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The austerity tide is turning

Yesterday Neil Irwin wrote an article with a powerful headline: The era of austerity is over (for now). He cites several things that have happened recently - both internationally and in the U.S. - to indicate that the tide is turning.

For example, there's the fact that the research by Reinhardt/Rogoff, which suggested that federal deficits are a drag on the national economy, was recently proven to be based on errors.

Then there's also the fact that our federal deficit is now shrinking faster than at any time since WWII. So much so that for the first quarter of 2013, the Treasury Department was able to pay off some of our national debt.
The Treasury Department announced Monday that it would reduce its level of debt in financial markets for the first time since President Obama took office.

The department said it expects to pay down a net of $35 billion in its marketable debt for the second quarter of 2013, the first time it has done so since 2007. It's very possible that thi…

"We can do better - all of us"

President Obama was hilarious at the White House Correspondent's Dinner this year. I found myself literally laughing out loud on several occasions - especially this one.
I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. Hello? Think of me as a trial run, you know? See how it goes. All of that has gotten plenty of attention. But what not many people are talking about is the end of his speech - when he got serious. In a way that reached out for the best in all of us - he called out the media, political, entertainment and business communities for feeding the cynicism that is all too rampant these days.
And in these past few weeks, as I've gotten a chance to meet many of the first responders and the police officers and volunteers who raced to help when hardship hits, I was reminded, as I…

Oh, this is rich! Now that Obama has offered chained-CPI, Republicans want tax reform instead (updated)

You really don't know whether to laugh or cry.

For a long time now Republicans have been screaming about the coming armageddon if we don't cut entitlement programs. President Obama offered to meet them halfway in his 2014 budget by switching to chained-CPI as a way of measuring inflation for Social Security benefits (and other government programs) and raising Medicare premiums based on income.

But as soon as he did that, Republicans had an (umm...) change of heart.
With another fight over the national debt brewing this summer, congressional Republicans are de-emphasizing their demand for politically painful cuts to retirement programs and focusing on a more popular prize: a thorough rewrite of the U.S. tax code. No...seriously. You can't make this shit up!

Steve Benen lays out the process.
1. Republicans create a debt-ceiling crisis, demanding spending cuts.

2. President Obama accepts spending cuts.

3. Prioritizing debt reduction, Republicans demand more cuts, this time to …

Democrats: pay attention to the "coalition of the ascendant"

The Associated Press headline pretty much summed it up: In a first, black voter turnout rate surpasses whites.
America's blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home.

Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly, according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press... "It remains to be seen how successful Democrats are if you don't have Barack Obama at the top of the ticket," he [Whit Ayres, a GOP consultant who is advising GOP Sen. Marco Rubio] said. This kind of analysis flies in the face of those who are predicting that if Hillary Clinton is the nominee in 2016 she'll win in a landslide because she'll be able …

OFA to climate change deniers: You should be embarrassed

Yesterday I talked about the fact that this last week President Obama launched two new major initiatives and noted that the first of these was a Drug Policy for the 21st Century. Today I want to talk about the second. And no, its not about the new White House Tumblr ;-)

At the start of his second term, the President was clear that he had five major objectives: job creation, gun violence reform, immigration reform, a balanced approach to reducing the deficit and dealing with climate change. Lots of people were curious to know what he was going to do about that last one. Now we know.



Like many of you, I got an email from OFA this week:
Right now, way too many lawmakers in Washington flat-out refuse to face the facts when it comes to climate change.

We're never going to make real progress on this issue unless members of Congress get serious. Instead, some of them have made a habit of publicly mocking it.

We thought it was time to call them out for denying what's basic science. Cl…

The voice of an angel

No words...just listen.

Obama announces the end of the war on drugs - anyone notice?

So what did you miss while you were anguishing over George W. trying to rehabilitate his legacy and worrying about whether or not the Boston bomber would be read his Miranda rights and setting your hair on fire because Congress fixed the FAA furloughs? A lot!

President Obama launched two new major initiatives this week. But WAY too many people are more interested in setting their hair on fire to notice. Yeah, I'm pissed about that. So I'm going to do my small part to focus on what I think is really important.

First of all, the White House issued A Drug Policy for the 21st Century. In doing so, a few of us noticed that this validates what Mark Ambinder predicted almost a year ago...that in his second term, President Obama would pivot to the drug war.
According to ongoing discussions with Obama aides and associates, if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of Th…

President Obama's detachment from the obsessive insiders

Over the last few years the Washington DC villagers have developed a myth that President Obama is cold, aloof and detached. That myth is directly contradicted by those who actually know him and people he interacts with outside the beltway bubble.

So you have to wonder what all those folks will do with this storyline once Mark Leibovich's book This Town about the incestuous and manipulative nature of those inside that bubble is finally published.

We already know that Politico reporters Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei are pretty nervous because they wrote what is clearly a pre-emptive strike on the book before its even published. But Jim Newell at The New Republic wrote that their reaction demonstrates exactly the point Leibovich is likely to make.
Politico attempts to pass off its column as a neutral, "fun" look at an anticipated Beltway book that's still under the lockdown of a particularly stringent publisher's embargo. But Allen and VandeHei don't do the discret…

Don't sweat the small stuff (updated)

I'm not going to get my undies in a bunch because Congress voted to give the FAA some leeway on how they implement the sequester.

Sure, its cowardly to work on behalf of people who can afford to fly while not seeming to give a shit about regular folks who are being damaged by the sequester. And believe me...I'm noticing how my own Senator Amy Klobuchar seems so intent on taking care of her corporate clients lately. You can bet she'll be hearing from me about her priorities.

But lets take a big picture look at what's happening here. Its not like they took money from some other program to cover costs for the FAA furloughs. They simply gave the agency more flexibility in implementing the cuts.

And notice how many Democratic Senators were willing to stand up and object to this...zero. Not even the lauded Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Why? Because to do so would be like giving airline travelers a big FU for no apparent reason other than to try to score political point…

Tough days for the Orange Man

These are challenging days for Speaker John Boehner. And its not just because this week he had a "guess who's coming to dinner" moment (LOL).

Perhaps you've heard how Eric Cantor's efforts to try to sabotage Obamacare instead of repeal it kicked off an internal battle with the Republican lunatic caucus and wound up with the bill being pulled from a vote on the House floor. But you won't get the full picture on what an embarrassment that all was until you read this summary of the email battles over the whole thing.
The collapse of the bill was a humiliating defeat for a leadership team that has struggled for years to keep its conference in line and is a testament to the continuing tenuous grip they have on their members.

"It's the outside groups' obsession," said a senior Republican aide, complaining that pressure from these groups was directly responsible for members abandoning their leader.

"We built this. We built our majority in 2010…

Driving emos nuts!

President Obama at a fundraiser in Dallas Wednesday night:
“Occasionally I may make some of you angry because I’m going to reach out to Republicans, and I’m going to keep on doing it,” he said. “Even if some of you think I’m a sap, I’m going to keep on doing it because that’s what I think the country needs.” Yep, we've been telling you this for a very long time now...that's how this guy rolls.

"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes" (updated)

The quote in my title is from Mark Twain. If he were alive today, he might be surprised by how prescient  he was so long ago about information in the age of technology. We have a perfect example of that unfolding as I write - and the culprit of the lie is one that both journalists and news junkies should have gotten wise to by now...Politico.

Here's a little background. One of the things included in Obamacare is that members of Congress and their staffs will be required to purchase their health insurance on the state exchanges created by the law. So Politico's headline screams: "Lawmakers, aides may get Obamacare exemption." They then go on to explain how very secret meetings (that only Politico knows about, of course) are going on to let Congress off the hook.

There was one sentence that caught my eye - but no context was given and so it seems to have been ignored by most people.
The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have …

I nominate Yoda

People keep talking about who the nominees will be in 2016. I know...I've said that I won't be talking about that for another couple of years. But I've made my choice early this time. Here's the nominee I'll be supporting.

Seriously folks. It seems clear to me that no matter how much Republicans obstruct progress, our media seems intent on blaming Obama. The only recourse I see is to elect someone who is actually capable of doing that "Jedi mind-meld" thing. So that's what I'm going with.
YODA FOR PRESIDENT!

Rand Paul develops a severe case of Romnesia

I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on the internet. But it seems clear to me that Senator Rand Paul is suffering from the very same affliction that plagued Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign...Romnesia.

Case in point: You might remember than during Senator Paul's filibuster about the use of drones on American soil, he said that “When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer… It should have been a resounding and unequivocal ‘no.'"

And then yesterday, he said this:
“…I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him, but it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub, or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.” Just a bit of an equivocati…

A study in contrasts...Obama does not equal Bush

As I read around the internet, I keep running into people who are saying that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can't be tried as an enemy combatant because he's an American citizen. That isn't the case, as Adam Serwer points out.
The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which Graham vocally supported, defines as eligible for military detention "a person who was a part of or substantially supported Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." There's no evidence yet that the suspects in the Boston bombing acted with the support of or at the behest of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces. Unless that evidence emerges, it wouldn't be legal to hold Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant, even if he and his brother were motivated by extremist religious beliefs. The reason this is important to point out is that it demonstrates why its been significant for the Obama administration to refocu…

Republicans can't seem to get over their "lose/lose" strategy with Obama

Some people I admire a lot are suggesting that the gun background check legislation failed because of monied interests on the part of folks like the NRA. I'm not buying that argument. What we saw in the 2012 election was that with everyone from Karl Rove to the NRA - other than perhaps keeping some candidates alive during the Republican primary - money didn't matter. The Republican Party is not being controlled by money these days - but by grassroots lunatics who threaten to primary anyone who doesn't toe their line.

So why did 90% of Republican Senators vote against a bill that is supported by 90% of the American public? I'd suggest its the same reason they've always been opposed to anything President Obama supports. Their lunatic base can't countenance anything that gives the President a "win."

Thinking about it all this morning, I remembered a time when Mistermix over at Balloon Juice nailed it. See if his words from 2 1/2 years ago don't still…

What a family therapist notices in the stories about the Tsarnaevs

Even though I often call myself a "recovering therapist," when I hear stories like the ones that are being told about the Tsarnaev family, I tend to revert back to my old ways. So allow me to round up some things I've seen/heard that seemed significant to me.

My first clue about something amiss in this family came when I heard the suspect's two uncles talking on camera while law enforcement was still searching for the second suspect. They both said that they had broken ties with their brother's family (the suspect's father) several years ago. None of the reporters questioning the uncles caught the significance of that statement or attempted to pursue what had triggered it.

In describing how/why the family came to the US, I've heard variations on this theme:
She [Zubeidat: suspect's mother] told me that she and her husband had been lawyers and political activists in Russia. They had fled the country after “something that her husband did.” Her daughter …

What you need to know about Miranda

Whether or not Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will get his Miranda rights read to him seems to be much more important to some people right now than whether or not he's currently healthy enough for these legal issues to matter. But such is the state of mind of people with Obama Derangement Syndrome - be their name Graham or Greenwald.

And so I thought I'd collate some informative reading on the subject for those of you that - like me - might be scratching your heads and wondering WTH is going on.

Doug Mataconis writes Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Miranda, And The Public Safety Exception:
Contrary to the conclusion that most people are likely to gather from watching crime dramas like Law & Order, officers are not required to give the warning before they arrest someone and failure to give the warning will not result in dismissal of the case. Miranda is more properly seen as an evidentiary rule that the government must follow if it wishes to interrogate a suspect and eventual defendant and use whate…

Sort by race

Like most everybody today, I'm busy following the news about the brothers who are responsible for the Boston marathon bombing.

But yesterday - as the fuzzy pictures of them were released - there was rampant speculation about their race/ethnicity. Some people really made fools of themselves in the process.

The truth is that "race" as a construct was created by white western europeans in an attempt to distinguish between "us" and "them."  It has no basis whatsoever in biological science.

As an educational tool to demonstrate what a ridiculous construct "race" is, the PBS special Race: The Power of Illusion created an online tool I highly recommend that you check out. Follow that link and click on the button that says "begin sorting." It will show you pictures that you are asked to sort into the 5 "races" recognized in the U.S. (the same site provides you with the information that other countries recognize different racial g…

Ain't No Sunshine

I'm gonna require massive amounts of pity because this - my friends - is what the world looks like up here in the tundra on April fucking 18, 2013. Since early this morning, we've had rain, sleet, snow and tornado sirens. And you don't even want to hear about the commute home tonight!
For now, I'll console myself with this.

Senate hearing today on Perez nomination as Labor Secretary

There's a lot of news to keep track of today, but one of the things I'm going to be paying attention to is the Senate hearing on the nomination of Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor. Not too long ago, I wrote about the case the racists will likely make against this nomination of the first Dominican American to a cabinet position.

I'd like to give a shout-out to Adam Serwer for keeping an eye on this story. Today he tells us that the House government oversight committee issued a report on Mr. Perez's involvement in the city of St. Paul's case about the use of disparate impact as a way of determining violations of the Civil Rights Act.
But missing from the report issued by GOP dominated oversight committee was any evidence that Perez—who consulted with ethics lawyers at the Department of Justice before making a decision—broke any laws or ethics rules. Republicans oppose the use of the disparate impact standard, a legal guideline that says that discriminat…

Gabby calls out the cowards

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count...  This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.  Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way. Gabrielle Giffords, April 17, 2013

Back to the long game

If Senator Manchin is right, the vote on gun background checks later today won't pass. That means that a proposal with the support of 90% of the American public and a majority of Senators won't pass because of Republican obstructionism.

I must admit that this one has me a bit discouraged on an even bigger scale. Just the other day I wrote about the possibility that the fever was breaking. The idea was that with just a few Republicans breaking ranks, there could be momentum in passing gun reform and immigration reform leading up to a possible deal on the budget to avoid catastrophes like another showdown on raising the debt ceiling.

If the vote this afternoon on gun background checks goes down in defeat, it means the first leg of that stool will have failed. Its hard to avoid being discouraged at this point.

So its time - once again - to listen to our First Lady Michelle Obama.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, …

Silence

Above all, be alone with it all,
a hiving off, a corner of silence
amidst the noise, refuse to talk
even to yourself, and stay in this place
until the current of the story
is strong enough to float you out.

- David Whyte

Support for universal pre-K from unexpected places (updated)

When Steve Benen, Greg Sargent, Kevin Drum, and Ed Kilgore all go out of their way to recommend that you read an article - its probably something you want to pay attention to. So I read Jonathan Cohn's article titled The Hell of American Day Care - and so should you. I can't imagine a more powerful case that could be made for President Obama's proposal funding universal pre-K. Here's the money quote:
Since the 1930s, with the introduction of Social Security, the United States has constructed—slowly, haphazardly, often painfully—a welfare state. Pensions, public housing, health care—piece by piece, the government created protections for citizens that the market doesn’t always provide. Child care is the major unfinished part of that project. The lack of quality, affordable day care is arguably the most significant barrier to full equality for women in the workplace. It makes it more likely that children born in poverty will remain there. That’s why other developed countr…

How the Obama administration is taking on the achievement gap

Someone in a meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago called it "the civil rights issue of our time." What he was referring to is the fact that less than 50% of African American boys in this country graduate from high school on time (pdf).

In circles where this problem is actually talked about (too many are content to ignore it), there are a lot of theories thrown around about why. But for many, its hard to ignore the impact of another statistic...the fact that 1 in 3 black boys will spend time in jail during their lifetimes. The Children's Defense Fund calls this the Cradle to Prison Pipeline that exists at the intersection of poverty and race.

I've mentioned several times the impact that deep poverty has on children.
Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists can now explain how early stress and trauma disrupt the healthy growth of the prefrontal cortex; how the absence of strong and supportive relationships with stable adults inhibits a child’s development of…

The fever is breaking (updated)

Tell me if you've heard this one:
The Republicans are extremists who are incapable of acting in good faith. President Obama is naive to believe in bipartisanship and his efforts to negotiate with them will always fail. I'd be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time I've read something like that.

I have to wonder if those folks are paying attention to the news lately.

For example, have they noticed that Republican Senator Pat Toomey has sponsored a bill with blue dog Democrat Joe Manchin on background checks for gun purchases? Or that 16 Republican Senators voted to forego the filibuster that McConnell and Paul had planned for the bill? Or that we're now seeing some Republicans (other than Toomey) say they'll vote for it this week?

And then there's immigration reform. The bill being negotiated in the Senate - which includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers - is not only supported by McCain and Graham. Tea party darling Marco Rubio is on ev…

The coalition of the ascendant

In his remarks at the Newtown memorial, President Obama said this:
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. Of course at the time, he was referring to the need to protect our children against gun violence. But I've also thought of these words as I hear people talk about his budget proposal - especially in light of Ron Brownstein's articl…

Courageous conversation or comforting lecture?

Jonah Goldberg wants us to feel sorry for country singer Brad Paisley and Senator Rand Paul. Towards that end, he's even willing to (almost) give Attorney General Eric Holder some props.
Are Brad Paisley and Rand Paul the bravest men in America?

Er, no. At least not by my lights. But the country singer and the senator are contenders for that title according to Attorney General Eric Holder, who in 2009 famously declared that America is a “nation of cowards” because it refuses to talk about race “enough.”

Holder was hardly the first, nor will he be the last, liberal to call for a national conversation on race. It’s one of the mossiest locutions in modern America.

Though often ridiculous and hackneyed, this isn’t necessarily a sinister or mercenary thing...

Less defensible is when calls for a national conversation amount to a trap. It’s a predictable pattern. Some poor dupe thinks people are serious about all this frank-dialogue talk. He sticks his head up to say something frank and …

Daily Kos: A case study in epistemic closure

Like many pragmatic progressives who blog, I used to spend most of my time online at Daily Kos. Many of us quit writing there at about the same time. I know that for me the final straw was getting attacked - even by those I generally agreed with - for poking some questions at what had become conventional wisdom there.

Ever since Barack Obama's rise in national politics, Daily Kos has had mixed reactions to him. But there are times it has gotten ugly. Lately its the worst I've seen it. Since the day it was announced that President Obama would include chained CPI in his budget, the place has become a case study in what Julian Sanchez calls epistemic closure. Sanchez used the term to talk about modern-day conservatives. But listen to his description and then we'll see how it applies at Daily Kos these days.
Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts w…

Sneetches on the beaches

Over the last couple of days, I've written about how the inclusion of chained CPI in President Obama's budget has dislodged the dangerous homeostasis that had developed in federal budget negotiations as well as reminded us that part of Obama's soft power involves maintaining your own balance while disrupting your opponent's.

And now Jared Bernstein weighs in with a much more fun way of saying the same thing.
The President’s offer to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security is confusing some conservatives. In the past, they’ve of course labeled such cuts a sign of Seriousness but his budget caught them off balance...

Anyway, initial responses ranged from the incoherent—”I don’t see this as fundamental entitlement reform as much as clarifying a statistic which does happen to save money” (Paul Ryan)—to the opportunistic “Let’s set aside our differences and come together on things we can agree on” (Eric Cantor saying let’s do CPI but not the higher tax revenues in the…

Music to my ears

Just a couple of headlines:

Where's Mitch McConnell? For the fifth time in just two months, Democrats hope to win a showdown procedural vote in the Senate Thursday morning — a burst of momentum which is beginning to raise fragile hopes of a bipartisan revival.

Gun control legislation is the immediate issue, but the math since mid-February has been consistent: more Republicans crossing over to vote for cloture despite continued opposition from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).Immigration, gun deals make Tea Party lawmakers restless  House conservatives are growing restless.

With bipartisan deals emerging on guns and immigration, Tea Party lawmakers in the lower chamber are warning their leaders to slow down. It's too soon to celebrate. But you'd have to be blind to not notice that the game is changing.

President Obama's budget and his priorities

In his last weekly address, President Obama talked about his North Star.
Our top priority as a nation, and my top priority as President, must be doing everything we can to reignite the engine of America’s growth: a rising, thriving middle class. That’s our North Star. That must drive every decision we make.Matt Yglesias noticed how the President's budget addressed the inequality that is plaguing the middle class.
Obama expands Medicaid, increases EITC and Child Tax Credits, makes the Opportunity Tax Credit permanent, and spares the poor from the cuts involved in adoping the chained CPI. How does he do it? Well, he does it in several ways, but one big part of the story is reducing tax deductions for rich people.Annie Lowrey noticed the same thing.
The Obama budget proposal released Wednesday, like other White House budgets before it, also emphasizes the problem of inequality and the failure of the American economy to promote a thriving middle class...

The budget includes several …