The Death of Accountability

As the Neocons continue to tell the rest of us what should be done in Iraq- the very same place they repeatedly lied to America about in order to foment war in the most incendiary region on Earth, I know that I am not alone in feeling the outrage. To see these very same people that started a war with little planning or forethought, above the objections of the left that we may cause a bigger problem than we hope to solve, now having the temerity to give President Obama advice on what to do now they did indeed cause a bigger problem than the (non-existent) one they hoped to solve, has been pull-out-your-hair maddening.

Sure, the big names have been out there, the John McCains, the Dick Cheneys, the Lindsey Grahams, but even the lesser-known Neocons, like Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and Paul Bremer have entered back into the MSM over the past couple of weeks. It was even audacious enough to rouse the PoliticalBlogtobeNamedLater from hibernation!

The incredible chutzpah and gall of the above, though, is not actually the main point of my re-introductory post. Those are just a particularly apalling example of a larger problem, which is the complete and total lack of accountability that we seem to have in this country for political figures who are demonstrably wrong or ineffective. No matter how many times these guys are wrong, they never lose any credibility, and they just keep coming back like zombies any time someone even sneezes in the Middle East. Not even actually having eight disastrous years to implement their disastrous policies to disastrous consequences can discredit these guys!

Sure, in this case, we’re talking about the Iraq war, an obvious fiasco that was both implemented for evil reasons- not caring about the needless suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 American troops who lost their lives in that Middle Eastern tinder box, and executed as if the entire invasion and post-invasion occupation were being run by a congress of baboons in the situation room.

BushDumb

In 20, 30 years, though, I pretty much GUARANTEE that us liberals will be having this EXACT conversation about climate change (bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?)

In 30 years, when I have to swim out the door or my Boston-area home to the only place that still has working electronics, possibly at the Top of the Hub restaurant at Prudential Center, we will be watching many of the same discredited morons (or their political heirs) who told us things like “cow farts” are the real cause of global warming, we’re actually in a global cooling pattern, any change is just because the sun goes through warmer and colder cycles, and the always hilarious (in that way that the end of human civilization as we know it is hilarious) gem, “It’s cold/snowy today, therefore global warming is false”.

What we liberals must do, as the first effects of climate change are just now becoming very obvious, is catalog and remember each and every one of these deniers. They must not be allowed to get away with brazenly lying to the world in their own self-interest again.

In all seriousness, 60 years from now, when the house I just bought in Boston a year ago is under water, when cities like Miami, Los Angeles, and and New Orleans are distant memories, it is IMPERATIVE that us liberals who were here to watch the deniers deny, delay, and lie until it was too late not let anyone forget who was right on this issue, and who was wrong. Who fought for their preferred special interest patrons (EXXON, Koch Enterprise, Chevron- I’m looking at you) and who fought for the futures of our children, grand children, and great grand children.

But, based on how we’re holding people accountable for a disastrous war that was started almost exclusively by one wing of one party little more that a decade ago, I’m willing to bet it won’t happen, and instead we’ll be treated to today’s deniers telling us they were screaming from the rooftops about the dangers of climate change, but President Obama “refused to lead”.

 

CityFlooding

Cigarette and Coffee Breakfast, 2/27/2014

- More on yesterday’s tax plan released by GOP Rep Dave Camp of Michigan. One of the many loopholes that was eliminated in the plan allows taxpayers to deduct state and local taxes from their federal return. Seeing as more liberal, blue states tend to have higher state and local taxes, this is a policy that seems to have been designed specifically to hurt consumers in blue states like California and New York. “The provision would eliminate a tax benefit that effectively subsidizes higher State and local taxes and increased spending at the State and local level,” says a summary released of Camp’s proposal. It’s interesting that Camp would say that, because I have a feeling he’s not in favor of replacing that state and local spending with more federal spending. I also wonder if  a member of the Federal Government like Dave Camp making decisions that will effect every single state’s budget is part of Conservatives’ state’s rights campaign.

The invective for Camp’s plan wasn’t just coming from liberals last night, though. Tony Fratto, a former Treasury official turned lobbyist echoed the sentiments of almost every other slime ball lobbyist on K street, “It will restrict growth, add complexity, and create new distortions”. And this, Republicans who have forgotten because it’s been so long since they were in power will be sad to find out, is the problem with governing. Every problem may have a solution, but every solution has it’s winners and losers.

- Nice write-up for TPM this morning on the Scott Walker scandal, which seems to have gotten mostly glossed over in a news cycle filled with Chris Christie, the violence in Ukraine, and the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics. We shouldn’t just let the story fade away though:

These emails don’t reveal that one taxpayer-funded staffer returned a few campaign phone calls on their work phone. They show a pervasive, intentional blurring of the lines between governing and the campaign. His “inner circle” of closest advisors were constantly engaged in campaign activities on county time, using a secret email system and router to cover their tracks. Six of his aides faced criminal charges as a result.

and:

Walker’s top priorities are basically unrelated to his promise to add jobs. Instead, he and his allies in the legislature have concentrated on right-wing dream projects like limiting access to abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. They’ve resisted both federal infrastructure money and any effort to make the Affordable Care Act work for Wisconsin. And they’ve moved to maintain their hold on the state government in the longer term through redistricting and restrictions on the right to vote.

- Big campaign news out of Colorado this morning, where Republican Cory Gardner is said to be considering a very late entrance into the state’s U.S. Senate competition. Gardner, who was the GOP’s top recruiting choice in 2010, demurred from the race against incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall. If Gardner does get into the race this time, there seems to be a good chance a chunk of the Republican field will clear the way for him, with Tea Partier Ken Buck and state Sen. Amy Stephens saying they would get out of the race. State Sen. Owen Hill said that Gardner,””tried to push me out of the race” and accused him of corruption, so it seems he’s staying in. Lastly state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who Google has pictured in a cowboy hat and American flag button-down shirt when you search, also likely will not drop out of the race. It should be very interesting to see if another mainstream Republican like Gardner, who many had seen as having a future in the House leadership, will be able to survive what is sure to be a Tea Party infused primary season in Colorado. If he does not survive, he has already given up his house seat, so going after the Democrat Udall’s seat is a risk for the up-and-coming Gardner.

- Bill Clinton held a fundraiser for aspiring U.S. Senator, Allison Lundergan Grimes, who will take on Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in November. Clinton raised 700k for Grimes, who is obviously hurting in the money department against the well-connected and well-funded McConnell.

- Joe Sestak, who many will remember as the former Navy Admiral and U.S. Congressman that nearly beat U.S. Senator Pat Toomey for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania in 2010, seems to have an uphill climb if he really does want to take Toomey on in a rematch in 2016. There is, of course, a couple of years before the hypothetical Democratic primary for that race, but currently, Sestak trails fellow Democrat, State Attorney General Kathleen Kane 47-24. Of course, Kane just won office in 2012, whereas Sestak has not been in the news much in the state since losing to Toomey in 2010, so name recognition is a major factor.

- Democrats in the house today will officially begin pressuring House Majority Leader John Boehner to allow a vote on the party’s number one agenda item, a raise on the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The raise, which is broadly popular with the American people, has not received a vote because majority Republicans in the House do not want to be seen to be voting against such a popular item in an election year. But with a “discharge petition”, or tyranny, as i joked earlier, Democrats can force a vote on any bill, as long as they have a majority of members signed on to the petition. With 199 Democrats in the house, even if they were to get every one of their members to sign the petition, which is always a difficult task in a party as disparate as theirs, Democrats would need to find 20 moderate Republicans willing to buck leadership for individual political gain. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Democrats gathered in a Capitol Hill basement, “To not have this vote is to abdicate our responsibility to the middle class”.

At the very least, assuming there are not 20+ Republicans willing to declare open war on the party’s congressional leadership, the discharge petition should be a powerful tool to show that Democrats are fighting to give minimum wage workers a raise. Expect those moderate Republicans who refuse to sign, especially in high unemployment areas like Illinois or  Nevada to get several visits to their home district this election season, both from national and local Democrats, excoriating them for playing politics instead of helping the struggling working-poor in that congressional district.

Breaking: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Vetoes S.B. 1062

Breaking news tonight, or this evening in the Pacific time zone. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) has decided to veto Senate Bill 1062, which opponents said legalized discrimination against same-sex couples in the name of religious freedom. At a press conference in Tuscon, Brewer said that she had not seen a “single instance” of religious liberty being trampled in the way the authors of the bill were hoping to stop. Brewer added that the bill caused more problems than it “purported to solve”.

Opponents of the new law had lined up in just a few short days since its passage from the Arizona legislature. They included many of the legislators that originally authored the bill, the MLB, the NFL, both of the state’s Republican United States Senators, and J.P. Morgan Chase. Discussion had already begun that the SuperBowl, scheduled to be held in Phoenix next year, may be moved if fans and players could not be ensured equal treatment while attending the event.

After Governor Brewer signed the even more controversial S.B. 1070 into law, many originally expected the Governor to sign this bill, too. That bill mandated that police officers in the state verify the immigration status of those they “suspected” may be undocumented immigrants. Opponents of the law pointed out that the only way to suspect one of being an undocumented immigrant is by using racial profiling, and the law was mostly invalidated by the Supreme Court shortly after Brewer signed it.

 

Voters Do Not Want Chris Christie to Run For President

As recently as a couple of months ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was the obvious front runner for the Republican nomination for President in 2016. Christie was so sure of himself, in fact, he had already begun crafting the message of bipartisanship he would sell to the American people, as the former Republican governor of a liberal stronghlold like New Jersey. In fact, when the corpulent Governor famously hugged President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, causing the collective implosion of the entire right’s sanity, it is a certainty that he did so to get that “bipartisan” message rolling for 2016.

And that may be where things started to go wrong for the Governor. Many believe that the reason behind the Christie administration’s absurd attempt to close Fort Lee, New Jersey’s access ramps to the George Washington Bridge was because that town’s Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse the Governor in this year’s election. Obviously, Christie was pushing hard for as large of a margin, and especially as many endorsements from state Democrats as possible, in order to burnish his bipartisan credentials.

Well, it turns out that bipartisanship by bullying actually ISN’T that popular with the voters, or at least getting caught doing it. The New York Times is out with a new poll on who Americans would like to see run for President in 2016, and it’s not pretty for the New Jersey Governor, trailing all Republican rivals, and as the only person on the list with a net negative on the question. All of that, despite being the most well known politician on the list, with only 28% saying they lack the information to make a decision, versus upwards of 50 and 60 percent lacking information for the likes of Rubio and Cruz.

Would you like to see [____] run for President of the United States in 2016, or not, or don’t you know enough about [______] to say?
Yes No DK/NA Net
Rand Paul 39 21 40 18
Marco Rubio 32 15 53 17
Jeb Bush 41 27 32 14
Ted Cruz 24 15 61 9
Chris Christie 31 41 28 -10

In case you were wondering, the NYT asked the same question for likely Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and, according to Jed Lewinson:

Among Democrats, 82 percent say they want Hillary to run compared with 13 percent who don’t. Biden and Warren were both in positive territory with a net “should run” of 3 and 5 points respectively. More than 80 percent didn’t have an opinion on O’Malley and of the 36 percent who have an opinion on Cuomo, slightly more than half think he shouldn’t run.

GOP Lobbyist Attempting to Ban Gay Players in the NFL

Leave it to Republicans in Washington to interject themselves into what was already an ugly situation playing out with openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam, and make it that much uglier. Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist, says that he has several co-sponsors to a bill that would ban gay players from the NFL.

Sam, who participated in this week’s “Combine,” in Indianapolis, has surely seen his draft stock slip already this week, thanks to his performance on the field. Working out with the lineman even though he is sure to play much of his career as a linebacker, Sam managed only 19 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, and ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.9 second range. With numbers like those, Sam would be among the weakest lineman, AND the slowest linebackers, which is not a good combination for a young prospect.

Obviously, in an election year when Republicans seem to be attempting to show at least some measure of sanity to voters, and with Democratic control of the Senate and Presidency, this bill is going nowhere. I just find it disgusting that Republicans, who love to talk about small government and freedom, can find literally no issue with which they do not feel comfortable getting big government involved, if it suits their ideological purposes.

That’s why it was good to see Sam hitting back at this bigoted GOP lobbyist, invoking the time-travel movie “Back to the Future” and tweeting, “Jack Burkman is going to need a Delorian, not some bogus bill, if he wants to prevent gay athletes from being in the locker room”.

 

The Fed Mentioned “Inflation” Ten Times More than “Unemployment” in 2008

Many Fed watchers have long said that the board, with is charged with the “dual mandate” of ensuring stable inflation and employment, does not actually pay equal attention to the two. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that it would beyond the pale to say that these rich former bankers and economists, who exclusively mingle with other rich bankers and economists, take the interests of their friends in not seeing their massive fortunes eaten away by inflation more seriously than the interests of most American people who would like to see a strong labor market.

I was kidding of course, that is a huge part of the problem. Ryan Avent at The Economist got tired of analyzing how the Fed’s policies would accomplish their goal, and instead just counted words from the 2008 transcripts of meetings during the Financial Crisis. Avent found that the Fed cares ten times more about inflation than unemployment:

blog_fed_inflation_unemployment

I don’t know how much more there is to say about this, so I’ll let Kevin Drum do it for me:

 I don’t think this comes as much of a surprise to anyone, since it’s been obvious for decades that the Fed not only doesn’t care about unemployment, but gets positively worried when too many people have jobs. That would mean the labor market is tight and workers might get paid more, you see, and that could be inflationary.

And we wouldn’t want most Americans to win out over the friends of rich banksters and economists!

Cigarette and Coffee Breakfast, 2/26/2014

- Terrible news out of the Senate for those in favor of raising the minimum wage- Majority Leader Harry Reid is stalling a vote on the measure in the Senate because he is unsure if he has the votes. With Democrats basing their election year message on populist themes such as raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits, it will difficult to get much traction with that message if they are unwilling to even vote on it themselves. Voters would see the Democrats as frauds if they tried to make that argument, and they would be right. The current wavering Senators include mostly the usual suspects: Landrieu (La), Pryor (Ark), Warner (Va), and Hagan (NC), but one interesting addition to the list, Tom Carper of Deleware, is neither up for re-election, or in a conservative state.

- Rand Paul must really consider himself the Republican frontrunner in ’16 at this point, he’s acting as if the primary is already over and he is about to meet Hillary Clinton in the general election. Here goes Paul again, telling reporters, “I think the Democrats mistake Bill Clinton’s popularity,” Paul told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We have a lot of conservative Democrats in our state who go to church each week and really don’t approve of his behavior, what he’s done with women, with sexual harassment in the workplace. A lot of Democrats in our state don’t approve of that kind of behavior.”

I don’t know, maybe Rand Paul is mistaking his own obsession with the former first family? This is what, the third week in a row now that Paul has made headlines trashing the Clinton’s, who currently hold no public offices between them. If they’re so unpopular, Rand, why are you already trying to trash Hillary Clinton by talking about her husband’s sex life every week?

- Republicans are throwing in the towel on tax reform. Many may be surprised by this, because they never realized Republicans had ever actually been trying to pass anything this congress, but here’s Mitch McConnell, regretfully informing us that he doesn’t think it’s going to get done:

“I think we will not be able to finish the job, regretfully,” McConnell told reporters after Senate Republicans regular Tuesday lunch. “I don’t see how we can.” McConnell blamed his pessimism on the refusal by Democrats to consider any tax reform plan that doesn’t raise significant new cash for deficit reduction.

Yea, Republicans don’t want to do tax reform, because they’re afraid it would lower the deficit too much, and Democrats demand that it lower the deficit more.

- The mud has started flying in the Georgia Republican Primary for U.S. Senate, and the guy Democrats should be rooting for, Paul Broun, is up with his first ad. In the spot, from a seated position in the back of a pickup truck (obviously), Broun states that he’s the choice Democrats fear most, and that’s why Republican voters should pick him over his conservative rivals. Democrats will be excused for finding this hilarious, because Broun is actually in the number one spot on the list of candidates Democrats would MOST like to face, in the entire nation:

“[t]he Democratic Party is attacking me for one reason: I’m the strongest conservative running for the U.S. Senate. Liberals fear a genuine conservative candidate.”

Unfortunately, the spot is only backed by a paltry $50k, which won’t go very far in the Georgia market. You see, Broun is crazy, and, unfortunately for Democrats, he has trouble convincing people to give him large sums of money to say crazy things, at least so far.

- The Republican tax plan, which Mitch McConnell says is dead, actually does some really interesting thing that makes me wonder if Republican Dave Camp was paying attention when he made it, or just throwing darts at a board filled with policies because he knew Mitch McConnell would kill it as part of his “let’s see what happens if we don’t govern at all” strategy.

For example, under the Michigan Republican’s plan, many argue that he would establish a new top tax bracket paying marginal rates as high as 44.6% and large banking institutions like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, Citi, Goldman, and Morgan Stanley would all have to pay a 3.5 basis point tax on assets over $500 billion, raising an estimated $86.4 billion for the Federal Government over the next decade. It’s hard to imagine Camp meant to include those taxes in his plan. At the same time,though, Camp’s plan eliminates the long term 20% tax rate on capital gains and dividends, effectively a massive tax break for America’s wealthiest citizens, which is just the type of pro-rich people only policy Republicans love.

- Despite the millions being poured into North Carolina by Koch Brother associated PAC’s, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan seems to be holding up all right. According to David Nir, Hagan has a lead over all Republican challengers, “38-35… over Thom Tillis; 39-35 over Mark Harris; and 38-36 over Greg Brannon.”

- Wendy Davis (D) is behind in the money race for the Texas Governorship. Davis took in $2.85 million last month between her campaign and her related PAC’s, whereas Republican candidate Greg Abbott took in $2.45 million. Looks good right? Except Abbot already had $30 million in his account, versus only $11.3 million for Davis.

- Obamacare has reached 4 million. Through state level and Federal exchanges, now more than 4 million people have gained access to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. To have reached the number, 700,000 new enrolees joined the program so far in February nationally. Additionally, another 3 million Americans have been able to remain on their parent’s employer provided plans, thanks to the provision in Obamacare allowing dependents to stay on a plan until they are 26 years old. Add on top of those the the millions of people who have gained access through the Federal Medicaid expansion, and you’ve got nearly 10 million people that have gained access to health insurance since January first of this year.

 

Ukrainian President Yanukovych on the Run

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has been indicted for mass murder today because of his government’s response to demonstrations in Kiev last week. Yanukovych fled the country over the weekend by helicopter, which took him to the disputed region of Crimea. From there, he was apparently unable to leave the country. Since then, he has been added to the Ukraine’s “most wanted” list:

“An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened,” Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, referring to the shooting by police marksmen of many of the 82 people killed in two days of bloodshed in Kiev last week.

“Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted,” he added.

Avakov was named acting head of the interior ministry after its prior head was ousted for being at the helm of the over-the-top response to demonstrators last week.

Yanukovch’s chief rival Yulia Tymoshenko was recently released from a “prison hospital”, where she was serving time for public corruption. Of course, with the corruption that has now been exposed under Yanukovych, it is no stretch to imagine that charges against rival politicians may have been, shall we say, exaggerated.

WalMart Hurt by Cuts to Food Stamps, Having Poor Customers With no Money

Walmart released their latest quarterly numbers, and growth continues to be sluggish for the behemoth American retailer:

The world’s largest retailer, which gets more than half its sales from groceries, on Thursday gave a disappointing full-year forecast. It blamed sharp cuts in food stamp benefits and higher payroll taxes that are will hit disposable income for its core customers. Wal-Mart shares fell 2.2 percent in morning trading.

This comes a week after reports leaked out that Walmart was thinking about lending its support to raising the minimum wage. Backtracking slightly, the corporation is saying this week that its “neutral” on whether a minimum wage increase should be passed, which in and of itself is a shocking position for a major corporation with million of minimum wage employees to hold.

As many commentators have pointed out, what you’re seeing here is Walmart finally acknowledging that, no matter how much the Chamber of Commerce and individual business executives genuflect at the altar of low corporate taxes and a slashed social safety net, they will never be able to escape the fact that the very same individuals that work for companies like Walmart, are also their customers.

So when Walmart continues to pay sub-standard wages that don’t keep up with productivity OR inflation growth, meaning that the average worker walks home with less and less real money every year, at some point they are only hurting themselves. When Republicans in congress cut Food Stamp outlays year after year, and Walmart is the world’s largest food retailer, especially to the lower class, that is going to hurt Walmart!

The last twenty years, where America saw its average worker’s productivity skyrocket at least 85%, while their pay has more or less been stagnant, with a 6% increase, were highly unjust and wrong. But more than that, those years were unsustainable, and now finally, MAYBE we’re beginning to see some businesses come to this realization.

Goldman Sachs Says Abnormally Cold Winter Cut .7% of GDP

The economists at Goldman Sachs are saying that the abnormally cold weather this year, even after accounting for normal season coldness, has cost the United States .7% of GDP over the last quarter and a half. In the final quarter of ’13, cold and snowy conditions slowed the economy down to the tune of .2%, and .5% so far in the first quarter of this year.

Goldman expects the economy to add 130,000 jobs in February, which would be a disappointing figure, following the paltry 113,300 jobs added in January. The number would be closer to 190,000 jobs without the extreme weather, according to the report.

Goldman adds the helpful note that weather changes, of course, even out, and expects to see the economy pick up the slack and make up most of that lost growth during the spring and summer.

In a completely unrelated note, scientists are warning us to expect more and more extreme weather events as the atmosphere grows warmer and can hold more water vapor.