Governor Perry Arrives: I. Americans Believe in a Believer

I am less sure than many observers that Rick Perry will sweep aside all the other Republican candidates and march triumphantly to a Presidential nomination. A national campaign is an inferno to which no state-level campaign compares, and many people who look composed and powerful in their own neighborhood wilt or burst into flames at the next level. Further, even if Perry can perform in the national spotlight, all the candidates in “Governor Perry’s space” (Bachmann, Pawlenty, Santorum) may ace each other out and let front runner Mitt Romney skate home.

That said, Governor Perry has a huge advantage over Mitt Romney in that he clearly believes certain things and says so in a simple, declarative fashion. You don’t see this so much in Europe, but in the U.S., there is a non-negligible proportion of the electorate who says “I don’t agree with him, but I’m gonna support him because I know where he stands”.

I have long wondered why this is so, as it doesn’t seem logical on its face. Continue reading “Governor Perry Arrives: I. Americans Believe in a Believer”


The 8th district seems to be going R at this hour, with a lot of huffing and viewing with alarm about Waukesha County’s recurring ineptness at vote reporting. Three flips would have been fantastic, but turning two out of six solidly Republican districts and putting the senate into a one-vote R majority is no small thing. Remember that all the Republican Wisconsin legislators are going to be looking at these recalls, and the fairly close results in two or three other contests, for months, as the overall R polling drifts toward D and election results regress towards the mean. I think this was a very good night, and I think Walker is in serious trouble in his upcoming recall next winter.

Debt ceiling hostage crises forever?

Senator McConnell gloats over the new template – debt ceiling hostage crises forever, every time there’s a GOP majority in the House or 40 senators for a filibuster, until every Republican dream is fulfilled. (via Ezra Klein):

This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order.

So one plank of the 2012 Democratic platform writes itself: abolish the separate debt ceiling as an undemocratic and financially irrational monstrosity. Not raise it, abolish it. (By which I mean that as in normal countries, appropriations bills should automatically include authorisation for the borrowing they imply under the applicable revenue bill.)

But how to do this? I see two options:
(a) Accept the constitutionality of the current law and propose to abolish it by normal legislation.
The problem with this is that it needs not just the White House and a majority in the House, both realistic objectives, but 60 votes in the Senate, which is probably out of reach.

(b) Declare the debt ceiling law unconstitutional, not as a last-ditch technical fix but as a considered policy position of the party and its candidates (individual pledges signed in blood, please).

For instance, presidential candidate Obama could state his intention to attach a signing statement to every future appropriations bill not including such an explicit borrowing authorisation that it will be interpreted by the Executive as implicitly authorising any borrowing required for its execution. The justification will be the doctrine of the priority of more recent law, the Presidential oath, and the 14th Amendment.

Any better suggestions?


Simple choices

The debt-ceiling deal protected Medicaid.
New ACA regulations require that all reproductive health services be offered without co-pays.
Neither of those policies would remain in place under a Republican President.
“No difference between the parties”? “Obama is a closet Republican”? Don’t make me laugh!

Everyone who thinks that a Republican President would have made coverage of all reproductive health services, including the morning-after pill, without any out-of-pocket charges, mandatory under ACA, or that a Republican President wouldn’t re-write that regulation on January 20, please raise your hand, and keep it up.

Now, everyone who thinks that a Republican President’s OMB Director would have kept Medicaid off the table in the budget-cutting discussion, please raise your hand, and keep it up.

Finally, everyone who is willing to throw reproductive freedom and health care for poor people under the bus on the principle of “the worse, the better” please raise your hand.

Everyone else should be thinking about how to get Obama re-elected in 2012.

A Proposed Colloquy

“Mr. President, Speaker Boehner says that he will not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless there are trillions of dollars in spending cuts.  How do you respond?”

“Well, Jake, since the Speaker has refused to make the very wealthiest pay their fair share, and has taken Defense spending off the table, the only way to get trillions of dollars in spending cuts is to dismantle Medicare and Social Security.  So essentially, he’s saying that the Republican Party will cause a collapse of the US economy unless it gets to dismantle Medicare and Social Security.  I won’t let them do either one, and I think that the American public agrees with me.”

Election Law Question of the Day

If progressives are mouting a campaign to recall the GOP state Senators who voted to crush labor, and then Governor Scott Walker, then why not include US Senator Ross Johnson as well?  There would be no better time to do it, and he certainly deserves it.  I suspect that the answer lies in the fact that Johnson is a federal official, but that’s not necessarily true: federal elections are often settled by state law.

UPDATE: Several people (including a commenter) have said that recalling federal officials is unconstitutional and that it is “settled law” (one person) or the US Supreme Court has decided it (another).  Neither is right, as far as I can tell.  The most recent case on point is Committee to Recall Robert Menendez v. Wells, 7 A.3d 720 (N.J. 2010), which concluded that it is unconstitutional.  But that’s the New Jersey Supreme Court, not a federal court.  And if there is any authority on point regarding this, the New Jersey Supremes couldn’t find it.  Maybe the point is that it’s hard to generate the revenue to mount an effort of this nature, knowing that there is a decent chance that it will be thrown out.  But that’s why a recall move against Johnson would work: the effort is already in place.

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”: The Coach and the President Heed an African Proverb

African-American leaders know better than to frighten their followers. Shouldn’t the rest of us know better than to berate them for their self-restraint?

The people who’ve spent the past several seasons calling for the head of Coach Lovie Smith on the grounds that he’s “ignorant and weak” and “emotionless” (among many less printable adjectives) are nowhere to be found since he led the Chicago Bears to the NFL Conference championships. Having failed to bury Smith, they absolutely refuse to praise him.

Why?   Because Coach Smith is a soft-spoken professional who leads not by shrieking but by—well, leading.   Chicagoans, particularly Chicago sports fans, can’t seem to wrap their heads around the notion that this gentle man— this gentleman—could possibly be any good at coaching football. That’s because the mold for Da Coach was set by Mike Ditka, a screaming, foul-mouthed, temper-losing maniac whose heart attack only narrowly missed taking place on the field.   If you’re not yelling like that, you must not be leading.

But if Coach Smith behaved like that—berating his players and abusing the press in rants liberally sprinkled with profanity—we’d hear nothing but tut-tuts about what an angry black man he was.  Probably neither the fans nor the team itself would be willing to follow him.  It’s no accident that the most successful African-American coaches — Tony Dungee, Mike Singletary, Lovie Smith — are all matter-of-fact and free of braggadocio.   That’s the way black men have to negotiate the world to avoid waking the not-very-soundly sleeping dogs of white racism.

Which brings us to the case of President Obama.   Everyone who derides him for not being tough enough—for not being Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson—seems to forget that they’re speaking of someone whose life has required constant attention to the problem of being non-threatening.   That’s quite a challenge for a man who’s tall, brilliant and black.

But the President has succeeded at it through a combination of self-deprecation (“a skinny kid with a funny name”) and unshakable composure (“No-Drama Obama”).   If instead he’d emulated FDR in saying of his opponents “I welcome their hatred,” Fox News would have announced that he hated all white people. (Oh, right, someone on that network did that anyway.)   If like LBJ he’d insisted a reporter accompany him while he used the toilet, he wouldn’t be considered a lively and original character but just some ghetto type who didn’t know how to behave.

Consider the reportage when the president held a news conference explaining his decision to make the tax-cut compromise.  Having answered a series of questions designed to get him to say that he’d betrayed his promises, his party and his people, he was finally irate enough to respond, “It’s the health care battle all over again. Some people would rather rest in their purity than get something done,” or words to that effect.   As a rebuke goes, his was a pretty mild one.   But it was sufficient to produce several weeks of headlines about how the President had “scolded” his party and how “angry” he was.   If he’d actually been angry, we’d probably have seen articles of impeachment.

So all the people who want to give the President—and the Coach, for that matter—lessons in leadership should bear in mind that both men have learned precisely how much force they can use before that force is turned against them.   And they haven’t learned it from the Op-Ed pages or the screaming-heads fests.   Experience keeps a hard school but we will learn at no other.

I myself wrote—but fortunately did not post—the following incredibly misguided advice:

I understand the President’s unwillingness to assume the role of Angry Black Man into which his opponents wish to thrust him. But when the people on the other side of the table are card-carrying members of the Paranoid Style in American Politics, it’s time to stand up and call them the proto-fascists they are.   And hoping they’ll be willing to compromise seems a deliberate act of denial, like whistling past the graveyard. Instead, Barack Obama should emulate Harry Truman.   Give ’em hell, Barry!

WRONG!   As the Tucson shootings demonstrate, the last thing we need right now is public officials giving each other high-decibel hell.   And even if hell were called for, a black man in power couldn’t be the one to deliver it.   That’s an indulgence reserved for powerful white men—and every powerful black man knows it. It’s time the rest of us learned the same lesson.

The volume of reproach and disappointment and disapproval and correction directed at Coach Smith and the President says nothing about their leadership ability.   It’s purely a reflection of the fears and fantasies a significant subgroup of American white people have about American black people.   The fact that one of them produced a championship team, and the other achieved the health-care reform none of his white predecessors could manage (among many other victories), demonstrates that they’re far better leaders than anyone less challenged could dream of being.

So let’s stop giving them hell.

First responders

Two first-responder stories highlight the need for health reform.

I saw three news stories yesterday that add up to one message that seems right for this season.

The first was Jonathan Cohn’s New Republic/Kaiser Health News piece noting Republicans’ basic plan for poor people is to cut Medicaid and other programs that provide health care for them. During the health reform debate, Congressional Budget Office analyses of Republican proposals consistently found that these would only cover a miniscule fraction of the uninsured. Beneath a thin rhetorical veneer, Republicans unapologetically argue that we should just leave tens of millions of people uninsured.

The second was Jon Stewart’s evisceration of those same Republicans for filibustering legislation providing health benefits to 9/11 first responders. Stewart focused on the target-rich environment of Republican hypocrisy. For those who fell asleep under a tree during the Clinton administration, FOX news has spent the last nine years honing its partisan 9/11 rage machine, trotting out first responders to attack opponents of the Iraq war and torture, not to mention the “Ground Zero Mosque” as soft on terrorism and unpatriotic. Yet FOX was oddly silent when Republicans blocked the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to help those same first responders pay for their lung diseases, cancers, and other serious health difficulties.

Yet watch that clip and read up on these providers’ real problems. Continue reading “First responders”

Holes in the Ground on Wall Street

A more sympathetic take on the tax deal.

I was going to do another post on Obama´s loss of nerve, compulsive Broderist triangulation, cringe to the Tea Party hicks, selling out his base, etc. But now comes the tax deal, and I thought again. I respect Andrew´s gloomy take, but don´t share it.

Basically Obama had a choice between

  • letting all the tax cuts expire (the default outcome of a gridlocked Congress), scoring a satisfying victory against the malefactors of great wealth, and improving long-run fiscal sustainability at the expense of short-term employment;
  • making a deal along the lines he has, improving the short-run prospects for the economy, protecting (if only for one year) many of a large group of vulnerable Americans, the long-term unemployed, and giving the rich and their GOP tools the tax cut they crave for two years.

That he chose the second reveals a lot about his priorities, and they are sound. Morally, as it´s more important to do good to your needy friends than to punish your enemies. Politically, as the White House seems to have relearnt the Clinton lesson from the mid-terms: ITES. [Update as this confused commenters: ¨It´s The Economy, Stupid.¨] (I agree that it would have been much better to have seen this earlier). It looks OK to kick the long-run fiscal sustainability problem down the road for two years. Andrew´s right, full-employment US taxes will have to go back to Clinton levels at least, someday.

Giving away money to investment bankers to spend on Ferraris, caviar and cocaine is about the second most inefficient and inequitable stimulus imaginable. It´s still a stimulus. Every billion helps Obama´s reelection prospects and ordinary Americans a little.

Ordinary Irish and Greeks too.

The title is a tip to Keynes. General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Chapter 10, VI:

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.

The Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire

Bumbling Greek terrorists and American electors

A pair of amateur Greek terrorists were arrested on Monday after mailing a round of small, primitive and easily detected letter bombs. The only professional touch to their groupuscule was the terrific name (above). The bad-taste video game is no doubt in the works, but I doubt if the inventors can claim the rights from prison.

Messrs. Tsakalos and Argyrou are understandably upset about the brutal austerity programme imposed by the EU and the bond market as a condition for bailing out Greece (or more accurately, Greece´s bondholders). So they, less understandably, mailed bombs to:

  • Angela Merkel
  • Nicolas Sarkozy
  • ¨the embassies of Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Chile, the Netherlands and Belgium.¨

Merkel was the bad cop on the Greek bailout, so you can follow the thinking. Sarkozy played good cop, but with his usual shallow opportunism, and joined Merkel in the end. Belgium supports everything the EU does and Zurich banks are, as is well known, staffed by evil gnomes. But what have Bulgaria, Mexico and Chile done recently to the hapless Greeks?

The mailboxes of the following appear to have been left undisturbed:

  • the previous Greek Prime Minister, Finance Minister, head of the Central Bank, and head of the tax collection service,
  • the national statistical office of Greece, who cooked the books to order, and Eurostat, who failed to notice for years;
  • the ECB and the inventors of the Euro and Stability Pact;
  • Moody´s, S &P, and Fitch – the corrupt and/or incompetent rating agencies;
  • Goldman Sachs and other investment banks who advised Greece on how to game the system.

In other words, the poor saps had no idea who was really responsible for the mess their country is in and just lashed out blindly at friends, foes and innocent bystanders.

Just like American electors.