The CBO released new deficit projections, and it's down to $645 billion for this fiscal year, about $200 billion lower than earlier estimates. Simpson-Bowles wanted the deficit to be down to 2.3 percent of GDP by 2015. This would be 2.1 percent. Deficit scare-mongers, please go home now, okay?
The incredibly shrinking deficit is due to more tax revenues and more payouts from Fannie and Freddie--you know, conservatives, the entities you wanted to see closed down. But all it really means is the economy is getting better, in spite of the one political party that is trying to sabotage it.
...there's really no need to panic or think that there has to be a grand bargain. What we need are more measures to reduce the cost of health care and more measures to boost economic growth.
You should be aware of this scoop from Jake Tapper of CNN today. The big scoops last week from Jonathan Karl of ABC and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard about the White House emails that allegedly showed that the White House was trying to cover for the State Department and hang the intel people out to dry? They may have been doctored by someone before they were released.
From CNN's account:
CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.
The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department's desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.
In my world, there’s a breed of person known as a “process liberal.” This is someone—at a foundation, say—who believes in process uber alles. There are lots of different kinds of liberalism, just as there are different kinds of conservatism, and process liberalism has always struck me as rooted in two developments in liberalism that started happening in the early-20th-century: first, the professionalization of the social sciences and what you might call the “idea class”; and second, the establishment in the law of civil liberties, a notion that didn’t really exist per se until around that time (the ACLU was founded in 1920). To this kind of liberalism, when problems and complications arise, there’s a process to look into them, and there are responsible, competent, well-intended people overseeing it. This is a very different liberalism, for example, from people whose beliefs were shaped in the first instance by economics (e.g., me).
Barack Obama is a process liberal. A law and social-science liberal (much more, it has always seemed, than an economics liberal). If he’d never gone into politics, he’d be a law professor, as he was; and, I’m guessing, after a certain number of years, chairman of the board of a major Chicago foundation. And if the CEO of the foundation in question did something wrong and needed to be relieved of his post, Obama would let the process play out, even if it took two years, which, in foundation-world, is about how long these things take.
So now we have this situation involving the Justice Department and the Associated Press, news of which broke last night. DoJ, after presumably subpoenaing phone companies, obtained logs of outgoing calls (numbers called only—there was no wiretapping) made by some AP reporters and editors involved in producing a story that appeared in May 2012 about how a plot by a Yemeni terrorist to bomb an airliner was foiled.
AP actually held the story for a few days at the time at the administration’s request, and then published only when it got the green light. But even so, the administration wanted to know who AP’s source was. And so the subpoena—extremely far-reaching as these things go, and possibly sought in violation of the guidelines governing such action.
The idea of impeaching Obama is industrial-strength insane. Republicans will probably try anyway, predicts Michael Tomasky.
When the histories of this administration are written, I hope fervently that last Friday, May 10, does not figure prominently in them. But I fear that it might: the double-barrel revelations that the White House hasn’t quite been telling the whole story on Benghazi and that some mid-level IRS people targeted some Tea Party groups for scrutiny are guaranteed to ramp up the crazy. But to what extent? I fear it could be considerable, and the people in the White House damn well better fear the same, or we’re going to be contemplating an extremely ugly situation come 2015, especially if the Republicans have held the House and captured the Senate in the by-elections.
President Barack Obama gestures as he speak during his visits Manor New Technology High School on May 9, 2013 in Manor, Texas. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Let me clarify a point that’s been going around. On MSNBC Friday, I broached the I-word. You know the one. Three syllables. Links Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton. I said something like: I have little doubt the Republicans would try to pursue it—something I’ve written dozens of times without readers really batting an eye. But I guess saying it on TV, and on a fateful day, is different. I was on the business end of a small number of angry tweets from liberal readers, and I see that the UK Daily Mail trotted out my statement in a way that made it sound as if I thought it was legitimate.
Tomasky said the 'I-word' on TV Friday.
If the McCarthy in question is a Democrat, and especially if she is an Obama nominee (as in, EPA nominee Gina McCarthy), then the defintion of the New McCarthyism is "imposing completely ridiculous demands on a presidential nominee in order to give yourself a stupid fig-leaf excuse for opposing her nomination." Politico:
Republican leaders were unmoved, though, saying the Obama administration deserves blame for the impasse by refusing to fully answer questions that GOP nominees have posed about McCarthy and the EPA. They include questions about the “underlying data used to justify EPA’s job-killing regulations,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to POLITICO.
Democrats have noted that the GOP questions totaled more than 1,000 — what they call a record — with Vitter alone contributing 653.
Who on Vitter's staff got paid a taxpayer-funded salary to sit around and dream up 653 questions? How can anybody take these people seriously?
It would be too dismissive to say that nothing of interest or importance happened at yesterday's Benghazi hearing. But what I can see from reading around suggests to me that the only potentially useful stuff the Republicans got out of it can be turned into ammo to be used against Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton.
Gregory Hicks is the new hero of the right and is, I think, a case in point. His heaviest allegations were two: one, that he begged the military to do something the night of the attack and it did not; two, that he was later silenced and demoted. The first matter is a Pentagon matter, and thus by extension an administration/Obama one, while the second one is about Cheryl Mills and Clinton. But are the American people going to care that much what happened to a guy they've never heard of?
It would depend to some extent on the circumstances, and we don't know those fully. But it's not exactly a pressing matter of state. Whereas the question of why no help arrived on the night of the attack is one Americans might more readily be interested in. The Pentagon has said there's no way any reinforcements could have arrived on time. Michael Hirsh wrote it up this way at the Atlantic:
The administration's response has been that Hicks, a diplomat, is no expert in military capabilities, and his allegations have already been directly rebutted by both Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, and former Defense Sec. Leon Panetta. Dempsey testified in February that it would have taken "up to 20 hours or so" to get F-16s to the site, and he called them "the wrong tool for the job." Panetta testified that "the bottom line" is that "we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault, which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response, very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region. Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response."
He’s stuck between Republicans who want to water down the immigration bill and Democrats who don’t. Can he find a way out? Michael Tomasky doesn’t like the odds.
Finally, committee action is set to start today in the Senate on the immigration bill. The dead-enders on the right are gearing up. Utah’s Mike Lee, for example, is evidently introducing amendments that say in essence, “strike everything after the words ‘an act.’” Less extreme colleagues are still trying to push the bill rightward in various ways. This puts Marco Rubio in a spot. He needs to placate these forces if he’s going to have a shot at the GOP nomination in 2016. But somewhere on that continuum, there’s a tipping point, at which he loses the trust of the Democrats he has spent months negotiating with, and the bill itself perhaps loses some Democratic support. The sweet spot is awfully small, and if he doesn’t find it, his 2016 hopes, and maybe even the bill, are in agua caliente.
Sen. Marco Rubio has to maintain a fine balance in placating conflicting sides on the immigration bill. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Here’s the situation. What the conservatives are hopping mad about—aside of course from the general idea that they have to do this in the first place, which in many ways is the inescapable problem—is something called the RPI provision. That’s “registered provisional immigrant” status. In the current language, if an undocumented immigrant was in the United States on December 31, 2011, that person can come forward and get a work authorization and permission to travel. Then they start the 10- or 13-year process of becoming a citizen.
But this is all contingent, to some extent, on the border being secure. In the first year of the law’s life, the secretary of Homeland Security has to put forward a plan to achieve 90 percent control of the border. Once the plan is submitted, processing of the people applying for RPI status can begin.
Some interesting responses to the weekend column about how there are no absolute rights. Here's an excerpt of my favorite, all spellings as in original:
Comrad Tomasky, not sense the days of Pot Pol's "Killing Fields" of Asia, has any one socialist done more to enable the advance of World Marxist Domination. I think your efforts also may rival that of Germany's Adolf Hitler in his attempt to exterminate an entire race of people. You, comrad, have succeeded in putting a "smiley-face on the anti-liberty, anti-freedom, intimidating, underhanded, and sinister regimes of the world. You could do well for yourself in North Korea. So, Comrad Tomasky, in recognition of your efforts to enslave the masses, Marxist operatives are truly indebted to you.
Such power I have! I had no idea. Funny though, how I keep writing these things and the nation keeps not bending to my indomitable will. Here's a more sober dissent:
There is a reason for the order and priority of the amendments. In some ways however, some may view amendment #2 as more important than amendment #1. Because without amendment 2, we may have no defense of amendment 1 or for that matter #'s 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10. The second amendment protects us against a corrupt government.
I was a little surprised by the margin, but really, is this shocking? It's an R +11 district. Districts that can swing are typically no more than +5 in one direction or another.
I thought Colbert had a chance to pull it out, maybe a hidden women's vote. But Sanford just kept saying "Pelosi," and that reminded people that as voters, they care more about ideology than morality. I should have thought back to my visits to Charleston and my conversations with some liberals there. Not politicos, just people--art gallery owners, people at the bar, and so on.
When these chats turned political, the vibe I invariably got from people was: Yeah, we're liberal, but it's hopeless, we're surrounded. When people feel like that as a general propostion, they're not going to go to the mat to elect a congresswoman. They're going to try to spend as little time as possible thinking about politics and as much as possible thinking about other things.
Anyway, it's one of politics' oldest rules. He may be a creep (or crook or asshole or whatever), but he's our creep. The "our" in that sentence is entirely about affinity (he's one of us) and ideology (he thinks like we do). The silver lining is that he's just a junior member of the crazy House from a crazy (politically) state who won't matter very much in the national scheme of things. Against all that history and emotion, Colbert-Busch actually did a pretty good job, and she would have a future if she lived in a quasi-normal state.
John Maynard Keynes may have been childless. And Arthur Laffer, the creator of supply-side economics, may have fathered six children. But which one, asks Michael Tomasky, did more for future generations?
Count me as one who never knew, until this past weekend’s Niall Ferguson dust-up, that conservatives have long held John Maynard Keynes’s sexuality against him. I know, silly me; of course they did. And the nature of the protest is so typical of the conservative mind. The insistence on highlighting (usually inaccurately) one element of a person’s biography, and then arguing that this element represents the person’s full “character,” and then making the claim that said character is destiny; that’s how conservatives tend to see and explain the world, whether in limning their heroes (how Ronald Reagan “won” the Cold War) or in making sense of villains like Keynes.
John Maynard Keynes on March 16, 1940. (Getty)
Many commentators have by now risen to Keynes’s defense on a personal level and argued that his childlessness does not prove that he didn’t care about future generations. But surprisingly to me—especially as we concurrently debate the abysmal failures of austerity—no one that I’ve seen has defended Keynes against the larger historical charge and said the obvious: that in fact, Keynes-inspired policies as implemented in the United States and elsewhere have done immeasurable good for future generations, one hell of a lot more good than supply-side economics could ever even pretend to.
Let’s review the allegation, which Jonah Goldberg summarized over the weekend with the kind of bemused indifference that did not characterize his earlier iteration of the bill of particulars supporting his claim that John Kennedy was a fascist. Goldberg pronounced himself surprised that what Ferguson said was news to anyone. He then carries us on a brisk journey from Joseph Schumpeter (whose 1946 quote about Keynes has been oft-mentioned these last few days) to Gertrude Himmelfarb to William Rees-Mogg (see, even the Brits said it!) to Bill Greider (see, even a lefty said it!) to show that people have been saying this about Keynes for years, so what’s the big deal?
The Heritage Foundation has now come out against immigration reform, without exactly taking that position, indeed while claiming to take the opposite position, but calculating that adding that many citizens is going to cost $6.3 trillion in new Social Security and Medicare spending, education spending, welfare payments, and what not. McGrubio, as Laura Ingraham has dubbed the troika of Republican senators leading the pro-reform push, have been arguing preemptively that that number is brazenly exaggerated.
Of course these costs would increase, but so would revenues. In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the immigration reform bill then under consideration would increase spending by around $23 billion but revenues by just more than twice that. The CBO apparently hasn't scored this bill, but Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo has a good run-down here of what's changed since 2007, and of course his point is at odds with Heritage's.
This is an old conservative play--go after the cost of something, which permits them not to be against the idea per se, only against its fiscal ramifications. "We're not against immigration reform. Quite the contrary! We're just against the cost of this particular bill." It's a cousin of the old saw one always heard back in the Cold War days: "We're not against arms-control treaties in general at all, but we are certainly against this one," which just happened to be the case with regard to every single one.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that the Senate Gang of Eight members think they can get a dozen or so GOP senators. This is still too early to get a good whiff of where the wind is blowing. If the pro-reform people get Rand Paul, then we probably will see a bill pass. Is that the smart play for Paul? I don't know. I'd guess probably not. If he is sizing Rubio (pro-reform) and Ted Cruz (anti) as possible 2016 opponents, I would think that Rubio is the more serious opponent of the two, and therefore Paul would want to position himself opposite Rubio and then just hope/assume he can outduel Cruz on fundraising and other issue.
You are undoubtedly aware of the Niall Ferguson contretemps that exploded on Saturday over his remark that John Maynard Keynes didn't care about the future because he was childless. He offered what he called an "unqualified apology" on his own web site, and indeed it seemed quite ingenuous and contrite, until it was quickly revealed that he written similarly about Keynes in a previous book, which suggests that the remark was maybe not quite as "off-the-cuff" as he suggested but was a notion that's been jumping across his synapses for some time now.
It turns out that there's a whole conservative critique that puts Keynes's sexuality at the center of his economics, which Brad DeLong discusses here. It's pretty fascinating and warped. But another development concerns Ferguson's own concern about the future. David Roberts of Grist tweeted Sunday that Ferguson apparently isn't concerned about climate change. Here's a 2011 column by a Telegraph right-winger celebrating a Fergusonian jibe on British television:
In the latest episode, he explored how the roots of the Holocaust lay in a dry run genocide carried out by the Germans (who else?) in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) in the 1900s against the Herero and Namaqua natives. Around 80 per cent of the former tribe and 50 per cent of the latter were brutally massacred with many of the survivors sent to concentration camps where their racial characteristics were studied by proto-Dr-Mengeles as part of the fashionable new scientific field popularised by Francis Galton – eugenics.
Nearly every idea in the Bill of Rights comes with restrictions and limitations. To think that the Second Amendment should be any different is absurd, writes Michael Tomasky.
Every time I write a column on guns, the howl arises that I am talking about a right that is enshrined in the Constitution, buddy, and I better watch myself. The howl then transmutes into an extended harangue that this right is absolute, and no libtard fascist, whether me or the Satanesque Dianne Feinstein, is going to limit the right in any way. The first soldier to charge across this rhetorical veld is followed by hundreds harrumphing their assent. The only problem is that it’s an ahistorical, afactual, and barbaric argument. No right is absolute. In fact, the Second Amendment arguably has fewer restrictions on it these days than many of the other first 10, and there is and should be no guarantee that things are going to stay that way. In fact, if we’re ever going to be serious about trying to stop this mass butchery that we endure every few months, they cannot.
Attendees hold handguns in the Sig Sauer booth during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 4 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Let’s begin by going down the list and reviewing various limits placed on nearly all the amendments of the Bill of Rights (I thank Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center for helping me out here). The First Amendment, of course, guarantees the right to free speech and assembly, and to worship as one pleases. There haven’t been that many restrictions placed on the freedom to worship in the United States, although there is a steady stream of cases involving some local government or school board preventing someone from wearing religious clothing or facial hair or what have you. Sometimes a Christian school or church is denied a zoning permit; but more often it’s the freedom to worship of a minority (Muslim, Sikh, etc.) that is threatened.
As for free speech, of course it is restricted. Over the past 50 or so years in a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on free speech. To restrict speech in general, the government must meet four tests. But this is always being revised and negotiated. Here’s one restriction on the Bill of Rights that I’d wager most conservatives would happily approve of. In 1988, the HHS under Reagan promulgated rules prohibiting a family-planning professional at a clinic that received federal dollars from “promoting” (i.e. telling a woman about) abortion. This was challenged partially on free-speech grounds. In Rust v. Sullivan (1991), the Supreme Court held that these rules did not violate the clinicians’ free-speech rights. So far as I can see, this is still law. It’s just one example from many free-speech restrictions that have been imposed over the years, as you can see here.
So the jobs numbers are good. The unemployment rate is down another tick to 7.5 percent (and is down a respectable .4 percent this year). We gained 16,000 non-farm jobs last month, but the revisions upward of the previous months were huge--February to 332,000, for example, up from 268,000, and March up 50,000 to 138,000. This follows a pattern that's been in place for some time, so we can reasonably expect that next month, this month will be revised upward into the range of 200,000.
Yes, the labor-force participation rate is still low, and yes, the number of people employed part-time increased, for those of you looking for black linings. But were some positive trends below the top-line numbers as well:
In April, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined by 258,000 to 4.4 million; their share of the unemployed declined by 2.2 percentage points to 37.4 percent. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has decreased by 687,000, and their share has declined by 3.1 percentage points.
I am not the only person to have this thought this morning, but numbers like these--mind you, not great, but certainly good--do make one wonder what the economy might be doing if one of our two major political parties wasn't trying to sabotage it to prevent the president from looking good. And please, spare me the comments about how that's a heavy charge to level. It's so obvious at this point that it shouldn't even be controversial. The Republicans are demanding an austerity that nearly every economist agrees is harming economic growth.
I've been saying for a long time, here and on TV and such, to keep an eye on the conservative base as immigration reform begins the march from amorphous idea to legislative reality. I meant that while loads of Republicans were talking nicey-nicey and most pundits judged success to be a near-sure thing, let's just wait and see if the base rises up in opposition.
That hasn't happened yet, but we see signs. Three emerged today. There's a poll out from Quinnipiac showing that support for a path to citizenship has dipped from 59 to 52 percent. The crosstabs don't show exactly where support has dipped, but they do show that more Republicans think undocumented immigrants should "not stay" (42 percent) than should "stay/citizenship" (36 percent).
Number two, Jenny Beth Martin, the big national tea party leader, seems to have come out against the bill, albeit mainly on process objection rather than substantive ones. Now I don't know whether Jenny Beth Martin moves mountains, but if her position is not "just" her but a reflection of a congealing conventional wisdom amongst the tea set, then that could matter.
Number three, The National Review, which once found itself in the business of promoting Marco Rubio's bright future, released its new cover story, called Rubio's Folly. It's not clear that they've released the article, just the cover (which, interestingly, photoshopped out Grover Norquist, who was standing in the background of the original--strange, since Grover is a sellout supporter of a path to citizenship himself).
The Daily Beast's Michelle Cottle joined MSNBC to discuss the annual event where conservatives 'come out and let their hair down' and the tension among right-wingers over gay rights.
Republican joke-writers were shocked by Ted Cruz’s smoothly comedic performance at the Gridiron Club this weekend. And yes, there is such a thing as Republican joke-writers.