Over the weekend I read this magnificent article by Haley Sweetland Edwards of The Washington Monthly on the Dodd-Frank rule-writing process. See, when legislation is written, lots of the language isn't specific. It then goes over to the people who work in the various regulating agencies to write the rules. Once upon a time this wasn't contentious. But nowadays, this phase is as contested as the writing phase, and the banks are spending billions fighting the regs tooth and nail--with far fewer journalists watching.
They're even suing. In 2011, two financial industriy groups sued the SEC over one particular rule on the grounds that the SEC conducted a faulty cost-benefit analysis. The case got assigned to three right-wing judges on the DC Circuit (which raises a whole 'nother problem, which is that there are three vacancies on the DC Circuit and the Senate Republicans won't let Obama fill them; read this piece and you'll know why). The industry won.
And on and on and on. It's a long article, maybe 6,000 words across 10 pages, but on every page there's at least one "Holy crap, how in the hell can they get away with that?" From her opening vignette, about an industry challenge to a rule on the basis of the existence in the statute of the phrase "as appropriate":
The words “as appropriate” have appeared in statutes governing the CFTC’s authority to implement position limits for at least forty years without challenge. In fact, the CFTC used the authority of that exact line, complete with its “as appropriate,” to establish position limits on grain commodities decades ago. Even those who drafted Dodd-Frank later weighed in, saying they had intended for the language to explicitly instruct the CFTC to establish position limits at levels that were appropriate. The summary of Dodd-Frank, drafted by the Congressional Research Service, doesn’t quibble either: “Sec. 737 Directs the CFTC to establish position limits,” it reads. No ifs, ands, or “as appropriate”s.
Michael Tomasky rebuts the GOP’s three fiscal lies and calls on Democrats to do the same.
As we immerse ourselves in March Madness this weekend, a thought experiment for you: imagine that a majority of Americans were under the impression that the team that committed fewer fouls won the game. After all, not committing fouls is a good, even salutary, thing. It demonstrates self-discipline. It gives the other team fewer opportunities for what are literally called “free” throws. The propensity not to foul reflects a house in order, a group that plays by the rules, a team rich in inner—nay, even moral—strength. That is all self-evidently preposterous, of course. But it is exactly how we talk about the budget in Washington, such talk being driven by a Republican Party that is way out of the mainstream, saddled with near all-time-low approval ratings, and desperate for a campaign issue with which they can hold on to the House in 2014. How can the public be educated not to buy this nonsense?
Dick Cheney, David Cameron, Paul Ryan. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty, Nick Ansel/WPA Pool/Getty, J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Dick Cheney went a little overboard (as he was wont to do) when he said “deficits don’t matter,” and of course it was quite a hoot coming from a member of the party that has been haranguing us about deficits for half a century now whenever it suited their purposes to do so. But as hypocritical as he was being, he had a point. Today the GOP has completely flipped on this point and is cynically hyping three fictions that will harm the economy—but (maybe) help them electorally.
The first is this canard that we have to balance the budget. Absurd. There is no reason to balance the budget. None. Ever. Oh, it’s nice if it happens—that is, if it happens as a result of an economy that’s shooting skyward like a bottle rocket, as Bill Clinton’s was. That’s something to feel good about. It was an astonishing accomplishment for Clinton, that he brought us into surplus for that brief golden age before George W. Bush and his advisers, those secret agents of world communism, started destroying American capitalism.
I think I'm going to start labeling certain posts WBI, for Wonky But Important. I'll try to make these posts relatively brief, but they'll all elucidate a policy point that I think we all should know in order to have an intelligent conversation.
Our first WBI is built around a March 8 CBO report brought to my attention this morning by Congressman Chris van Hollen--my very own Mongtomery County Md. representative, I am happy to say--finding that half of this year's expected budget deficit of around $800 billion--half!--can be laid at the door of the struggling economy.
In other words: When the economy is revved up, it reduces the deficit, because there are more tax revenues from all those employed people and businesses working to capacity (and, concomitantly, fewer government expenditures--there's no need for stimulus spending or lots of unemployment benefits during a humming economy). They measure this in terms of what they call "automatic stabilizers"--the reductions in revenues and increases in outlays that are the result of the weak economy.
So, the CBO writes:
My pal Damon Linker was my editor here at the Beast from the time I started until just recently, when he left us (boo hoo) to go back to teaching at Penn. But he still writes a weekly column for The Week every Friday, and today he has this to say about when and why he left the Republican Party:
Alarmed by the transformation on the right and in the magazine's offices, I wrote a lengthy email in October 2002 to a number of my fellow conservatives, explaining why I thought it would be a serious mistake to turn Iraq into the next front in the War on Terror. My reasons had nothing to do with the administration's claims about Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction; like all commentators on the right, most independent observers, and large numbers of intelligence agencies around the world, I assumed that Hussein either possessed or was actively working to acquire such weapons. Neither was I overly concerned about worldwide public opinion. I objected to what I judged to be three erroneous assumptions on the part of conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration.
First, I believed the administration was wrong to claim that Hussein could not be deterred. In fact, he already had been. In the first Gulf War, Hussein refrained from using chemical weapons against our troops on the battlefield and against Israel in his inept Scud-missile attacks on Tel Aviv. Why? Because before the start of the war James Baker and Dick Cheney sent messages through diplomatic channels to the Iraqi dictator, informing him that we would respond to any use of WMD with a nuclear strike. Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Arens made similar threats. And they worked. Yes, Hussein was a brutal dictator, but he could be deterred.
Second, it was foolish to believe (as Paul Wolfowitz and others on the right apparently did) that overthrowing Hussein would lead to the creation of a liberal democracy in Iraq that would, in turn, inspire democratic reforms throughout the Middle East. This view displayed an ignorance of (or, more likely, indifference toward) the competing ethnic and religious forces that prevailed in different regions of Iraq as well as a typically American optimism about the spontaneous capacity of all human beings in all times, places, and cultures for self-government. Rather than inspiring the formation of liberal democracies throughout the region, an Iraqi invasion could very well empower the very forces of radical Islam that the War on Terror rightly aimed to destroy.
I did not have a chance to watch Obama's speech just now, but I did read through this transcript. It's a tough speech. Pretty blunt. I wouldn't quite say a Hail Mary, because it isn't the fourth quarter, but let's just dispense with the football metaphors and call it a high-risk-seeking-high-reward gambit to ignite the peace process.
This was the toughest graf aimed at the Israelis:
But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
I didn't watch it, as I said, so I don't really know how it was received, and it's a bit early to read lots of reaction. But I think the above is fairly stern.
The same day Reince Priebus announced his Latino outreach program, three white Republican senators went after the Latino Labor nominee on racial and ethnic grounds. Michael Tomasky asks: Do they think Latinos are stupid?
Golly but I’m happy to see that the GOP Hispanic outreach is off to such a blazing start. I mean, it was literally the same day Reince Priebus stood up at the National Press Club to warn his party that they have to refrain from saying and doing addle-brained things that alienate Latinos that certain members of the party stepped forward and said and did addle-brained things that alienate Latinos. I refer to events surrounding Thomas Perez, which demonstrate amply that even if they endorse immigration reform, Republicans have many bridges to cross before they even begin to understand what they look like through black and brown people’s eyes.
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) speaks as Assistant Attorney General of Justice Department's civil rights division Thomas Perez (R) listens to his announcement to nominate Perez as the next labor secretary on March 18, 2013 at the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty)
It was Monday, the same day as the release of Priebus’s autopsy report, that Barack Obama officially nominated Perez to be the next Labor secretary. Immediately, Republican senators (all of them white, natch) jumped all over the guy. This in and of itself is about as dog-bites-man as it gets. Republican senators’ (successful) efforts to block and hold Obama nominees of all kinds have become so routine that Obama has in several cases not even tried to nominate people.
But what made this episode worth reflecting on was, of course, the context (of Priebus’s announcement), and what the senators said. Jeff Sessions of Alabama called Perez “the wrong man for the job” citing work Perez had done in Maryland in helping undocumented immigrants as part of a group called Casa de Maryland.
So reports TPM, and I can find no basis on which to disagree. Brian Beutler:
Once the sequestration deadline came and went, President Obama settled in for a long, glacial campaign to persuade individual Republicans to support the sort of deficit reduction he’s been pursuing for two years. But even if that effort ultimately works, it for all intents and purposes is unfolding on its own, delinked from the ongoing sequestration cuts, which were supposed to be the forcing mechanism that scared Republicans straight about the need to increase taxes.
Instead, sequestration will continue for at least as long as it takes lawmakers and Obama to reach a budget agreement — if such an agreement is possible...
...Republicans, by contrast, have become emboldened. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner signaled that Republicans will not only set future appropriations at sequestration levels, but that they’d attempt to take even more money out of domestic programs and use it to increase national defense — the only category of spending they’ve attempted to shield from dramatic budget cuts.
Renee Montagne just did an interview with Richard Perle on NPR a bit ago. I wouldn't say it was the world's toughest interview. She put on that anguished-NPR voice. You know the one. It's reserved for interviews with certain categories of penitents, from ex-bigots who've seen the light to war criminals.
But she did haul some illuminating language out of him all the same. She asked one excellent question. He'd been banging on about all the intelligence agencies around the world that thought Saddam had chemical weapons. Then she asked, but as we now know, it turns out that he wasn't trying to deceive the United States into thinking he didn't have such weapons; instead he was trying to deceive local actors (Iran, Kurds) into thinking that he did have them. Isn't it rather a large error not to have seen that?
Perle acknowledged the point: "I am sorry to say I did not achieve that insight."
Achieve that insight! Oh well. That's how it goes. Win some lose some, what's the big deal?
I often these people do this kind of thing just to get under our skin. Here's Lindsey Graham, speaking on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, speaking to Foreign Policy magazine:
Graham told The Cable in an interview Tuesday that whether or not the attack can be confirmed as the first use of chemical weapons in the 24-month Syrian civil war, the United States must devise and implement a plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons sites and deploy U.S. troops to do it if necessary.
"My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists and Americans need to lead on this issue. We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves," Graham said.
Asked if he would support sending U.S. troops inside Syria for the mission, Graham said yes.
1. There is no "problem" of voter fraud or integrity in this country. It's a canard--cover for trying to prevent black and brown people from voting. I hereby call on all Republicans involved in any voter suppression efforts to cease and desist immediately. Instead of trying to stop black and brown people from voting, we ought to be fighting for their votes.
2. The so-called 47 percent are hard-working people, some of the hardest working people in the country. I don't believe there is a so-called moocher class. I don't believe there are freeloaders. Republicans should stop thinking this way.
3. Gay love is the same as straight love. Gay people don't decide to be gay. They just are gay. And they love the same way straight people do. Whatever their positions on marriage, Republicans have to accept this.
4. Democrats and liberals aren't our enemy. They are our opponents, but they aren't our enemy. They love America as much as we do. We really have to ratchet down this rage.
Now this is depressing, from Politico:
...internal party polling shows that Republicans think there’s massive political upside to talking about balancing the budget. In fact, Republican leadership think it’s the winning argument as the party again starts battling with Democrats over the nation’s fiscal future.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), GOP leadership staff and Ryan himself were all briefed on the poll results, according to several GOP sources.
The poll showed that 45 percent of Democratic voters think “balancing … the federal budget would significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.” A sky-high 61 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans agree.
The Republican National Committee’s attempt at self-criticism doesn’t genuinely tackle any of the party’s biggest problems, says Michael Tomasky.
I’m going to shock you, perhaps, by saying that I don’t think the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” document is a complete joke. Three or four decent ideas have been somehow smuggled into its 100 pages, and the party would be well advised to follow them. But what’s more interesting to me are the things that are not in there. The difficult topics are nearly all avoided. Now it could be that the GOP’s great minds are taking up these questions behind closed doors, and if so bully for them. But I somehow doubt it because to take these tougher questions on is to take on the party’s most rabid base, and who’s going to do that? The process of Republican change is going be what we might call a two-thirds Hobbes: nasty, brutish, and long.
The American Conservative Union held its annual conference, the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in the suburb of Washington, DC to rally conservatives and generate ideas, March 16, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Pete Marovich/Getty)
But first let me be a sport and tip my cap to the good ideas. I think fewer primary-season debates is a grand idea, chiefly because that means fewer that I’ll have to watch. By about the 15th one last time, I was trying to relax by shoving bamboo shoots under my fingernails.
Of course, the document doesn’t mention the real reason for this suggestion. What the RNC obviously wants to do here is limit middle America’s exposure to the party’s koo-koo-for-cocoa-puffs base. Remember the cheering for the death penalty, the booing of the gay soldier, the catcalls about immigrants? The party and its people were huge losers from all those debates and the attendant publicity. The less America sees of those people, the RNC figures, the better.
Gunnison old friend, what on earth do you mean by this comment:
Methinks Tomasky is increasingly calibrating his output more with an eye to his career prospects in the beltway punditocracy than to the truth. A pity, that.
Then pumpkinface, another old friend, has a go at me, but alas I've become well accustomed to her brickbats:
But that is exactly why I find Tomasky's work so fascinating. There are a lot of disengenuous potholes where substance evaporates beneath the surface of things. And if you don't use him as a primary source for anything relevant, you learn a lot indirectly. But, I admit, there is only so much about this insufferably surly and silly bubble that enthusiastically casts its political judgement on our world that I really want to know. Still, I think Tomasky does his best to try to be one of the good guys.
First, my own little Iraq war story. I was an opponent of the war but was mistaken by not a few folks as a supporter, which happened because I wrote an essay for a book edited by George Packer called The Fight Is For Democracy. When George asked me to contribute to the volume, it wasn't clear to me that he was pro-war. I would guess that in his own mind George wasn't yet pro-war at that point. We never really talked about it directly. I just assumed he was against.
But Paul Berman was in the volume, and we all knew where Paul stood. Also Kenan Makiya. But then there was Todd Gitlin, who was against, and Susie Linfield of New York University, whose position I don't know to this day but whom I assume to have been against. So there was no "line" in the book.
But my essay lead off the collection, and it was about how American liberals needed to stand "Between Chomsky and Cheney" (my rather felicitous title, if I may say it, although Chomsky sure didn't think so!) and not get sucked into a reflexive leftist anti-imperialist posture when it came to terrorism.
I intended this as an endorsement of the Afghanistan war, which I backed, but not Iran. Indeed as I recall it, the bulk of the essay was taken up with telling readers about PNAC (remember it?), the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, and various other neocon lies. That was really the point of my essay: Liberals must not be reflexively against the use of American power in this post-9-11 world, but we also most definitely should not support its use when it is being sold to us through a series of obvious lies.
It’s nice that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman now backs same-sex marriage. But why, asks Michael Tomasky, does it always take a gay family member for conservatives to adopt the morally right position?
It’s delightful that Rob Portman now supports same-sex marriage. I don’t know how many conservatives or Republicans follow the lead of Ohio’s junior senator, but it’s a long march to equality, and every step helps. So good for him. But even so, I couldn’t help wondering: what if his son weren’t gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step. And this brings us to a difference, for my money the single most important difference, between liberals and conservatives: in general, conservatives have no social empathy. It shouldn’t take filial love and loyalty to bring a person to a position that he should reach via a simple combination of compassion and principle.
File photo: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, August 29, 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)
What makes a person a liberal? Lots of things, but fundamentally, it’s the ability to think beyond self-interest—to examine an issue through other people’s eyes, and to imagine such a thing as the common interest or common good. The obvious example from American history is civil rights. For your average Northern white person in 1963, it wasn’t so difficult to identify with the interests of the Southern black person. Millions of white Americans were thus “liberals” at that point in time, at least with regard to that issue. Whites were able to see the issue through black eyes, in a sense; most even saw that their own self-interest as Americans was bound up in Southern blacks’ self-interest. That meeting place of self-interest and another’s interest is exactly where the common good lives.
That was an easy case, in a way, because Northern whites didn’t have to give anything up to embrace the enfranchisement of Southern blacks. There are harder cases, cases involving questions of taxation and spending, where liberals still think beyond self-interest. This is how I’d define social empathy—the ability to put the interests of those less fortunate ahead of your own. Conservative readers are rolling their eyes, but millions of Americans take this position and live their lives in this fashion. Anyone who makes, say, a six-figure income but votes Democratic is on some level voting against her own self-interest, at least in economic terms. The Republicans are the party that is far, far more likely to look after your interests if you make $100,000 or more (although history shows also that Republicans tend to be the ones who create financial crashes and meltdowns and Democrats tend to be the ones who fix them, but that’s a different column). And yet, many millions of such Americans vote Democratic. They are willing to sacrifice some self-interest for the sake of others’ interests and of what they perceive to be the common interest.
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.
The U2 frontman wants to save the world. Why shouldn’t he save Republicans, too?