislation: [#Social Security] for Roosevelt, and Affordable Health Care for Obama. Who caved in? How do we tell? If  you leave a lot of money on the table? You didn't bargain hard—you caved in.

In this case, money is votes. So let's check who left more votes on the table. If you passed the most progressive bill you could, that means that had you pushed any further, you would not have had the votes to pass it. But, if what you care about is bipartisan support, then you'll water down the bill to get as much support as possible from both parties. If you go for weak-kneed bipartisanship, we'll find lots of money votes left on the table. But not if you've got backbone.

So here's how the two laws went down in Congress

Money Votes Left on the Table
  Senate  House
  Republican Democratic Republican Democratic
Roosevelt:   16 9 81 70
Obama:   0 0 0 3

In other words Roosevelt could have had 16 Republicans and 9 Democrats defect in the Senate and still passed Social Security. In other words, Obama left nothing on the table, and Roosevelt left behind a record-breaking number of votes. The House passed it 365 to 30, and the Senate, 76 to 6.

So what didn't Roosevelt have the backbone to fight for? What did he give up by going for all-out bipartisan passage? Most women and minorities were not covered because agricultural, domestic, and government workers, many teachers, and nurses, and hospital, library, and social workers were not covered. On top of that, benefits were paltry (this was later fixed), they were long-delayed in the middle of the depression, and it was financed with a regressive tax.

Obama fought hard and strategically for health care, because he cares about the poor. The conservatives understand this perfectly. Why progressives can't see it is a mystery. But saying Obama has no spine (as my progressive friends say) and holding up Roosevelt for comparison is more than a little unkind. It's delusional. In spite of this, I won't make the mistake they make. Their intentions are are good; they're not closet Republicans, and they haven't gone over to the dark side. They just suffer from that age liberal depression which has dogged Roosevelt and every other Democratic president.

"The greatest fraud this country has ever known. An amusing and charming fellow but a man entirely without a conscience.... Roosevelt was the perfect politician." —H.L. Mencken, The New York Sun, 5 June 1946.



[=Social Security]The actual votes are available here. Republicans voted for the bill 81 to 15 in the House and 16 to 5 in the Senate. Now, that's bipartisan.
[=strategic]I'm not saying his strategy always works, or is the right strategy. But there's a big difference between saying your teammate has a bad strategy and saying he's really playing for the other team. No one makes this mistake in sports, business or the military, but in politics and religion people often accuse others on their side of being traitors. This is a terrible mistake.
[=pays off]Ezra Klein reports data showing that take a public position generally reduces a presidents chances of getting his way.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


The Economy

Obama inherited and economy in the worst free fall in 80 years. In three weeks he passed a stimulus bill as much as Bush spent on the Iraq war. It may well have prevented a full-scale depression.

Conservatives would have preferred spending cuts, government layoffs and cancellations of private-sector contracts (see US Economy). But this section is about progressive complaints.

Jonathan Chait brilliantly takes on the political reality that the left forgets:

  • Before Obama, Pelosi's House Democrats proposed a smaller stimulus.
  • The deficit was headed past $1 trillion, before the stimulus.
  • It was considered "huge," "massive," and "sticker shock"-ing.
  • Progressives him max out the stimulus and pass all their other programs.

What Krugman really said when the stimulus bill was passed.

  • Nov. 10, 2008, Krugman suggests a $600B stimulus.
  • Dec. 16, 2008, Obama is presented with two plans $550B and $890 billion and told that over $1,000B is completely out of the question due to politics.
  • Jan. 6, 2009, Krugman estimate's Obama's $775B stimulus will lower the peak unemployment rate from 9% to 7.3%
  • Jan. 20, Obama takes office and the House passes the stimulus bill on Jan. 28.
  • Feb. 4, Krugman complains that Obama compromised and all House Republicans still voted against the House bill.
  • Feb. 6, Krugman realizes that the bill needs one Republican vote to avoid a filibuster. He commends Obama for warning of catastrophe. 
  • Feb. 7, Krugman says "So the original $800 billion plan was too small, ... The plan should have been at least 50% larger."
  • Feb. 17, Obama signs the stimulus bill.
  • Feb. 25, Krugman says "The stimulus bill is OK, though not big enough."
  • Get the full story here

Buy the time the House had passed the bill, Krugman appeared to believe, based on his reaction to the Romer-Bernstein graph (below), that with the stimulus, unemployment would peak at around 8% and that by 2012 election, it would be under 6% and heading down fairly quickly. He though Romer was a bit too pessimistic about the effect of the stimulus, but between Jan. 6 and 10th he because more pessimistic then her regarding the peak unemployment without the stimulus. In fact unemployment peaked at 10%.


Obama's Stimulus


The New York Times, September 2, 2011

This has been the summer that liberal discontent with Obama has finally crystallized. The frustration has been simmering for a while — through centrist appointments, bank bailouts and the defeat of the public option, to name a few examples. But it has taken the debt-ceiling standoff and the threat of a double-dip recession to create a leftist critique of the president that stuck.

Obama’s image as a weakling and sellout on domestic issues now centers on his alleged resistance, from the very first days of his presidency, to do whatever was necessary to heal the economy. “The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history,” wrote the Emory professor Drew Westen in this newspaper, “was his handling of the stimulus.” Just as the conservative repudiation of George W. Bush boiled down to “he spent too much,” the liberal repudiation of Obama has settled on “he didn’t spend enough.”

There’s truth in that. President Obama underestimated the depth of the crisis in 2009 and left himself with bad options in the event the economy failed to recover as quickly as he hoped. And yet the wave of criticism from the left over the stimulus is fundamentally flawed: it ignores the real choices Obama faced (and the progressive decisions he made) and wishes away any constraints upon his power.

The most common hallmark of the left’s magical thinking is a failure to recognize that Congress is a separate, coequal branch of government consisting of members whose goals may differ from the president’s. Congressional Republicans pursued a strategy of denying Obama support for any major element of his agenda, on the correct assumption that this would make it less popular and help the party win the 2010 elections. Only for roughly four months during Obama’s term did Democrats have the 60 Senate votes they needed to overcome a filibuster. Moreover, Republican opposition has proved immune even to persistent and successful attempts by Obama to mobilize public opinion. Americans overwhelmingly favor deficit reduction that includes both spending and taxes and favor higher taxes on the rich in particular. Obama even made a series of crusading speeches on this theme. The result? Nada.

That kind of analysis, however, just feels wrong to liberals, who remember Bush steamrolling his agenda through Congress with no such complaints about obstructionism. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald recently invoked “the panoply of domestic legislation — including Bush tax cuts, No Child Left Behind and the Medicare Part D prescription drug entitlement — that Bush pushed through Congress in his first term.”

Yes, Bush passed his tax cuts — by using a method called reconciliation, which can avoid a filibuster but can be used only on budget issues. On No Child Left Behind and Medicare, he cut deals expanding government, which the right-wing equivalents of Greenwald denounced as a massive sellout. Bush did have one episode where he tried to force through a major domestic reform against a Senate filibuster: his crusade to privatize Social Security. Just as liberals urge Obama to do today, Bush barnstormed the country, pounding his message and pressuring Democrats, whom he cast as obstructionists. The result? Nada, beyond the collapse of Bush’s popularity.

Perhaps the oddest feature of the liberal indictment of Obama is its conclusion that Obama should have focused all his political capital on economic recovery. “He could likely have passed many small follow-up stimulative laws in 2009,” Jon Walker of the popular blog Firedoglake wrote last month. “Instead, he pivoted away from the economic crisis because he wrongly ignored those who warned the crisis was going to get worse.”

It’s worth recalling that several weeks before Obama proposed an $800 billion stimulus, House Democrats had floated a $500 billion stimulus. (Oddly, this never resulted in liberals portraying Nancy Pelosi as a congenitally timid right-wing enabler.) At the time, Obama’s $800 billion stimulus was seen by Congress, pundits and business leaders — that is to say, just about everybody who mattered — as mind-bogglingly large. News reports invariably described it as “huge,” “massive” or other terms suggesting it was unrealistically large, even kind of pornographic. The favored cliché used to describe the reaction in Congress was “sticker shock.”

Compounding the problem, Obama proposed his stimulus shortly after the Congressional Budget Office predicted deficits topping a trillion dollars. Even before Obama took office, and for months afterward, “everybody who mattered” insisted that the crisis required Obama to scale back the domestic initiatives he campaigned on, especially health care reform, but also cap-and-trade, financial regulation and so on. Colin Powell, a reliable barometer of elite opinion, warned in July of 2009: “I think one of the cautions that has to be given to the president — and I’ve talked to some of his people about this — is that you can’t have so many things on the table that you can’t absorb it all. And we can’t pay for it all.”

Rather than deploy every ounce of his leverage to force moderate Republicans, whose votes he needed, to swallow a larger stimulus than they wanted, Obama clearly husbanded some of his political capital. Why? Because in the position of choosing between the agenda he came into office hoping to enact and the short-term imperative of economic rescue, he picked the former. At the time, this was the course liberals wanted and centrists opposed.

On two subsequent occasions, Obama faced this same choice. Last December, he could have refused to extend any of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000. Republicans vowed to let all the tax cuts expire if he did so. If Obama let this happen, it would have almost fully solved the long-term deficit problem, while at the same time setting back the recovery by raising taxes on middle-class and low-income workers. Obama decided to make a deal, extending all the Bush tax cuts and also securing a progressive payroll tax cut and an extension of unemployment benefits, both forms of stimulus that Republicans would never have allowed without an extension of upper-bracket tax cuts in return.

There is a decent argument that the president should have refused this deal. But if you make that argument, you have to accept the likelihood that nearly a million fewer jobs would have been created and that we would have been at risk of a double-dip recession back then. Yet the liberal critics most exercised about Obama’s failure to secure more stimulus were, for the most part, enraged when he did exactly that. Take Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor under President Clinton. Last November, Reich pleaded for an extension of unemployment benefits, calling the plight of the jobless our “single newest and biggest social problem.” When Obama made his bargain, Reich called it “an abomination,” complaining that “the bits and pieces the president got in return” — including the unemployment benefits previously deemed vital — amounted to “peanuts.”

And then, this summer, Obama let the G.O.P. hold the debt-ceiling vote hostage to extract spending cuts. I think he should have called the Republicans’ bluff and let them accept the risk of a financial meltdown. But the reason Obama chose to cut a deal is that calling their bluff might have resulted in catastrophe. And Obama made a point of back-loading the G.O.P.’s budget cuts so as not to contract the economy. He may have chosen wrongly, but he chose exactly the priorities liberals now insist he ignored — favoring economic recovery over long-term goals.

Liberal critics of Obama, just like conservative critics of Republican presidents, generally want both maximal partisan conflict and maximal legislative achievement. In the real world, those two things are often at odds. Hence the allure of magical thinking.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor for The New Republic.

Krugman on Obama

Background Notes on Krugman's critique of the Stimulus

  • 11/8/2008. Krugman notes FDR's "Net stimulus of around 3 percent of GDP — not much, when you’ve got a 42 percent output gap."
  • 11/10/2008. Krugman concludes the stimulus should be "at least  4% of GDP, or $600B."
  • 11/24/2008. Krugman: "with 3-plus percent (I hope) on the table in the US. Relative to GDP."
  • 12/16/2009. Key meeting to explain economy and stimulus to Obama. A that time Stiglitz had suggesting $1T, and Romer had analyzed 3 cases $600B, $800B and $1.2T. She believe that a bit over $1.2T was required to completely neutralize the recession. "The memo to Obama, however, detailed only two packages: a five-hundred-and-fifty-billion-dollar stimulus and an eight-hundred-and-ninety-billion-dollar stimulus. Summers did not include Romer’s $1.2-trillion projection. The memo argued that the stimulus should not be used to fill the entire output gap; rather, it was “an insurance package against catastrophic failure.” At the meeting, according to one participant, “there was no serious discussion to going above a trillion dollars.”

    There were sound arguments why the $1.2-trillion figure was too high. First, Emanuel and the legislative-affairs team thought that it would be impossible to move legislation of that size, and dismissed the idea out of hand. Congress was “a big constraint,” Axelrod said. “If we asked for $1.2 trillion, it probably would have created such a case of sticker shock that the system would have locked up there.”

  • 1/6/2009. Krugman analyzes a $775B stimulus with $300B in tax cuts and estimates: "Suppose that we’re looking at an economy that, absent stimulus, would have an average unemployment rate of 9 percent over the next two years; this plan would cut that to 7.3 percent, which would be a help but could easily be spun by critics as a failure."
  • 1/6/2009. Krugman reports that Wall Street estimates that unemployment could peak at 8.4% in 2010 even with the stimulus.
  • 1/7/2009. CBO estimates 9% peak unemployment (without the stimulus), which Krugman considers "too optimistic." He notes that the Stimulus amounts to 3% of GDP compared to an 8% output gap, but he normally assumes a multiplier of 1.5 on stimulus so 3% would close a 4.5% gap.
  • 1/10/2009. Romer & Bernstein come out with a graph showing unemployment peaking at 9% without the stimulus and earlier at 8% with the stimulus. He considers their estimate of the stimulus effect " a bit more pessimistic than mine" but their estimate of the 9% no-stimulus peak "a lot more optimistic than I am."
  • 1/20/2009. Obama takes office.
  • 1/28/2009. The House passes the stimulus bill.
  • 2/4/2009. "when Obama finally introduced his economic plan he immediately began negotiating with himself, preemptively offering concessions to the GOP, which voted against the plan anyway."
  • 2/4/2009.  Krugman "The Obama team today ... seem[s] to have become suddenly aware that there’s a real risk that the stimulus plan will either fail to pass, or be emasculated to the point that it doesn’t come close to doing the job. Obama himself has warned of catastrophe if we fail to act, and — finally!– denounced the tax-cut philosophy."
  • 2/6/2009.  Krugman: ""Shouldn’t Obama have made a much bigger plan, say $1.3 trillion, his opening gambit? If he had, he could have conceded to the centrists by cutting it to $1.2 trillion, and still have had a plan with a good chance of really controlling this slump."
  • 2/7/2009. Krugman: "So the original $800 billion plan was too small, ... The plan should have been at least 50% larger." "Now the centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan."
  • 2/9/2009. Senate votes for cloture 61-36, with 3 Republicans voting for it and 60 required.
  • 2/8/2009. "I’ve gone through the CBO numbers a bit more carefully; they’re projecting a $2.9 trillion shortfall over the next three years. There’s just no way $780 billion, much of it used unproductively, will do the job."
  • 2/17/2009. Obama signs the stimulus bill (ARRA).
  • 2/26/2009. "The stimulus bill is OK, though not big enough."
  • 7/9/2010. " it looks as if top advisers convinced themselves that even in the absence of stimulus the slump would be nasty, brutish, but not too long. "   "And by the winter of 2008-2009, it was obvious that this was the Big One — which, if the aftermath of previous major crises was any guide, would be followed by multiple years of high unemployment."   "the now infamous Romer-Bernstein chart"
Krugman makes two criticisms of Obama:
  1. Obama should have known much more stimulus was needed.
  2. He should have known that he would not get a second chance.
Then he proves #1 like so:  He should have know, because I knew and said so. I did the econ and graphs and it was obvious.
Well, yes K did say so, and it was obvious .,. to him. But ...
Krugman has found it impossible to make it obvious to most economists and he is feeling extremely isolated and dejected because of this.
( I don't blame him.) Moreover he even failed to persuade Christy Romer -- although she was more on his side than the rest of the WH.
Krugman shows the " the now infamous Romer-Bernstein chart" here and her estimate of 1.2 Trillion was not passed on to Obama,
and Krugman thinks 1.2 was still much too small. Now, what the Romer-Bernstein chart shows is that with the actual stimulus passed,
that unemployment would peak at 8% (less than now and that no it would be at 6% and dropping fast -- ideal for the election.
So this is what Obama saw and he saw it from Christy -- an economist highly approved by Krugman.
Moreover, the standard wisdom was that passing more than a $1 trillion stimulus was not feasible. This is quite plausible.
Also remember that because of automatic stimulus like unemployment insurance and also because of bailout money,
the US had already added about 1.5 trillion per year in deficit spending (to the pre-recession level $0.5 Trillion rate).
So no, Obama did not follow Krugman, and he did not go to the public and press for Krugman's $3 Trillion stimulus bill,
but think what he did do.
On top of a deficit that was running at $2 Trillion a year (in fact more at that time), In just three weeks, Obama passed a stimulus that was slightly
larger than $800 Billion ($0.8Trillion) after being presented with a choice between $500 and $800B by his econ advisers.
In 3 weeks he spent more on stimulus than W spent on the Iraq war in 6 years.
Compare this to Roosevelt who came in and passed an austerity budget !  Or compare it to any other president.
No one had every tried anything like that. Or compare to Roosevelt in '38 when he made the same mistake again -- more anti-stimulus.
And Roosevelt's WPA etc. was much smaller, even relative to the small US economy then, than Obama's stimulus,
and it was not on top of huge automatic stimulus and bail out. Look at the US deficit under Roosevelt here. It does nothing until WWII.
Roosevelt never tried Keynesian econ, he just stumbled into WWII. Before that he help some of the unemployed,
but was careful not to help those most in need because he was afraid he would not be able to get them off the doll.
But was not trying to spend money to get the economy going -- he never  understood that.
Now Krugman wanted Obama to get on his bully pulpit and explain why $3 Trillion was needed -- i.e. to explain Keyensian econ to the public.
But Krugman cannot even get mainstream economists (not the ideologues, the normal ones) to buy this after 3 years of yelling and screaming.
So read Klein about why the bully pulpit is not so magical.
So Krugman is miserable and sore that Obama didn't see he was THE ONE with the right answer and help him sell it.
Now, I agree, Krugman did have the right answer, and I'm glad he's screaming, but Obama did better than anyone has ever done,
and did go for a strong Keynesian policy, and did it incredibly fast. And it did make a difference.
Now on Krugman's criticism #2. After repeating that many times, he finally refined it to say that
Obama should have known that he could not go back for more unless the first round made a noticeable difference.
And this is a more reasonable position.
But no one, not even Krugman, was telling Obama that $800 B would not make a noticeable difference.
Yes, people should have known -- it's always impossible to prove you did better than what would have happened,
but people thought you could track the job creation and prove it that way.
So, by Krugman's newer, calmer reasoning, it was not obvious at the time,
that Obama could not go back for more.
So the bottom line is: This is not a nice world. Most people don't want to take big risks to help the unemployed,
so it's extremely hard to do that.
But Obama did take a big risk; he did try; he went $50 more ($850) than his top experts recommended,
and he didn't hesitate -- he acted quickly and decisively. Perhaps he could have gotten more -- 1.5 Iraq wars -- 
or perhaps he just would have gotten bogged down. I'm sure there is no way he could have satisfied K.
No he's not perfect, but I say we should count our blessing. 


Health Care Act

Bernard Avishai, 

It is hard to read Remedy and Reaction, Paul Starr’s remarkable chronicle of the hundred-year effort to legislate universal health insurance in the United States, without recalling Robert Gibbs’s tortured quip that Democrats who’ve denounced the Obama White House for having knuckled under to Republican principles or intimidation “ought to be drug-tested.” Nobody with a sense of history—that is, nobody who reads Starr’s book—could doubt how sensible and brave was the president’s effort to drive the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 through Congress. Nobody with a feel for the present moment should doubt how imminent is the threat to the act, how urgent it is for progressive Democrats to rally around Obama—and without all the condescending qualifications that “independents,” who flock away from allegedly weak or incompetent leaders, interpret as contempt.

Starr, who teaches at Princeton and, with Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich, founded The American Prospect, has written 300-plus pages of tightly woven policy description, narrative and polemic. ... Starr learned his lessons the hard way. He closely advised the Clintons on health strategy in the early 1990s (he still knows and has debriefed key Congressional staffers). The centerpiece of Remedy and Reaction is a long section, full of illuminating asides, on the frustration of the Clintons’ plans. Starr shows that, even as Bill Clinton submitted his bill to Congress, some 70 percent of voters subscribed to the principles embodied in the legislation he proposed. Yet the bill didn’t come close to being enacted.

Obama’s actions were cannier than Clinton’s, but they also amounted to a profile in courage. When Obama came into office, Starr explains, only 11 percent of Americans thought reform would have a “negative personal impact,” but by August 2009 this segment of the population was trending to 31 percent. Both Rahm Emanuel and Joe Biden were urging retreat. Starr writes, “Obama not only resolved to go ahead; in September and again in the new year, the president took charge of the effort to steady the health-care initiative and prevent it from careening off the tracks.” Nor was the final bill anything less than what might reasonably have been expected, filling as it did the negative space left by four generations of government programs and serial compromises. Starting with clean sheets of paper was never realistic when one-sixth of the economy was at stake.

Starr’s great fear is repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would not only deny healthcare to more than 30 million people but would cast doubt on whether “Americans will ever be able to hold their fears in check and summon the elementary decency toward the sick that characterizes other democracies.” Obamacare, in short, was healthcare reform’s best—and last—shot, and it would be unconscionable for liberals to remain cavalier about its defense, or Obama’s, for that matter. It’s past time to discard the misguided assumption that in a better economy, or with more of “a fighter” in the White House, something like a Canadian-style single-payer system might have been (or might sometime fairly soon be) enacted.


The story begins with the Progressive Era, when proposals for government-sponsored healthcare were heavily influenced by, of all things, Otto von Bismarck’s sly welfare legacy: the chancellor of Germany had introduced health insurance in 1883 as a way of co-opting proletarian leaders. Soon came the Coolidge-to-Hoover retrenchment. FDR’s New Deal never seriously mooted universal healthcare—more on this presently—but the Truman administration did, proposing a single-payer scheme modeled after Social Security. This went down to defeat. ... The Kennedy and Johnson administrations finally delivered Medicare and Medicaid. ...

In retrospect, the saddest chapter was the ridiculously damaging Jimmy Carter–Ted Kennedy fight over universal coverage (Carter opposed it), which roiled Congress and paved the way for Reagan’s reactionary “revolution,” after which single-payer would never be seriously considered again. Then came the Clintons’ letdown, though one triumph was the launch of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (or S-CHIP) in 1997, sponsored by Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. ...


The bottom line for voters, Starr explains, was that healthcare reform became practicable only as a guardian of, well, the bottom line. Premiums kept rising: overall expenditures jumped from about 9 percent of GDP in 1980 to about 14 percent in 1992 and 17 percent today. This frightening increase in the cost of care might seem to suggest an emerging conflict of interest between young and old (though the young worry about their parents, after all). What the increase really created, Starr shows, was a natural alliance in favor of “bending the cost curve” down while keeping the benefits up. Meanwhile, the expansion of “managed care” in Medicaid’s network allowed most voters to feel, vaguely and incorrectly, that the indigent would not be abandoned.

A third counterforce is regional lobbying. Starr reminds us at the start of his book that “every dollar spent on health care is also a dollar that someone earns from health care.” During the Clinton push, Florida legislators backed away from reform when the insurance industry mounted a TV campaign to convince seniors that Medicare benefits might be cut. And was there ever any point in trying to persuade Joe Lieberman, “the senator from Aetna,” to allow people over 55 to buy into Medicare? Nancy Pelosi’s staff told Starr that health industry lobbyists from states in which Medicare payment schedules were lowest are the ones who really killed the “public option,” because the only conceivable plan of this kind would rely on Medicare to establish rates of compensation, and even Democratic representatives refused to appear to be forcing the short end of the stick on their state’s providers. ...

Given that “cost containment” became the game, and esoteric opinions about the numbers qualified one to play it, most voters were easily swayed by the claims and doubts of industry lobbyists presented as experts. Which is why it would have been irresponsible for Obama to try to pass reform without first lining up groups like the AMA, the drug companies and the hospital industry—all of which stood to gain new “customers” under the plan—in order to generate the kind of headlines that imply consensus.


Obama’s only real point of disagreement with Hillary, which he eventually conceded, had been about mandating that all citizens—including healthy, employed young people who think they are immortal—buy insurance. Obama had first proposed a mandate only for parents to insure their children; by July 2008 he said simply, “I kind of think Hillary was right,” and that was that. (The mandate, of course, was crucial to the act’s balance sheet, though it launched the raft of lawsuits that the Supreme Court will begin hearing in March.) Given the history that Starr so lucidly recounts, it’s clear that America’s healthcare reform was bound to look, at best, more like Switzerland’s mixed, complicated system, also based on private sector insurers, than like England’s simple, unified one, in which doctors are essentially government employees. Nor, once Obama assumed office, was he going to make the mistake of excluding the heads of key Congressional committees from writing the legislation within the parameters described. If they wrote it, they’d own it. He also succeeded where Bill Clinton had failed, lining up the hospital and drug industries—too discreetly for some critics—in advance of the Congressional push.

Through the summer of 2009, Obama waited for Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee—an ally of House Blue Dogs from the conservative state of Montana—to try to bring around Olympia Snowe, one of Maine’s two moderate Republican senators. Baucus failed; there is no point rehearsing the sad story Starr tells. But did this mean Obama was deluded by his own rhetoric of bipartisanship and could have gotten a better deal had he been more combative? Not at all. Starr shows that Obama’s real goal was “bipartisanship in one party,” the not-monolithic Democratic Party. He worked with Blue Dog sympathizers in the Senate like Baucus (and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, etc.) to woo Snowe and the few other Republican moderates, not because he expected to gain Republicans but because he feared losing Democrats. If the reputations of moderate senators did not become inextricably bound with the health reform effort, they’d be able to walk away and face no censure from their voters.

What emerges most vividly from reading Starr is how reckless it was for critics to charge Obama with not making his own views clear enough, or losing control of the narrative, because he resolved to leave to Congress—within an agreed timetable—the work of filling in the details. Yes, the schedule did slip a few months as Baucus worked his committee, but a few months in a century-long effort was a trivial delay. And it would have been widely recognized as such but for the righteous indignation Obama endured during his first spring in office, when anger over the bailouts was white-hot, and his administration’s determination to regulate rather than nationalize the banks (remember Tim Geithner’s “stress tests”?) gave critics, especially on the left, an opening to depict the president as a creature of Wall Street—catnip for the nascent Tea Party, as it turned out.

Starr shows that when the details of the health legislation finally came out, including proposals to stipulate new Medicare standards of care, talk of “death panels” inflamed latent anxieties about government interfering with personal choices. The left was also incensed by the deal the White House had cut with Big Pharma prohibiting, as part of the legislation, direct negotiations with Medicare over prescription drug prices and excluding medicines imported from Canada. (The industry group PhRMA agreed, in return, to find $80 billion in discounts to Medicare, and to pay for an ad campaign supporting the legislation.) Starr adds that, although this was not publicly known at the time, the health insurance industry wrote an $86.2 million check to the Chamber of Commerce to mount a campaign against the legislation. “If Obama and the Democrats had been in a stronger position politically,” he writes, “they could have insisted on stronger cost containment and avoided making as large concessions to PhRMA and the hospitals as they did.” But sixty Senate votes meant everything. “Reform needed interest group allies: there would be no way to pass it if the entire health-care industry went into all-out opposition.”


* * *

Nevertheless, Obama pushed back hard. He called a press conference for July 22, laid out the elements of the plan as best he could and said of the insurers: “Right now, at the time when everybody’s getting hammered, they’re making record profits and premiums are going up.” Starr—tactful to a fault this time—neglects to add that the real news made at the press conference was Obama’s offhand remark that Cambridge police had acted “stupidly” in arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home. The remark was true, but it put Obama on a kind of probation because it gestured toward the incipient gulf between the young, black, brainy president and lunch-pail whites like Sgt. James Crowley (the arresting officer), people who had first backed Hillary and then, like “Joe the Plumber,” went in large numbers for John McCain.

Ironically, working-class voters stood to gain much more predictable medical coverage from healthcare reform, because pre-existing conditions and unemployment would no longer interrupt it. But the Gates incident reinforced how hard it would be for Obama to overcome latent suspicions that his healthcare plan was a new kind of affirmative action program or a new bailout for losers, foisted on ordinary people by a patronizing elite shuttling between Harvard Yard and Goldman Sachs. Obama finally stemmed the tide against the bill with a landmark speech to Congress in September, Starr recalls. But much damage had already been done. Months later, the Democratic nominee for Ted Kennedy’s seat, Martha Coakley, campaigned ineptly, as if the healthcare proposal pending in the Senate, for which her vote would be crucial, did not exist. The loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat required Obama to hit the road and to embrace a tactical maneuver by which the House simply adopted the Senate bill.

Criticism of the Obama administration gained momentum through 2009, and even became strangely vogue among economists and columnists who were widely thought to be on the president’s side. It was in this context that voices who had lionized Obama—from seasoned pragmatists like Robert Reich (who blurbs Starr’s book) to MoveOn.org—spoke of the “public option” as the holy grail, and of Obama as its perfidious guardian. Perhaps it was the magical word “public,” or the vague sense that Obama, having worked to salvage banks and restructure the car companies, was now protecting the profits of insurance companies. Perhaps it was the way this insinuation was magnified by the charge that the members of Obama’s economic team were mostly disciples of Robert Rubin, thus to blame for deregulating investment banking and causing the financial crisis in the first place. Perhaps it was the way Obama’s half-heartedness about a public plan, which he knew the Senate would never give him, suggested timidity. In any case, Obama’s left critics now lambasted him. Former DNC chair Howard Dean declared in November 2009 that without the public option “this bill is worthless and should be defeated”—not grounds for drug testing, perhaps, but possibly for prescribing some Xanax.

The bill eventually passed, but it had become advantageous on the right, and fashionable on the left, to hold Obama responsible for failing to bring unemployment down to pre-recession levels in just twelve months.  ... For the first African-American president, surely the cruelest charge from the left was that in pursuing healthcare the way he did, he had wasted an “FDR moment.”  ... Indeed, FDR’s entire reform strategy depended on holding together a coalition that required him to ignore, if not pander to, the grotesque racism of the South. He got Social Security (and other bills) passed by appealing to immediate and universal pocketbook interests, and with a larger Senate majority, which reserved the filibuster mainly for civil rights; to appease Southern Democrats, he agreed to exclude domestic servants and farm laborers (e.g., sharecroppers) from the initial Social Security program.


Dean supposed that the proposed public option would compete with private insurers on the exchanges and cause the costs of premiums to fall. But would they have? Dean was right that a public option keyed to Medicare rates would have saved the government considerable money—$110 billion over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But, again, states where Medicare payments were low killed the idea. Pelosi was stymied. Without Medicare as the basis, any imaginable public plan would not have been cheaper than private plans.


This last point, of course, is the timely one. Starr is priming us for the 2012 election, ...It would be a shame, Starr warns, if the president who husbanded this once-in-a-lifetime legislation to victory is beaten by a Republican claiming the need for “leadership” in the White House—a double shame if misinformed Democrats, nursing their “disappointment,” continue to help make that need seem plausible.


National Security Policy Is Foiled by Congressional Politics and Bureaucratic Infighting 

Carol Rosenberg, Foreign Affairs


The last two prisoners to leave the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay were dead. ... each was an "indefinite detainee," categorized by the Obama administration's 2009 Guantánamo Review Task Force as someone against whom the United States had no evidence to convict of a war crime but had concluded was too dangerous to let go. Today, this category of detainees makes up 46 of the last 171 captives held at Guantánamo. The only guaranteed route out of Guantánamo these days for a detainee, it seems, is in a body bag.

The responsibility lies not so much with the White House but with Congress, which has thwarted President Barack Obama's plans to close the detention center, which the Bush administration opened on January 11, 2002 with 20 captives.

Congress has used its spending oversight authority both to forbid the White House from financing trials of Guantánamo captives on U.S. soil and to block the acquisition of a state prison in Illinois to hold captives currently held in Cuba who would not be put on trial -- a sort of Guantánamo North. The current defense bill now before Congress not only reinforces these restrictions but moves to mandate military detention for most future al Qaeda cases unless the president signs a waiver. The White House withdrew a veto threat on the eve of likely passage Wednesday, saying the latest language gives the executive enough wiggle room to avoid military custody.


Congress has made it nearly impossible to transfer captives elsewhere. Legislation passed since Obama took office has created a series of roadblocks that mean that only a federal court order or a national security waiver issued by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta could trump Congress and permit the release of a detainee to another country.

Neither is likely: U.S. District Court judges are not ruling in favor of captives in the dozens of unlawful detention suits winding their way from Cuba to the federal court in Washington. And on the occasions when those judges have ruled for detainees, the U.S. Court of Appeals has consistently overruled them in an ever-widening definition of who can be held as an affiliate of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer, believes that Congress crafted the transfer waivers a year ago in such a way that Panetta (and Robert Gates before him) would be ill-advised to sign them. (In essence, the Secretary of Defense is supposed to guarantee that the detainee would never in the future engage in violence against any American citizen or U.S. interest.)

In a strange twist of history, Congress, through its control of government funds, is now imposing curbs on the very executive powers that the Bush administration invoked to establish the camps at Guantánamo in the first place. Much of its intransigence is driven by the politics of fear: what if, for example, a captive is acquitted in a civilian trial because the judge bars evidence obtained by the military without benefit of counsel? When will another freed Guantánamo detainee attack a U.S. target or interest, such as when Abdullah al Ajami, who was transferred to Kuwait in 2005, blew himself up in a truck bomb attack in Iraq in 2008?

In the face of such public and political pressure -- especially from Congress -- Obama administration officials have waffled at several key moments. For example, Holder changed his mind on where to try five alleged 9/11 plotters at Guantánamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In November 2009, Holder announced that the trial would be held in a civilian courtroom in Manhattan; then, in April 2011, following strong resistance from congressional representatives and New York politicians, the White House abandoned this plan and instead announced that Pentagon prosecutors would bring a trial by military commission.

Resettling in the United States those captives cleared for release has also become taboo. Soon after taking over in 2009, the Obama administration was considering resettling Guantánamo captives from China's Uighur Muslim minority, whom the Bush administration had readied for release. (They were to be hosted by Uighur-Americans in Virginia.) But then, in the face of congressional objections, the White House lost its nerve. The United States instead scattered the Uighurs to Bermuda, Switzerland, and even the Pacific island nation of Palau; five more Uighurs remain at Guantánamo.

Factors besides Congress also contributed to the current Guantánamo stalemate. First, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that at least a fourth of the detainees the United States has released from Guantánamo were confirmed or suspected of later engaging in terrorism or insurgent activity. Opponents of closing Guantánamo immediately seized on these figures. (For its part, the Obama administration noted that most of those on the recidivist list were transferred before Obama took office, when the Bush-era Pentagon approved some 500 releases. Officials took fault with these big-batch transfers and claimed that the Obama administration's individually fashioned, case-by-case system for release would yield better results.)

Second, over the past couple years a powerful al Qaeda offshoot has taken hold in Yemen, the very country where the Obama administration had planned to transfer many detainees. Sending dozens of suspected terrorists back to a country besieged by a growing terrorist threat is hardly good politics or security policy.

Lastly, Obama's executive order to close Guantánamo was undone by the burdensome bureaucracy of the task force, which sought to sort each captive's Bush-era file. Each detainee's case file contained competing and often contradictory assessments from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions, the Department of Justice, and myriad other offices, bogging down the review process. Time ran out before the task force could settle on a master plan to move the detainees out of Guantánamo in time for Obama's one-year deadline.


Guantánamo has largely faded from public attention. There is little reason to expect it to emerge as an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign season beyond the usual finger-pointing and slogans: Obama may blame Congress for cornering him into keeping the captives at Guantánamo rather than moving them somewhere else, and his opponents will no doubt argue that, by virtue of his wanting to close the facility in the first place, Obama is soft on terrorism. ("My view is we ought to double it," Mitt Romney said about Guantánamo in a 2007 debate.)

Meanwhile, the detention center enters its eleventh year on January 11. Guantánamo is arguably the most expensive prison camp on earth, with a staff of 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians managing a compound that contains 171 captives, at a cost of $800,000 a year per detainee. Of those 171 prisoners, just six are facing Pentagon tribunals that may start a year from now after pretrial hearings and discovery. Guantánamo today is the place that Obama cannot close.

Stats & Predictions

  The extreme left hates Obama and will likely end his presidency in favor of a Republican president (predicted, 12/30/2011). Surprisingly, their mistake has been to underestimate the power of corporations and of the extreme right.

  On a scale of 1=very liberal to 5=very conservative, independents rate Obama at 2.5 compared with themselves at 3.2. They see him as 0.7 too liberal. They rate Romney at 3.4, which is 0.2 too conservative. So now the extreme "left" wants Obama to move further to left, and promises to support him if he does. That's asking him to commit political suicide. They are just not strong enough to undo the damage such a shift would cause. And they have proved that. Unlike the T Party, they have elected almost no one to Congress.



Some reading to understand why the left may cost Obama the election:


  Republican strategy against Obama, call him a flip-flopper xlnk.gif

Mitt Romney

"Let Detroit Go Bankrupt"

Stockman Says Romney Didn't Create Jobs

Said Stockman: "I don't think that Mitt Romney can legitimately say that he learned anything about how to create jobs in the LBO business. The LBO business is about how to strip cash out of old, long-in-the-tooth companies and how to make short-term profits...All the jobs that he talks about came from Staples. That was a very early venture stage deal. That, you know they got out of long before it got to its current size."

GOP vs Reality

New York Magazine (excellent political coverage)

Some of my Republican friends ask if I’ve gone crazy.
I say: Look in the mirror.

By [#David Frum] Published Nov 20, 2011

"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" 
(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

It’s a very strange experience to have your friends think you’ve gone crazy. Some will tell you so. Others will indulgently humor you. Still others will avoid you. More than a few will demand that the authorities do something to get you off the streets. During one unpleasant moment after I was fired from the think tank where I’d worked for the previous seven years, I tried to reassure my wife with an old cliché: “The great thing about an experience like this is that you learn who your friends really are.” She answered, “I was happier when I didn’t know.”

It’s possible that my friends are right. I don’t think so—but then, crazy people never do. So let me put the case to you.

I’ve been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John ­McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration. But as I contemplate my party and my movement in 2011, I see things I simply cannot support.

America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.

"If we took away the minimum wage—if conceivably it was gone—we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely."  

It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” By 2011, Republican commentators were noisily complaining that the poorer half of society are “lucky duckies” because the EITC offsets their federal tax obligations—or because the recession had left them with such meager incomes that they had no tax to pay in the first place. In 2000, candidate Bush routinely invoked “churches, synagogues, and mosques.” By 2010, prominent Republicans were denouncing the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan as an outrageous insult. In 2003, President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress enacted a new ­prescription-drug program in Medicare. By 2011, all but four Republicans in the House and five in the Senate were voting to withdraw the Medicare guarantee from everybody under age 55. Today, the Fed’s pushing down interest rates in hopes of igniting economic growth is close to treason, according to Governor Rick Perry, coyly seconded by TheWall Street Journal. In 2000, the same policy qualified Alan Greenspan as the “greatest central banker in the history of the world,” according to Perry’s mentor, Senator Phil Gramm. Today, health reform that combines regulation of private insurance, individual mandates, and subsidies for those who need them is considered unconstitutional and an open invitation to “death panels.” A dozen years ago, a very similar reform was the Senate Republican alternative to Hillarycare. Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is “socialism.” In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic­-recovery program.

I can’t shrug off this flight from reality and responsibility as somebody else’s problem. I belonged to this movement; I helped to make the mess. People may very well say: Hey, wait a minute, didn’t you work in the George W. Bush administration that disappointed so many people in so many ways? What qualifies you to dispense advice to anybody else?

Fair question. I am haunted by the Bush experience, although it seems almost presumptuous for someone who played such a minor role to feel so much unease. The people who made the big decisions certainly seem to sleep well enough. Yet there is also the chance for something positive to come out of it all. True, some of my colleagues emerged from those years eager to revenge themselves and escalate political conflict: “They send one of ours to the hospital, we send two of theirs to the morgue.” I came out thinking, I want no more part of this cycle of revenge. For the past half-dozen years, I have been arguing that we conservatives need to follow a different course. And it is this argument that has led so many of my friends to demand, sometimes bemusedly, sometimes angrily, “What the hell happened to you?” I could fire the same question back: “Never mind me—what happened to you?”

So what did happen? The first decade of the 21st century was a crazy bookend to the twentieth, opening with a second Pearl Harbor and ending with a second Great Crash, with a second Vietnam wedged in between. Now we seem caught in the coils of a second Great Depression. These shocks radicalized the political system, damaging hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton in the Bush years and then driving Republicans to dust off the economics of Ayn Rand.

Some liberals suspect that the conservative changes of mind since 2008 are opportunistic and cynical. It’s true that cynicism is never entirely absent from politics: I won’t soon forget the lupine smile that played about the lips of the leader of one prominent conservative institution as he told me, “Our donors truly think the apocalypse has arrived.” Yet conscious cynicism is much rarer than you might suppose. Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves. Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know—canny investors, erudite authors—sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond conventional American liberalism and is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism. No counterevidence will dissuade them from this belief: not record-high corporate profits, not almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, not the lowest tax rates since the Truman administration. It is not easy to fit this belief alongside the equally strongly held belief that the president is a pitiful, bumbling amateur, dazed and overwhelmed by a job too big for him—and yet that is done too.

Conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy
into a market segment.

Conservatives have been driven to these fevered anxieties as much by their own trauma as by external events. In the aughts, Republicans held more power for longer than at any time since the twenties, yet the result was the weakest and least broadly shared economic expansion since World War II, followed by an economic crash and prolonged slump. Along the way, the GOP suffered two severe election defeats in 2006 and 2008. Imagine yourself a rank-and-file Republican in 2009: If you have not lost your job or your home, your savings have been sliced and your children cannot find work. Your retirement prospects have dimmed. Most of all, your neighbors blame you for all that has gone wrong in the country. There’s one thing you know for sure: None of this is your fault! And when the new president fails to deliver rapid recovery, he can be designated the target for everyone’s accumulated disappointment and rage. In the midst of economic wreckage, what relief to thrust all blame upon Barack Obama as the wrecker-in-chief.

Rick Perry
"[Obama] grew up in a privileged way. He never had to really work for anything; he never had to go through what Americans are going through."  

The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers. For the past three years, the media have praised the enthusiasm and energy the tea party has brought to the GOP. Yet it’s telling that that movement has failed time and again to produce even a remotely credible candidate for president. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich: The list of tea-party candidates reads like the early history of the U.S. space program, a series of humiliating fizzles and explosions that never achieved liftoff. A political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn. But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.

Many hope that the tea-party mood is just a passing mania, eventually to subside into something more like the businessperson’s Republicanism practiced in the nineties by governors and mayors like George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani, Christine Todd Whitman and Dick Riordan, Tommy Thompson and John Engler. This hope tends to coalesce around the candidacies of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, two smart and well-informed former governors who eschew the strident rhetoric of the tea party and who have thereby earned its deep distrust. But there are good reasons to fear that the ebbing of Republican radicalism remains far off, even if Romney (or Huntsman) does capture the White House next year.

1. Fiscal Austerity and Economic Stagnation

We have entered an era in which politics increasingly revolves around the ugly question of who will bear how much pain. Conservative constituencies already see themselves as aggrieved victims of American government: They are the people who pay the taxes even as their “earned” benefits are siphoned off to provide welfare for the undeserving. The reality is, however, that the big winners in the American fiscal system are the rich, the old, the rural, and veterans—typically conservative constituencies. Squeezing the programs conservatives most dislike—PBS, the National Endowment for the Humanities, tax credits for the poor, the Department of Education, etc.—yields relatively little money. Any serious move to balance the budget, or even just reduce the deficit a little, must inevitably cut programs conservative voters do like: Medicare for current beneficiaries, farm subsidies, veterans’ benefits, and big tax loopholes like the mortgage-interest deduction and employer-provided health benefits. The rank and file of the GOP are therefore caught between their interests and their ideology—intensifying their suspicion that shadowy Washington elites are playing dirty tricks upon them.

2. Ethnic Competition

Herman Cain
"I'm ready for the gotcha questions...and when they ask me who is the president of Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I'm gonna say, you know, I don't know."  

White America has been plunged into a mood of pessimism and anger since 2008. Ron Brownstein reports in the National Journal: “63 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Hispanics said they expected their children to exceed their standard of living. Even ­college-educated whites are less optimistic (only about two-fifths agree). But the noncollege whites are the gloomiest: Just one-third of them think their kids will live better than they do; an equal number think their children won’t even match their living standard. No other group is nearly that negative.” Those fears are not irrational. In postrecession America, employers seem to show a distinct preference for foreign-born workers. Eighty percent of the net new jobs created in the state of Texas since 2009 went to the foreign-born. Nationwide, foreign-born workers have experienced a net 4 percent increase in employment since January 2009, while native-born workers have seen continuing employment declines. Which may explain why President Obama’s approval rating among whites slipped to 41 percent in January 2010 and is now testing a new low of 33 percent. The president’s name and skin color symbolize the emergence of a new America in which many older-stock Americans intuit they will be left behind.

It is precisely these disaffected whites—especially those who didn’t go to college—who form the Republican voting base. John McCain got 58 percent of noncollege-white votes in 2008. The GOP polls even higher among that group today, but the party can only sustain those numbers as long as it gives voice to alienation. Birtherism, the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, expressed the feeling of many that power has shifted into alien hands. That feeling will not be easily quelled by Republican electoral success, because it is based on a deep sense of dispossession and disinheritance.

3. Fox News and Talk Radio

Extremism and conflict make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”

We used to say “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it’s tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. The bizarre fiasco of campaign-finance reform has perversely empowered them to give unlimited funds anonymously to special entities that can spend limitlessly. (Thanks, Senator ­McCain! Nice job, Senator Feingold!) Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they’re gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are ­actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.

Republican billionaires are not acting cynically;
they watch Fox News too.

Over the past few years, I have left this alternative knowledge system behind me. What is that experience like? A personal story may be relevant here.

Through the debate over health-care reform in 2009–10, I urged that Republicans try to reach some kind of deal. The Democrats had the votes to pass something. They could not afford to lose. Providing health coverage to all is a worthy goal, and the core mechanisms of what we called Obamacare should not have been obnoxious to Republicans. In fact, they were drawn from past Republican plans. Democrats were so eager for Republican votes to provide bipartisan cover that they might well have paid a substantial price to get them, including dropping the surtaxes on work and investment that supposedly financed the Affordable Care Act. My urgings went unheeded, obviously. Senator Jim DeMint predicted that health care would become Obama’s Waterloo, the decisive defeat that would destroy his presidency, and Republicans accepted DeMint’s counsel. So they bet everything—and lost everything. A major new entitlement has been written into law, financed by redistributive new taxes. Changes in the bill that could have been had for the asking will now require years of slow, painful legislative effort, if they ever come at all. Republicans hope that the Supreme Court will overturn the Affordable Care Act. Such a decision would be the most dramatic assertion of judicial power since the thirties, and for that reason alone seems improbable. Yet absent action by the Supreme Court, outright repeal of President Obama’s health-care law is a mirage, requiring not only 60 votes in the Senate but also the withdrawal of benefits that the American people will have gotten used to by 2013.

On the day of the House vote that ensured the enactment of health-care ­reform, I wrote a blog post saying all this—and calling for some accountability for those who had led the GOP to this disaster. For my trouble, I was denounced the next day by my former colleagues at The Wall Street Journal as a turncoat. Three days after that, I was dismissed from the American Enterprise Institute. I’m not a solitary case: In 2005, the economist Bruce Bartlett, a main legislative author of the Kemp-Roth tax cut, was fired from a think tank in Dallas for too loudly denouncing the George W. Bush administration’s record, and I could tell equivalent stories about other major conservative think tanks as well.

I don’t complain from a personal point of view. Happily, I had other economic resources to fall back upon. But the message sent to others with less security was clear: We don’t pay you to think, we pay you to repeat. For myself, the main consequences have been more comic than anything else. Back in 2009, I wrote a piece for Newsweek arguing that Republicans would regret conceding so much power to Rush Limbaugh. Until that point, I’d been a frequent guest on Fox News, but thenceforward some kind of fatwa was laid down upon me. Over the next few months, I’d occasionally receive morning calls from young TV bookers asking if I was available to appear that day. For sport, I’d always answer, “I’m available—but does your senior producer know you’ve called me?” An hour later, I’d receive an embarrassed second call: “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” Earlier this year, I did some volunteer speechwriting for a Republican contemplating a presidential run. My involvement was treated as a dangerous secret, involving discreet visits to hotel suites at odd hours. Thus are political movements held together. But thus is not how movements grow and govern.

Some call this the closing of the conservative mind. Alas, the conservative mind has proved itself only too open, these past years, to all manner of intellectual pollen. Call it instead the drying up of conservative creativity. It’s clearly true that the country faces daunting economic troubles. It’s also true that the wrong answers to those problems will push the United States toward a future of too much government, too many taxes, and too much regulation. It’s the job of conservatives in this crisis to show a better way. But it’s one thing to point out (accurately) that President Obama’s stimulus plan was mostly a compilation of antique Democratic wish lists, and quite another to argue that the correct response to the worst collapse since the thirties is to wait for the economy to get better on its own. It’s one thing to worry (wisely) about the long-term trend in government spending, and another to demand big, immediate cuts when 25 million are out of full-time work and the government can borrow for ten years at 2 percent. It’s a duty to scrutinize the actions and decisions of the incumbent administration, but an abuse to use the filibuster as a routine tool of legislation or to prevent dozens of presidential appointments from even coming to a vote. It’s fine to be unconcerned that the rich are getting richer, but blind to deny that ­middle-class wages have stagnated or worse over the past dozen years. In the aftershock of 2008, large numbers of Americans feel exploited and abused. Rather than workable solutions, my party is offering low taxes for the currently rich and high spending for the currently old, to be followed by who-knows-what and who-the-hell-cares. This isn’t conservatism; it’s a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation.

I refuse to believe that I am the only Republican who feels this way. If CNN’s most recent polling is correct, only half of us sympathize with the tea party. However, moderate-minded people dislike conflict—and thus tend to lose to people who relish conflict. The most extreme voices in the GOP now denounce everybody else as Republicans in Name Only. But who elected them as the GOP’s membership committee? What have they done to deserve such an inheritance? In the mid-sixties, when the party split spectacularly between Ripon Republicans, who embraced the civil-rights movement, and Goldwater Republicans, who opposed it, civil-rights Republicans like Michigan governor George Romney spoke forcefully for their point of view. Today, Republicans discomfited by political and media extremism bite their tongues. But if they don’t speak up, they’ll be whipsawed into a choice between an Obama administration that wants to build a permanently bigger government and a conservative movement content with permanently outraged opposition.

This is, unfortunately, not merely a concern for Republican voters. The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can’t work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just “wasn’t done.” In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just “weren’t done.” Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren’t done suddenly are done.

We can debate when the slide began. But what seems beyond argument is that the U.S. political system becomes more polarized and more dysfunctional every cycle, at greater and greater human cost. The next Republican president will surely find himself or herself at least as stymied by this dysfunction as President Obama, as will the people the political system supposedly serves, who must feel they have been subjected to a psychological experiment gone horribly wrong, pressing the red button in 2004 and getting a zap, pressing blue in 2008 for another zap, and now agonizing whether there is any choice that won’t zap them again in 2012. Yet in the interests of avoiding false evenhandedness, it must be admitted: The party with a stronger charge on its zapper right now, the party struggling with more self-­imposed obstacles to responsible governance, the party most in need of a course correction, is the Republican Party. Changing that party will be the fight of a political lifetime. But a great political party is worth fighting for.




[=Frum] David Frum is credited with inventing the term "axis of evil" in Bush's second State of the Union Address, and he worked at the American Enterprise Institute until 2010.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.

Other GOP Candidates

Rick Santorum

Santorum has long opposed the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling “that invalidated a Connecticut law banning contraception” and has also pledged to completely defund federal funding for contraception if elected president. As he told CaffeinatedThoughts.com editor Shane Vander Hart in October, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” the former Pennsylvania senator explained. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”


Other Stuff


Right Radical $$

Rob Stein's Slide Show

The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million-per-year network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda. The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said.

''We will only succeed if we build an entrepreneurial culture in Democratic politics,'' Rosenberg said. ''What we are is this beleaguered group of badly funded, nonscalable nonprofits. You know, Luke Skywalker was able to kill the Death Star with his beleaguered band of warriors, but I'm not sure that that's the model we should shoot for -- shoot the thing down the middle of the tube and hope it blows up the Death Star. We need to build our own answer to the Death Star.'' 


(full NYTs article: Wiring the Left)

Axis of (right-wing) Ideology report (press release)
details the effective philanthropic strategies that 79 conservative foundations have used to support the activities of 350 public policy-oriented right-wing think tanks at the federal, state, and local levels. Executive  Summary.

George Bush's back-door political machine
Mar. 18, 2004  

Describes the 350 tax-exempt, ostensibly non-partisan right-wing organizations, funded largely by the 9 super-rich families identified by Rob Stein.

Impact Conservative Philanthropy on Public School Reform
Nov. 2004  Julia Andrews, Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership



Katrina Date

Date/Dates and Times for Hurricane Katrina
Formed August 23, 2005

Videos and photos tell the story
You can argue over the details, but the government videos and White House photos make one thing clear. Bush is not a take-charge President. He did nothing during the crucial two days. He's not even a "can I lend a hand" President. In the briefing the day before, he made not one suggestion—did not even ask a question.
The day-ahead warnings were dramatically clear. Next morning, as Katrina hit New Orleans, Bush left his ranch for a drug-benefits, politicking tour starting with a birthday celebration for McCain, then a visit to "El Mirage Country Club", then on to Cucamonga, California. He missed that day's video conference on Katrina. Next day he continued his tour in California.
His sole contribution was to “assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared” the day before.” That assurance flies in the face of everything he had just been told, and could not have proved more wrong.

White House photos taken while Katrina destroyed New Oreans.
McCain Birthday   El Mirage Country Club   Rancho Cucamonga

Aug. 25, 6:30pm   Katrina hits Florida (Cat 1).
Aug. 28, 12:30pm   Bush was warned "...whether the levees will be topped or not, that's obviously a very, very grave concern." Asked no questions.
Aug. 28   Mayor Nagin tells CNN "as soon as the levee systems are breached, there will be a tremendous amount of water, anywhere from 15 to 20 feet of water in some parts of New Orleans." Orders mandatory evacuation.
Aug. 29, 6:10am   Hurricane Katrina reaches New Orleans.
Aug. 29, 8am   Levees Overtopped.
Aug. 29, 9:12am   National weather service gets report of levee breach.
Aug. 29, 11am   After McCain birthday, Bush talks at El Mirage RV park, AZ.
Aug. 29, 12pm   Bush misses video briefing on Katrina.
Aug. 29, 4:40   Bush appears at Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Aug. 30   Bush continues speaking tour in California.
Sept. 1, 7am   Bush: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Date-Timeline 1  Date-Timeline 2   Video   White House photos

Who Gets Money? Priorities (93)

Video Shows Bush Was Fully Warned Before Katrina Hit
(Bush celebrates McCain's Birthday as Katrina breaches levees)
Bush celebrates as levee breached

WASHINGTON (AP)—In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage—along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press—show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

—Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the `fog of war' defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."

—Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility—and Bush was worried too.

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Brown discussed fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit.

"I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One," Brown said. "He's obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he's asking questions about reports of breaches."

—Louisiana officials angrily blamed the federal government for not being prepared but the transcripts shows they were still praising FEMA as the storm roared toward the Gulf Coast and even two days afterward. "I think a lot of the planning FEMA has done with us the past year has really paid off," Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana's emergency preparedness deputy director, said during the Aug. 28 briefing.

It wasn't long before Smith and other state officials sounded overwhelmed.

"We appreciate everything that you all are doing for us, and all I would ask is that you realize that what's going on and the sense of urgency needs to be ratcheted up," Smith said Aug. 30.

Mississippi begged for more attention in that same briefing.

"We know that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana that need to be rescued, but we would just ask you, we desperately need to get our share of assets because we'll have people dying—not because of water coming up, but because we can't get them medical treatment in our affected counties," said a Mississippi state official whose name was not mentioned on the tape.

Video footage of the Aug. 28 briefing, the final one before Katrina struck, showed an intense Brown voicing concerns from the government's disaster operation center and imploring colleagues to do whatever was necessary to help victims.

"We're going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event," Brown warned. He called the storm "a bad one, a big one" and implored federal agencies to cut through red tape to help people, bending rules if necessary.

"Go ahead and do it," Brown said. "I'll figure out some way to justify it. ... Just let them yell at me."

Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event.

One snippet captures a missed opportunity on Aug. 28 for the government to have dispatched active-duty military troops to the region to augment the National Guard.

Chertoff: "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?"

Brown: "We have DOD assets over here at EOC (emergency operations center). They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now."

Chertoff: "Good job."

In fact, active duty troops weren't dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards had yet to be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it took days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen.

The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

"I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing.

Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated.

"They're not taking patients out of hospitals, taking prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans. So I'm very concerned about that," Brown said.

Despite the concerns, it ultimately took days for search and rescue teams to reach some hospitals and nursing homes.

Brown also told colleagues one of his top concerns was whether evacuees who went to the New Orleans Superdome—which became a symbol of the failed Katrina response—would be safe and have adequate medical care.

"The Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level.... I don't know whether the roof is designed to stand, withstand a Category Five hurricane," he said.

Brown also wanted to know whether there were enough federal medical teams in place to treat evacuees and the dead in the Superdome.

"Not to be (missing) kind of gross here," Brown interjected, "but I'm concerned" about the medical and mortuary resources "and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe."


Random Quotes

“His remark was not intended to be a factual statement.” — Spokesman for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) regarding the senator’s claim that abortions accounted for more than 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.

Campaign Finance

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor has started a super PAC to end all super PACs. The idea is to back candidates for the House that strongly support campaign finance reform. You can read about them here: Mayday.us.

Super PAC

You can contribute to campaign reform and ending super PACs. This will elect Congressional candidates that strongly favor reform. Then "Once we have elected a Congress committed to reform, we will organize a 100 day campaign in the beginning of 2017 to get that reform passed." Finally it is is possible that a Constitutional ammendment will be needed. You can read a full description here: The Plan