Archive for the ‘GOP’ Category
We’re getting reports about Paul Ryan’s performance at CPAC, the big conservative gathering — and they’re actually kind of awesome, in the worst way.
I mean, the caricature of Ryan and people like him is that they treat the hardships of poverty as if they were merely psychological, that they talk big about dignity while ignoring the difficulty of getting essentials like food and health care. Well, it’s not a caricature: Ryan says never mind having enough to eat, it’s about spirituality:
“The left is making a big mistake,” Ryan predicted. “What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity, they want a life of self determination.”
Um, yes, but how dignified can you be on an empty stomach? How much self-determination do you have?
And who is supposed to value dignity over having enough to eat? Children. Ryan tells an anecdote about one sad child:
“He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids,” he continued. “He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
And if the child’s mother can’t provide that lunch in a brown paper bag, then what?
The total failure to accept that the poor face real physical hardship, that affluent politicians have no business lecturing people having trouble buying food or having trouble paying for health care about dignity, is just stunning.
UPDATE: Not only that, the story is totally bogus.
I wonder whether such flagrant betrayal of supporting the general welfare would be grounds for recall or impeachment. Probably not. Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress.
Pennsylvania is one of just 15 states that ban predatory payday loans, for now. If state Rep. Chris Ross (R) and state Sen. Pat Browne (R) have their way, though, the Keystone State will open its arms to companies that already pull billions of dollars out of poor communities each year through loans with average interest rates of over 300 percent.
Browne has sponsored a bill to remove the state’s 24 percent cap on interest rates. The legislation is modeled on a bill Ross pushed through the Pennsylvania House last year, but which never won Senate passage in 2013. While Browne did not comment on the effort, Ross told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that their efforts are meant to give the state better control over companies that currently operate in the state from the internet shadows.
“I believe there is a need for a properly structured, short-term lending in Pennsylvania,” Ross said. “We’ve got the Internet, for which there is no effective means of regulation to protect consumers.”
The Department of Justice is fighting illicit online lending, despite criticism from industry-friendly Republicans at the national level. And while that indicates that there is a real demandfor cash advances in poor communities where paychecks don’t always come in time to cover the bills, it doesn’t mean lifting the cap on interest rates is necessarily the right solution. If lawmakers want to do something to help satisfy that demand, they don’t have to invite the fine-print trickery of private payday lending companies into their states’ neediest corners. (Each year more than 12 million people take out payday loans nationwide and end up paying roughly $520 in interest and fees for every $375 they borrow thanks to limitless interest rates.)
The most promising alternative would be to resurrect the Postal Service’s (USPS) long-dormant banking powers. The USPS has physical locations in many communities that have been abandoned by banks — places where payday lenders flourish by virtue of being the only option for desperate people — and could provide the same basic banking services and short-term loans at non-abusive prices. The revenue that postal banking would bring in would also close the budget hole Congress created for the USPS when it required the agency to keep its pensions fully funded for the next 75 years, a requirement no other business or government agency faces. Polling on the idea is scarce, but one survey found significant support for the idea with many still unsure what to think.
Using the post office to meet the needs of poor people without access to bank accounts would also end the cycle of legislative gamesmanship that has surrounded payday lending for decades. The companies that profit from the practice spend a lot of money on political contributions, and use the resulting clout to either kill reform efforts in states where the loans are allowed or expand their access to customers in states that regulate the industry more tightly. Payday lenders have proven adept at evading state regulators, and have slipped through the cracks of national financial regulation. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is finally putting regulatory cops on the payday lending beat and winning unprecedented legal victories for abuses, postal banking offers an even more elegant solution.
The GOP strongly opposes any agency, law, or other measure that will assist consumers (cf. their continuing attacks on Obamacare, for example). The CFPB is a regular target, as described in the Washington Post by Lydia DePillis:
The two-and-a-half-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may finally have a confirmed director, but that doesn’t mean Republicans are done throwing rocks at it.
The House debated (and is expected to pass) a package of bills this afternoon that would replace the bureau’s single director with a five-person commission, prevent it from collecting consumer credit card information, and make it easier for the Treasury’s Financial Stability Oversight Council to overrule CFPB regulations. House Republicans have been trying to pass many of these things for years, which hobbled the fledgling agency’s effectiveness by making it play defense even though they never became law.
Perhaps the most important component has to do with money: The legislation would change the CFPB’s funding mechanism so that its budget comes from Congress rather than the Federal Reserve. It authorizes $300 million for each of the next two years, or about two-thirds of what the bureau has been spending annually. After that, there’s nothing – per the House Financial Services Committee’s GOP majority and theCongressional Budget Office, it would save $5.4 billion over the next 10 years, which can only be true if the CFPB isn’t funded at all. (GOP committee staff said later that the bill only saves that much “in the vernacular,” and that they don’t intend to zero out the bureau’s budget entirely.)
Of course, it’s almost certain the bill won’t clear the Democratically-controlled Senate anyway, and the White House has already promised not to sign it. For that reason, one might see this as a purely political exercise, allowing a stream of GOP Congress members to inveigh against “perhaps the most powerful agency in government” (Rep. Patrick McHenry, N.C.) that’s “disgracefully unaccountable to the American people” (Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Ind.) and proof that “big government is breathing down their backs” (Rep. Sean Duffy, Wis.).
The bureau’s defenders rebutted most of their attacks — the credit card data being collected can’t be traced back to individual consumers, for example — but occasionally just threw up their hands in exasperation.
“We could’ve saved a lot of trees and a lot of time if we had a bill that said ‘end the Consumer Protection Bureau,” said Rep. Dennis Heck (D-Wash.), one of the few Democrats who lined up to oppose it. “We all know what the fate of it is going to be. And what is the opportunity cost of making that point? At least one opportunity cost is being able to work on actual regulatory relief.”
So the CFPB is probably safe — at least until the midterm elections. But the continued onslaught is evidence that it hasn’t made as many friends as it might’ve hoped, even after delivering $3 billion to consumers in settlements over fraudulent practices by financial institutions, and helping thousands who called in to complain about mortgages, student loans, auto loans, payday lenders, and debt collectors. The bureau’s leaders tried really, really hard to win over the community banks and credit unions, but their trade associations still spoke outin favor of the legislation that would render it essentially powerless, protesting that the CFPB’s new requirements are still too onerous for smaller institutions to deal with.
The GOP truly sees the role of government as protecting businesses, with consumers left to fend for themselves.
The GOP seems hell-bent on having a war with Iran, our other recent wars having gone so well and enriched the country. Take a look at Sen. Marc Rubio’s position and statements. And the veterans’ benefits? Alex Leichenger reports at ThinkProgress:
Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that sought to provide veterans with greater access to health care and education over an amendment aimed at increasing sanctions on Iran.Democrats failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome the GOP obstruction.
Republicans have been trying to get a vote on an Iran sanctions measure, which has stalled after experts and Obama administration officials convinced most members of the Democratic caucus that it would derail talks with Iran over its nuclear program and could lead to war.
After numerous attempts failed, the Senate GOP used Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) veterans’ benefits bill to bring the issue up again but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to go along. “Republicans say they want to help veterans. They have a strange way of showing it. We introduced a bill that would do just that. Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” Reid said on Wednesday.
One of the nation’s largest veterans groups, the American Legion, agreed. “Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement this week. “This comprehensive bill aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits.”
“There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way,” the American Legion tweeted on Thursday.
“Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys,” said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, according to the Washington Post.
Sanders’ bill paid for the benefits by using some funds that would have otherwise been earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Senate Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had no objections using those funds to pay for the wars, called it a “bogus gimmick.”
“How can we afford $100 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest three-tenths of Americans, but we can’t pay for veterans benefits?” Sanders tweeted.
A bipartisan expert group said in a recent report that new Iran sanctions now would undermine the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said last month that “right now the imposition of more sanctions would be counterproductive.”
I am certain that the man described in this post believes firmly that he is fair, and sees the policies he espouses as being fair. That’s another example where one would love for him to write exactly the specific criteria that define a policy or action as being “fair.”
I confess that I found some of his reasoning surprisingly immature—for example, his pointing out that he never actually used the word “shot,” as though that somehow mattered. Swallow a camel, strain at a gnat.
Watch the video in this post at Salon. (I don’t know how to embed Comedy Central videos in WordPress.)
Read Kevin Drum’s post for a brief description and some good insights.
I think it would be interesting for each party to state explicitly what it means by “fair”—that is, what criteria an action or policy must satisfy to be deemed “fair” (and thus, by implication, what criteria identify an unfair action or policy). It may be that one or both parties are not acting in good faith—i.e., instead of choosing the course that seems to the party to be fair, the party instead chooses a course it views as being unfair). With an explicit definition, we can then judge each party according to its own criteria. That would be interesting, don’t you think?
Fairness looms large because it is a (perhaps, <i>the</i>) basic (deep, primal) value for a social animal. And indeed we find that most people try to be fair: that is the inevitable response of a successful social animal. Violators may gain temporary advantage, but ultimately, I think, basic social-animal drives tend to prevail (because if they didn’t, that trait would not still be here).
UPDATE: And, regarding the notion of fairness and good faith, read this Kevin Drum post.
UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that a shared strong sense that fairness is important is required in order to have trust, and complex societies require trust in copious amounts.
The mantra seems to be “Attack. Attack. Attack.” and it holds regardless of what position the President takes. Paul Krugman points out:
It was big news this past week when President Obama dropped the notion of effectively cutting Social Security benefits by switching to “chain-linked” consumer prices, because it marked a turn away from BowlesSimpsonized discourse, from Grand Bargain-seeking. But there’s a bit more to it: an acknowledgement, finally, that today’s Republicans are utterly cynical and untrustworthy, that there’s no point in seeking compromise.
What do I mean? A correspondent reminds me of the sequence of events following last year’s Obama budget, which did include chain-linked CPI, partly in response to Republican demands, partly in an attempt to get praise from the Very Serious People.
My immediate thought was that Obama wouldn’t get the praise he sought, but would be betrayed:
Oh, and wanna bet that Republicans soon start running ads saying that Obama wants to cut your Social Security?
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday that the chained-CPI policy is “a shocking attack on seniors.” Walden added that Obama’s proposal is “going after seniors” and “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”
Other Republicans did try to walk this back — it was too transparently cynical even for the VSPs — but like the campaigning against cuts to Medicare, it showed the futility of offering such things. And I’m assured by people who know that the memory of Walden’s tirade remains very strong among Congressional Democrats; it’s part of why they are so adamantly against Grand Bargaining.
I continue to believe that, judging by actions, the GOP actively hates lower-income people. Tara Culp-Ressler reports in ThinkProgress:
During a political fight over Medicaid expansion in Arkansas on Tuesday, one Republican lawmaker admitted that he doesn’t want to educate uninsured residents about their new health care options because it’s simply too expensive to provide them with insurance.
State Rep. Nate Bell (R), who offered an amendment to Arkansas’ proposed Medicaid expansion bill that would prevent the state from using federal funds to promote Obamacare, acknowledged that his policy would result in fewer people signing up for health care. He noted that “without active marketing, you probably get declining enrollment.” But in his mind, that’s not a problem — that’s the whole point.
“We’re trying to create a barrier to enrollment,” Bell explained, noting that lower enrollment ultimately translates to lower costs. “In general, as a conservative, if I have the opportunity to reduce government spending in a program from what’s projected… I’m probably going to take that deal.”
Bell’s amendment would prohibit Arkansas from advertising Obamacare plans through television, radio, print, or online ads. It also prevents the state from using federal funds to conduct direct mailing campaigns — which, as the Arkansas Times’ David Ramsey notes, has been critical in getting out the word about the state’s Medicaid expansion. Since Arkansas is pursuing a “private option” for Medicaid, which essentially gives residents a subsidy to purchase private insurance, the process for enrolling in a Medicaid plan is very similar to the process for signing up for a plan on Obamacare’s new state-level exchange.
Preventing Americans from getting all the facts about the health reform law is a popular method of undermining Obamacare, particularly in red states. Republicans have repeatedly targeted “navigators,” the people tasked with helping Americans enroll in new plans, to prevent them from being able to easily do their jobs. And conservative states that are opposed to Obamacare have allocated considerably less money to promote it. It’s no surprise, then, that the people who live in GOP-led states are less likely to understand how to sign up for health care.
Those states are also more likely to have higher populations of low-income people who lack insurance. In Arkansas specifically, the uninsurance rate is among the highest in the nation. Efforts to expand health care in the state are actually projected to save money in the long run because they’ll cut down on the cost of uncompensated care; the Medicaid expansion could save taxpayers as much as $90 million this year.
Nonetheless, Arkansas lawmakers are currently debating whether to kick thousands of low-income people off of their new Medicaid plans. Even though the state began implementing its “private option” last year, and an estimated 83,000 people have already enrolled, the legislature is currently debating whether to approve the policy. And if lawmakers like Bell have their way, even the move to preserve Medicaid expansion may still come at a significant cost.
Kate Zernike and William Rashbaum report in the NY Times:
The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the controversial lane closings at the George Washington Bridge authorized 18 new subpoenas Monday, including one seeking records that will show who was aboard state police helicopters during the four days of the closings in September.
The committee also voted that claims last week against self-incrimination by two former aides to Gov. Chris Christie were insufficient and that they must turn over documents related to the closings. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democratic co-leader of the panel, said that the Fifth Amendment protests by Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien in response to earlier subpoenas “do not pass the scrutiny that is required.”
The committee voted to allow its special counsel, Reid Schar, to establish new dates for them to turn over documents, and to take whatever measures he believes necessary to compel them if they refuse again.
Mr. Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin H. Marino, indicated that he would fight the subpoena in court.
“We have provided the Committee with a detailed explanation of our constitutional and common law objections to the subpoena,” he said in an email. “If the Committee asks a court to enforce that subpoena despite its legal infirmities, we will bring those objections to the court’s attention.”
Others on the list of new subpoenas include the governor’s re-election campaign and office, as well as five specific staff members, and several employees or executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge. Among them is Phillip Kwon, a deputy general counsel, who a former authority official, David Wildstein, has said coached people there before a legislative hearing in December, in an attempt to cover up the vindictive motive for the lane closings.
The names were on a list obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Wisniewski would not confirm them, saying that he would identify the recipients only after the subpoenas are served, likely beginning tomorrow.
Last month, . . .
Interesting blog post by Paul Krugman pointing out the deja vu of watching the GOP once again declare that reports are skewed—first, it was polls and reports showing that Obama would win over Mitt Romney, now it’s reports showing that Obamacare is working. The problem with denying reality is that reality is always around and thus, in effect, patient.
Jonathan Chait explores Karl Rove’s blind spots in New York magazine:
Karl Rove is most famous for being architect of one of the worst presidencies in American history and then a Superpac strategist/delusional Romney campaign-night dead-ender. I’m a Rove junkie, and just as a snobbish fan of any popular band must have some obscure album he finds superior to the band’s most popular work, the Rove career function I find most delightful and rewarding is his work as a Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist. This is the medium that truly pulls back the curtain on Rove’s fascinating combination of insularity from facts outside the conservative pseudo-news bubble, delusional optimism, and utter lack of self-awareness. The Journal column is a weekly gift to amateur Rove psychoanalysts everywhere.
Today’s column begins with Rove’s bizarre belief that the health exchanges in Obamacare are a “single-payer” system, reflecting his apparent confusion about what this term means. (The single-payer in a single-payer system is the government, not the insurance companies in the exchanges.) But the main point is the Orwellian proposition that “Mr. Obama’s pattern is to act, or fail to act, in a way that will leave his successor with a boatload of troubles.” What kind of president would bequeath a boatload of troubles to his successor? Oh, the irresponsibility. The first count in Rove’s indictment is the budget deficit, which “was equal to roughly 40% of GDP when Mr. Obama took office. At last year’s end it was 72% of GDP.” One possible cause of this deficit might be the over-trillion-dollar annual deficit, that one George W. Bush handed over when he left office, along with the massive economic collapse.
Rove’s column goes on to express very strong views on the need for fiscal responsibility:
Then there’s Medicare, whose Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will go bankrupt in 2026. For five years, Mr. Obama has failed to offer a plan to restore Medicare’s fiscal health as he is required by the law establishing Medicare Part D. When Medicare goes belly-up, he will be out of office.
The Congressional Budget Office projects the Affordable Care Act will reduce deficits by more than a trillion dollars in its second decade. Yes, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is expected to reach insolvency by 2026, but when Bush left office, that projected insolvency date was nine years earlier. Meanwhile, Medicare’s projected spending has fallen by nearly $600 billion since the passage of Obamacare: . . .
A good article in the NY Review of Books by Elizabeth Drew:
During the 1973 Watergate hearings, Howard Baker, the Republican Senate leader and a close ally of the Nixon White House, asked repeatedly, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This was and continues to be widely seen as the definitive way to establish a political leader’s innocence or guilt of misdeeds within his administration. And so the question is now being echoed in the case of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in particular on television—it has even led a national network news broadcast. This is a big break for Christie.
Christie himself has helped set up this question—leading reporters on a merry chase to pin down precisely what he knew when about the infamous closing of two of the three traffic lanes leading into the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, New Jersey for four days last September. According to the received wisdom, if Christie was found to have participated in the plotting or to have known at the time why the lanes were closed, it would make all the difference in assessing his culpability. Deliberately or not, the governor’s fingerprints weren’t on the order to close the lanes, which was given in code—“time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”—by his deputy chief of staff to his special appointee to the Port Authority, who replied, “Got it.”
But this isn’t really the issue. The issue is whether the governor can be held accountable for what happened at very high levels in his administration.
Christie has already had to walk back his assertion in January that he didn’t know about the closures either beforehand or while they were in effect, which would seem to have required willful ignorance of an event that was drawing a lot of attention in his state; but later he said he didn’t know about the closings prior to their taking place. Despite contemporaneous news accounts, and desperate attempts by the mayor of Fort Lee to reach him, and by some of his top allies to prevent disclosure to the public of the controversy, Christie insists he knew nothing until The Wall Street Journal published an angry email from the New York-appointed director of the Port Authority, to New Jersey officials in the agency, saying that the closings involved illegalities and that the director was going to reverse them. But the story of the email didn’t appear until October 1, almost a full month after the closings. And yet on another occasion, Christie said that he had first learned about the closures in September, after the lanes were reopened. (The state legislature is looking into the testimony of a Christie appointee at the Port Authority that the purpose of the closure was to conduct a traffic study—under suspicion that this was part of a cover-up. Anyway, what was the point of the study? You close lanes, you get a traffic jam.)
Christie is widely described as a hands-on governor. Yet according to him, he was oblivious of a transportation crisis that backed up traffic for miles over four days, and risked people’s health, their livelihoods, their kids getting to school; he brushed it all off, saying that there’s often a lot of traffic in New Jersey and that the back up “didn’t rise to the gubernatorial level.” His first public reaction was insouciance: “I was working the cones.” It was ridiculous for the press to even be bringing up such a mundane subject. By his account, this man who is clearly not to be messed with had been duped by his staff.
Christie, who often says a little too much when he talks, also remarked last December that the fact that the tiny town of Fort Lee, population 36,000, has three “dedicated lanes, that kind of gets me sauced.” In fact, the lanes are open to anyone in the area. Christie claimed he hadn’t known about the dedicated lanes until after the closings, but why was he so worked up about them afterward? Since he was angry at Fort Lee’s mayor, is it out of the question that he said something along those lines to his aides earlier?
The governor would be more stupid than he seems if he hadn’t established plausible deniability of any direct part in the affair. Could it be that the mayor of Fort Lee was Christie’s “turbulent priest”? At the least it’s evident that his aides didn’t fear the governor’s wrath if he found out what they were doing.
Nixon was a master of misdirection and deniability: directing John Dean to prepare a report for the public about the White House role in the Watergate affair, Nixon said, “You have got to maintain the presidency out of this.” When he fired chief of staff Bob Haldeman and top domestic advisor John Ehrlichman, on June 30, 1973, Nixon said he hadn’t learned that his staff had been involved in the Watergate cover-up until May 25 of that year—though he had discussed it with Haldeman three days after the burglars were caught, when Nixon returned from his Key Biscayne vacation home. (The tapes were rolling and as it happens this is the conversation from which eighteen and a half minutes were deleted; the evidence was that this was probably by Nixon himself.) He also announced that he had asked his staff to get to the bottom of the scandal and that he would cooperate with prosecutors. Christie said remarkably similar things in early January when he announced firing of some of his top aides and allies. . .
And see also this article by Alec MacGillis in The New Republic:
Has there ever been a political reversal of fortune as rapid and as absolute as the one just experienced by Chris Christie? At warp speed, the governor of New Jersey has gone from the most popular politician in the country to the most embattled; from the Republicans’ brightest hope for 2016 to a man with an FBI target on his back. One minute, he was releasing jokey vanity videos starring Alec Baldwin and assorted celebrity pals; the next, he was being ridiculed by his lifelong idol, Bruce Springsteen. Mere weeks ago, Christie was a straight-talking, corruption-busting everyman. Now, he is a liar, a bully, a buffoon.
What is remarkable about this meltdown is that it isn’t the result of some deep secret that has been exposed to the world, revealing a previously unimagined side to the candidate. Many of the scandals and mini-scandals and scandals-within-scandals that the national media is salivating over have been in full view for years. Even the now-infamous Bridgegate was percolating for months before it exploded into the first major story of the next presidential race.
Case in point: Last year, just before Thanksgiving, I traveled to Trenton to see Bill Baroni, Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, get grilled by state legislators about the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. It was clear that something fishy was going on. Baroni gave a command performance, defending the closures as part of a traffic study, but more than that, as a matter of justice. Discussing whether Fort Lee deserved three dedicated lanes during rush hour, Baroni demanded, “Is this fair?” His voice actually cracked with emotion. “And if it is not fair, how do you not study it?” But there were only a handful of reporters in the room to witness his melodramatics, and it was six weeks before the national media caught on to the story. Outside New Jersey, at least, it seemed inconceivable that Christie, good-government evangelist, scourge of Soprano State shenanigans, could preside over a piece of payback so outrageous and so petty.
Now, of course, we know that there was no traffic study and that the lanes were deliberately shut to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, who had declined to endorse Christie for reelection. (“Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” crowed a Christie aide in a text message, even as congestion got so dire that ambulance workers were forced to respond to an emergency on foot.) We also know that this act of retribution wasn’t an isolated incident: The mayor of Hoboken, to name just one example, has claimed that Christie’s office pressured her to approve a big development project represented by a Christie crony—or risk losing recovery aid for damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
And yet, even post-Bridgegate, the prevailing interpretations of Christie fundamentally miss the mark. He has been so singularly successful at constructing his own mythology—as a reformer, a crusader, a bipartisan problem-solver—that people have never really seen him clearly. Over the past three months, I talked to more than 50 people who have crossed paths with Christie throughout his career—legislators, officials, Democrats, Republicans, lawyers, longtime New Jersey politicos. (Christie himself didn’t respond to a detailed request for comment.) The problem with Christie isn’t merely that he is a bully. It’s that his political career is built on a rotten foundation. Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state—powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass. He has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies. All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it. . .
The GOP really does not like for consumers to get any help from the government—in their eyes, it’s as bad as the government helping workers. Alan Pyke reports an example in ThinkProgress:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is operating like the secret police did in Nazi Germany, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) said at a Rules Committee hearing on Monday evening.
“This is more than just NSA-style, this is more Gestapo-style collection of data on individual citizens who have no clue that this is happening,” Webster said, speaking of data on credit cards, loans, and credit scores collected by the agency that have exposed a wide variety of financial industry abuses in its first years of existence.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) responded by rattling off statistics on how many individual records CFPB has access to and echoing Webster’s concerns. While “I’m not here to ascribe malevolent intent to the CFPB,” Hensarling said, “I would just submit that this is an incredibly dangerous precedent for an agency that is totally unaccountable to the American people, and I thank the gentleman for asking about it.” The committee later sent a bill undermining the CFPB’s autonomy and making it nearly impossible for the agency to collect any market data on to the whole House for a vote.
Hensarling’s and Webster’s concerns are misinformed, according to detailed CFPB responses to questions about its data collection work from last summer. The agency “does not monitor the accounts of particular consumers and does not track the financial habits or activities of any individual consumer,” it wrote. The only time the agency looks at identifiable, individual consumer data is when pursuing a specific complaint from a consumer or enforcing a specific remedy agreed to by a company — situations that require an individual to volunteer his data.
What the agency does do is analyze mass quantities of financial industry information that has been made anonymous and then use that data analysis to understand how the market for various financial services really functions. That analysis is key to the organization’s core function of protecting consumers from a voracious industry that runs on fine print, jargon, and the manipulation of its customers.
In less than two years of operation, the CFPB has exposed major flaws in federal efforts to help young people get out from underneath student debt, ongoing abusive tactics used by mortgage servicers, a return to deceptive advertising for loans by major banks, and the lack of accountability in the debt collection business. The agency has forced threecredit card companies to refund over $500 million in illegal and deceptive fees, and it won refunds on a multi-million-dollar swindle in the payday lending industry that harmed more than 14,000 borrowers in Ohio. The bureau has returned a further $2.6 million to consumers just by monitoring mortgage company business practices. The agency’s data collection work has facilitated many of these victories and is key to the broader effort to police credit card companies and other financial actors.
Republicans have sought to undermine the agency since its inception, and the bill Webster and Hensarling discussed on Monday night rehashes several of those same old ideas, such as replacing the independent agency’s head with a five-person commission and making it easier for the Treasury Department to ignore the CFPB’s regulatory decisions. Putting CFPB decisions to a commission vote would give Congress greater ability to interfere with the agency’s operations because the voting group would be subject to Senate confirmation. Commission structures at other agencies have undermined elements of Wall Street reformsuch as derivatives regulations, and the CFPB’s unusual strength derives in part from its independence.
Republicans have won favor with the banking industry in recent years for their work to undermine the CFPB. With the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection practices in the news now, the agency’s opponents are wrapping the old ideas in new rhetoric.
UPDATE: Webster’s office apologized for the congressman’s Gestapo comparison on Tuesday. Webster “realizes that in his passion to speak out on this wrong, his comparison was incorrect, and he apologizes for the use of that word in this context,” according to a statement his office gave the the Orlando Sentinel.
It’s pretty clear that the GOP will oppose anything that keeps corporations from acting as they please.
The GOP truly does not want democracy or a government that responds to the will of the governed. It is stunningly explicit in their actions—and often in their words as well. Josh Israel reports at ThinkProgress:
On a party-line vote, a Florida county’s Republican majority Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to eliminate almost one-third of Manatee County’s voting sites. The board accepted a proposal by Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett (R) by a 6-1 vote to trim the number of precincts, despite unanimous public testimony against the move — and complaints by the lone Democratic Commissioner that it would eliminate half of the polling places in his heavily minority District 2.
Bennett, in his first term as elections supervisor, proposed reducing the number of Manatee County precincts from 99 to 69. Citing decreased Election Day turnout, as more voters switch to in-person early voting and vote-by-mail options, he told the commissioners that the move would save money and allow the county to offer more early voting sites in the future.
In the public comment section of the meeting, all ten speeches strongly opposed the move. Representatives of the local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Council warned that the cuts would decrease voter turnout because voters would have to travel further to a polling place, especially among the elderly and people without cars, and noted that the cuts disproportionately affected minority-heavy precincts. Bennett dismissed these concerns, noting that because District 2 had received “preferential treatment in the past,” even with the changes, his district will have the smallest number of voters per precinct. “It was overbalanced before, it’s overbalanced now.” Bennett also repeatedly noted that he had discussed the move with civil rights groups and both the Republican and “Democrat” Parties.
Bennett assured the commission that if lines are longer in 2014 as a result of these changes, he would ask them to revisit the decision in 2015, before the 2016 elections. But it is unclear whether voter accessibility is a sincere priority for him. In 2011, while serving in the Florida Senate, he endorsed making it hard to vote: “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.” He made that comment as he supported a voter suppression bill that reduced the number of days for early voting in Florida and helped create long lines across the state.
I think the GOP is directly opposed to traditional American values of respecting the will of the governed and is on a course toward vesting control of the government to a very few, with the mass of Americans simply subject to the rule of this small minority.
An interesting point of view reported at ThinkProgress by Tara Culp-Ressler, in which the “blame the victim” outlook is made explicit:
In a Wall Street Journal column published on Monday, conservative commentator James Taranto argued that a “balanced” approach to the college sexual assault crisis involves placing equal blame on rapists and their victims, if both of them were drinking alcohol. The fact that intoxicated rape victims aren’t held responsible for their assault is “self-evidently unjust,” according to Taranto.
“If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students ‘collide,’ the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault,” Taranto writes. He goes on to conclude that efforts to address sexual violence on college campuses are creating a culture in which “women, but not men, are absolved of responsibility by virtue of having consumed alcohol.”
Taranto has a long history of approaching sexual assault from this perspective. The Wall Street Journal columnist has previously argued that combating sexual assault in the military amounts to an “an effort to criminalize male sexuality” and a “war on men.” In his most recent column, he reprises his concerns that men are often falsely accused of misconduct by women who have not actually been raped.
This attitude toward rape victims has implications that extend far beyond Taranto himself. The pervasive notion that it’s women’s responsibility to avoid rape — and that they can effectively avoid becoming victimized if they dress differently, or drink less alcohol — has a huge impact on the way that survivors are treated if they decide to come forward about a sexual assault. Rather than receiving compassion and support, rape victims are typically greeted with suspicion and shame. They’re either told that the crime was their own fault because they should have been smarter, or they’re assumed to be lying.
Arguments like Taranto’s aren’t unusual, partly because they continue to be espoused by people with access to media platforms. But they ultimately betray an ignorance about the reality of sexual assault.
Rape isn’t a mistake that college students accidentally make because they’re too drunk; in fact, research into college rapists reveals that sexual assault is premeditated and victims are carefully chosen. Alcohol is a tool that rapists often use, but it’s simply one tool among many. And although “men’s rights” supporters like Taranto argue that it’s too easy for women to lie about being raped in order to ruin a man’s life, false reports are actually incredibly rare— generous estimates put the rate around 2.2 percent — and the criminal justice system isn’t exactly quick to prosecute these type of sexual crimes in the first place.
Nonetheless, the conversation about rape prevention on college campuses tends to get stuck on the issue of alcohol rather than the issue of consent. In another column published on Monday, Slate contributor Emily Yoffe bemoaned the fact that President Obama’s recent announcement about a new task force to combat campus sexual assault didn’t include “some remarks about the dangers to both sexes of getting blind drunk.”
Presumably he would say that a intoxicated patron killed in a bar shooting by another intoxicated patron is equally to blame.
Juan Cole writes at Informed Comment:
40 Republican senators are making a last-minute push to bring further Iran sanctions up for a vote despite the opposition of senate majority leader Harry Reid. Some 59 senators signed on to a plan to increase sanctions during President Obama’s negotiations with Iran, which Iranian leaders have argued could derail the talks. Among the steps these Republicans favor is reversing the minor easing of sanctions implemented by Obama as a quid pro quo to Iran for steps it has taken to make its nuclear enrichment program more transparent and less amenable to weaponization (Iran says the program is purely for civilian purposes).
It is absolutely outrageous and very rare that Congress would interfere in diplomatic negotiations of the president. They let Bush go around invading countries but won’t let Obama try to forestall a war.
The GOP is acting for its own reasons, since it wants to take the senate in the fall and thinks making vulnerable Democrats explicitly vote against further Iran sanctions will hurt them with the public. But the further sanctions have been pushed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, other Israel lobbies, and the far right wing Israeli government of Binjamin Netanyahu, and some of the impetus for further pushing them likely is coming from AIPAC donors (who skew much further to the right than the mainstream of the American Jewish community– which after all contains many peace activists).
But the GOP and AIPAC are playing with fire, and it is the American people who will get the third degree burns if they succeed. Here’s why:
1. If the new sanctions derail the negotiations of new President Hasan Rouhani with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, Rouhani’s enemies among the hard liners will be strengthened.
2. If Rouhani loses power and looks weak, the hard liners could make pursuing further negotiations difficult.
3. If the negotiations collapse, Iran’s enrichment program may well become less transparent.
4. Hawks (i.e. war criminals) in the US have used the pretext of lack of transparency in foreign countries’ research projects to foment war (as happened most notoriously in Iraq).
5. The current US sanctions and financial blockade on Iranian oil sales are so severe that they have raised tensions with Iran to a new level of intensity, and could lead to hostilities very easily.
6. If the Iranian enrichment program cannot be made transparent through negotiations, pressure will build on US administrations to bomb the facilities at Natanz.
7. Such an attack could well spiral into all-out war.
8. Iran is three times more populous than Iraq was when the US invaded it in 2003. It is also geographically three times Iraq’s size (it is the size of continental Western Europe– i.e. Germany, France and Spain combined). Gen. Shinseki estimated that based on the Balkans experience the US would have needed 800,000 troops in Iraq to pacify it post-invasion. He was proved right (US viceroy in Iraq Paul Bremer admitted that there were never enough US troops on the ground there). This estimate suggests that the US would need 2.4 million troops on the ground in Iran (hint: it does not have them).
9. If we figure in the cost over their lifetimes of caring for the some 30,000 Iraq War veterans who were injured badly enough to go to hospital, the true cost of the Iraq War is at least $3 trillion. The US is currently $16 trillion in debt, about the amount of its annual gross domestic product, which is a very dangerous economic posture that has led to its credit rating being cut. Iran could be three times as costly as Iraq, given the demographic and territorial considerations, and therefore could cost $9 trillion. That kind of debt burden (the money would have to be borrowed) would certainly bankrupt the country, causing the cost of borrowing money for small businesses to skyrocket and leading to a Great Depression.
10. . . .
In the Frank Rich column I blogged yesterday, he wrote about how today’s radical right-wing movement is directly connected to the radical right-wing movements of the 1960s. Rachel Tabachnick has more at Political Research Associates:
Founded in 1958, the John Birch Society (JBS) fiercely opposed the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Decades later, the rise of the Tea Party and the ongoing “Ron Paul Revolution” have helped the JBS make a comeback as it attracts young people by re-branding itself as “libertarian.” The organization is a significant force behind promoting the nullification of federal laws, as described in the most recent issue ofThe Public Eye. The JBS has also helped provide fodder for accusations that President Obama, considered by most Democrats to have governed as a centrist, is a Marxist.
While many Americans have been puzzled by the use of the term “anti-colonialist” within the context of such accusations, author Claire Conner has helped illuminate the historical and rhetorical linkages among the JBS, opposition to civil rights, anti-Communism, and accusations of anti-colonialism. Her recent book, Wrapped in the Flag, is an autobiographical account of growing up as the daughter of two of the organization’s earliest and most dedicated members. (See an interview with Conner by Theo Anderson, editor of The Public Eye.) Conner’s descriptions of the JBS’ opposition to the Civil Rights Movement are further supported by many primary sources, including the JBS’ own media campaigns. Examples include pamphlets republished as advertisements in newspapers in the mid-1960s, in which the Civil Rights Movement is described as a communist conspiracy to form a “Negro Soviet Republic,” as well as a pamphlet written by a member of the JBS National Council most famously known as the father of the Koch brothers. Both publications are described below:
“What’s wrong with civil rights?”
The first example of the JBS campaign to oppose the Civil Rights Movement is an advertisement in the October 31, 1965 issue of the Palm Beach Post titled, “The John Birch Society Asks: What’s Wrong With Civil Rights?”
The half-page advertisement begins with the statement that nothing is wrong with civil rights, just with the Civil Rights Movement. According to the JBS, it constituted a communist plot to build a “Negro Soviet Republic” in the United States. The “average American Negro,” according to the JBS in 1965, “has complete freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and freedom to run his own life as he pleases.” Moreover, “The pursuit of happiness enjoyed by the average American Negro has been far superior to that of any race or any people among at least ninety percent of the earth’s population.”
The ad continues, “So what is all the complaining about?” The problem, according to the JBS, is that communist agitators are beginning to see the results from “patiently building up to this present stage for more than forty years.” The reader is informed that this Soviet strategy in the U.S. is a continuation of anti-colonialism fermented by communists in Africa and Asia and conducted by those who have no interest in civil rights. According to the John Birch Society, both the push for civil rights in the U.S. and anti-colonialist activism in Africa and Asia are a communist plot to destroy all that is good and holy—namely, capitalism.
The advertisement then seeks to expose the “big-lie” of anti-colonialism: “Its specific core of falsehood has been that the colonial peoples of Asia and Africa wanted and deserved their ‘independence’ from the nations of Europe which were oppressing and exploiting them. Actually, by 1926, the French in Indochina or Algeria, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Belgian in the Congo, and other ‘imperialistic’ powers, were giving their colonial subjects a very enlightened and benevolent rule.”
The next step in this communist plot, as stated in the ad, is the formation of a “Negro Soviet Republic” in the U.S. that would include the major cities of the South. JBS claimed this to be the real intent of American civil rights leaders. The ad continues, “A careful study quickly reveals that every part of the civil rights program has been designed, and in is being carried forward, as a step in the Communist strategy for these purposes. And the current leaders of the nationwide civil rights campaign have such extensive records of affiliating with Communists of Communists, of being guided, trained, and supported by Communists, and of themselves supporting Communists agents and causes, as to make their real purposes as obvious a sunrise to anybody who will simply use honestly the intelligence that God gave him.”
The JBS authors close by stating that “American Negroes as a whole” did not plan this or want this and and “are no bigger dupes in yielding to the propaganda and coercion of the comaymps among them, than are the white people in the United States in swallowing the portions of that propaganda which are labeled idealism. “Comsymps” was JBS shorthand for communist sympathizers.
Across the bottom of the half-page ad is marketing of other JBS pamplets and books through American Opinion publishing, including It’s Very Simple and New York: Communist Terror in the Streets, both by Alan Stang. Stang published many works through the John Birch Society’s American Media, and also wrote widely on Christian Reconstructionism. Stang was a contributor to the Gary North-edited The Theology of Christian Resistance, one of many examples of the overlap between the JBS and theocratic Christian Reconstructionism.
Stang passed away in 2009 and was eulogized in the pages of the JBS’ New American magazine. Yet other 1960s-era JBS leaders are again leading the charge in a contemporary state’s rights projects: nullification. Leaders who were involved with the organization in the 1960s include its current president, John McManus. McManus was the surprise guest speaker at the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic, the counter-rally to the Republican National Convention in 200. In his remarks, he told the audience, “If you like Ron Paul, you’re going to love the John Birch Society.”
A businessman looks at communism
Published by the Farmville Herald (VA) in 1963, A Businessman Looks at Communism was written by Fred Koch and provides an account of his work in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The pamphlet provided support for JBS’ claim to insider knowledge of the communist agenda.
Page sixteen of the pamphlet sums up Koch’s attitude about labor unions. “Labor Unions have long been a Communist goal,” Koch asserts. “The effort is frequently made to have the worker do as little as possible for the money he receives. This practice alone can destroy our country.”
On page 25, Koch explains his fear of the Civil Rights Movement: “You may be sure the Communists are fishing furiously in the troubled waters of integration on both sides. The Communists are not interested in the aspirations of the negro except as a means to stir up racial hatred … The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.”
Fascinating column in the New Yorker by John Cassidy. He points out the terribly timed toll the mere accusation is having, on both Christie’s presidential ambitions and also on what was to have been a highlight weekend for Christie. The buzzkill from the Wildstein letter must have been (and is being) total. But, as Cassidy points out, Christie’s response goes too far: the very epitome of being in a hole and continuing to dig.
And, given what we know of Christie’s management style, the response—the leaked memo—must have been directly vetted and approved by Christie himself, unless he learned nothing from the Bridget Kelly incident. If she did order the lane closings without informing him, he would damn sure make certain that he is to see and approve any significant communiques, much less a memo to be released to the press. Alternatively, if the story that Kelly did not inform him is false so that he did know about and approve the Kelly order for “traffic problems,” then, since he has claimed publicly that he was not informed, he knows he can’t use the “not informed” excuse again: it looks fishy if he somehow knows everything about his office’s activities except for those things that blow up, and of those he is completely ignorant. It won’t fly. So that leaked memo came, in effect, directly from Christie himself.
And the memo is stupid: if all that is true about David Wildstein, then why did Christie place such trust in him and give him such responsible positions?
Christie truly is over. And he’s being aware of it in real time, as we watch. Truly, that last bullying memo—name-calling Wildstein for things that Christie well knew about before, and trusted Wildstein anyway—takes it to a conclusion. Christie is exposed, and it’s not a pretty sight.
The memo, from “the governor’s office” (so presumably vetted by Christie, though of course it was that same office that ordered the lanes closed, so who knows?), has quite a few bad things to say about how bad and untrustworthy David Wildstein is, which of course raises the question of why Christie relied on him so much and appointed him to high office. This makes Christie look bad no matter how you cut it.
Read the NY Times article and see whether you agree.