Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Rich Versus the Rest of US, the Courtier Press, and US Spying On Us (What a Tangled Web!)

[BREAKING NEWS: Bernanke:   Recession likely if Congress doesn't act

BofA plans $3 billion of new cost cuts, posts second-quarter profit]

The squawks in the mainstream media (MSM) belie the truth about our upcoming elections.

It is "the rich versus the rest of us."

Policy and the Personal

Paul Krugman

A lot of people inside the Beltway are tut-tutting about the recent campaign focus on Mitt Romney’s personal history — his record of profiting even as workers suffered, his mysterious was-he-or-wasn’t-he role at Bain Capital after 1999, his equally mysterious refusal to release any tax returns from before 2010. Some of the tut-tutters are upset at any suggestion that this election is about the rich versus the rest. Others decry the personalization: why can’t we just discuss policy?

And neither group is living in the real world.

First of all, this election really is — in substantive, policy terms — about the rich versus the rest.

The story so far: Former President George W. Bush pushed through big tax cuts heavily tilted toward the highest incomes. As a result, taxes on the very rich are currently the lowest they’ve been in 80 years. President Obama proposes letting those high-end Bush tax cuts expire; Mr. Romney, on the other hand, proposes big further tax cuts for the wealthy. 

The impact at the top would be large. According to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the Romney plan would reduce the annual taxes paid by the average member of the top 1 percent by $237,000 compared with the Obama plan; for the top 0.1 percent that number rises to $1.2 million. No wonder Mr. Romney’s fund-raisers in the Hamptons attracted so many eager donors that there were luxury-car traffic jams.

What about everyone else? Again according to the policy center, Mr. Romney’s tax cuts would increase the annual deficit by almost $500 billion. He claims that he would make this up by closing loopholes, in a way that wouldn’t shift the tax burden toward the middle class — but he has refused to give any specifics, and there’s no reason to believe him. 

Realistically, those big tax cuts for the rich would be offset, sooner or later, with higher taxes and/or lower benefits for the middle class and the poor.

 So as I said, this election is, in substantive terms, about the rich versus the rest, and it would be doing voters a disservice to pretend otherwise.

In that case, however, why not run a campaign based on that substance, and leave Mr. Romney’s personal history alone? The short answer is, get real. 

Look, voters aren’t policy wonks who pore over Tax Policy Center analyses. And when a politician — say, Mr. Obama — cites actual numbers in a speech, well, there’s always a politician on the other side to contradict him. How are voters supposed to know who’s telling the truth? In fact, earlier this year focus groups given an accurate description of Mr. Romney’s policy proposals refused to believe that any politician would take such a position.

Perhaps in a better world we could count on the news media to sort through the conflicting claims. In this world, however, most voters get their news from short snippets on TV, which almost never contain substantive policy analysis. The print media do offer analysis pieces — but these pieces, out of a desire to seem “balanced,” all too often simply repeat the he-said-she-said of political speeches.

Trust me: you will see very few news analyses saying that Mr. Romney proposes huge tax cuts for the rich, with no plausible offset other than big benefit cuts for everyone else — even though this is the simple truth. Instead, you will see pieces reporting that “Democrats say” that this is what Mr. Romney proposes, matched with dueling quotes from Republican sources.

So how can the Obama campaign cut through this political and media fog? By talking about Mr. Romney’s personal history, and the way that history resonates with the realities of his pro-rich, anti-middle-class policy proposals. 

Thus the entirely true charge that Mr. Romney wants to slash historically low tax rates on the rich even further dovetails perfectly with his own record of extraordinary tax avoidance — so extraordinary that he’s evidently afraid to let voters see his tax returns from before 2010.

The equally true charge that he’s pushing policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of ordinary working Americans meshes with Bain’s record of earning big profits even when workers suffered — a record so stark that Mr. Romney is attempting to distance himself from part of it by insisting that he had nothing to do with Bain’s operations after 1999, even though the company continued to list him as C.E.O. and sole owner until 2002. And so on.

The point is that talking about Mr. Romney’s personal history isn’t a diversion from substantive policy discussion. On the contrary, in a political and media environment strongly biased against substance, talking about Bain and offshore accounts is the only way to bring the real policy issues into focus. And we should applaud, not condemn, the Obama campaign for standing up to the tut-tutters.

Charles Pierce (at Esquire) will no longer put up with that which is no longer put uppable.

He may be the first of the big media voices to out the national pretenders (not that blogtopia has been exactly quiet):

David Brooks, Joe Klein, and the Courtier Press

Charles P. Pierce

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images (Klein); DonkeyHotey for The Politics Blog (Brooks)

That we have, in the main, a courtier press bringing us our political news every day has been beyond question ever since Tim Crouse blew the whistle in The Boys on the Bus back in 1973, only to have every problem he identified in that book get immeasurably worse after he published it.

It is very simple these days. The primary job of an elite political reporter — Joe Klein of Time, say, or David Brooks of The New York Timesis to entertain and to comfort the real owners of the country and its politics, to assure them from time to time that they are really doing the right thing in their stewardship of what was supposed to be a fractious, unruly self-governing republic. It is the elite political reporter's job, upon request, to sing to the real owners of the country a pleasant tune in a charming soprano voice. In return, they become very important players in the increasingly worthless puppet show that the real owners of the country are making out of the politics of the country.

Except that, occasionally, the bill for all the dinners, and conferences, and Aspen Ideas Festivals comes due again, and they have to sing for their supper, and to anyone looking from outside the closed system of their own artificial eminence, they look and sound toweringly ridiculous — buffoonish castrati, singing for their suppers.

And today, lordy lord, we have hit the jackpot on that one.

(I received a note today from Moral Hazard, the Irish setter owned by Brooks for photo-op purposes. "You're on your own," it said. "I'm going to the park and chase pigeons until I no longer want to bite anyone in the balls.")

Both Klein and Brooks have taken to the public prints to reassure Willard Romney — and, by proxy, all of the country's Willard Romneys — that he is being treated so terribly unfairly, darling, by that man in the White House who plainly does not know his place. First, we have Brooks, who never saw a plutocrat for whom he wouldn't happily serve as a footstool....
Romney is going to have to define a vision of modern capitalism. He's going to have to separate his vision from the scandals and excesses we've seen over the last few years. He needs to define the kind of capitalist he is and why the country needs his virtues. Let's face it, he's not a heroic entrepreneur. He's an efficiency expert. It has been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape. That's his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he'll thrive. If not, he's a punching bag.
All those steelworkers, and the people at that paper company, they were puffy and self-indulgent — and not hunks of iron-reinforced man-flesh like, you know, David Brooks — and that's why none of them have jobs anymore. People at the business end of the "system" that so charms David Brooks over the canapes know the real score: The "scandals and excesses" are the system. Take them away, and Romney is clipping coupons back in Michigan.

Move we on, then, to Joe Klein who, having returned from his What's-Bothering-The-Peckerwoods Tour Of The Americas is terribly, terribly offended at the uncivil audacity of a president who seems bound and determined to make himself president again . . . .
The Obama campaign has also constructed a brilliant coffin, custom-made for a turnaround artist. There are many nails in this coffin, some more important than others. The nails are being hammered in a natural progression. There is a logic to this. The current controversy over whether Romney was or was not running Bain capital during the years 1999-2002 is a relatively minor nail - the functional equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bain was involved in the global economy during those years. This meant outsourcing jobs to places like Mexico and China, which meant the creative destruction of obsolete jobs here at home. Whether Romney was directing them or not, these activities were perfectly legal. That doesn't matter, though:  there is confusion about why he was still listed as the boss if he wasn't really the boss, which seems shifty. And there's the question of why he was making tons of money if he wasn't the boss, which is what this is really all about.

It perhaps escaped Klein's notice during his perambulation among America's donut shoppes that what is legal is exactly the problem, just as it was during the last Gilded Age. That's how all those people Out There got in the financial straits in the first place. (The only illegality that the Obama people have hinted at in the way Romney did business is the entirely plausible notion that he played mischievously with Bain's SEC filings.)
Indeed, that's the Willie Horton argument building against Romney. Democrats were appalled by the Horton ads (the most devastating was produced by an "independent" committee, "unrelated" to the Bush campaign). They were, allegedly, racist. Horton was black. But they cut to the heart of a significant problem the Democratic Party had at the time: it was sort of soft on crime, in the midst of the post-Vietnam left's "they're depraved because they're deprived" delusion. And Mitt Romney's Willie Horton? His tax returns.
Uh, no. In fact, holy crap, no. (And what's that "allegedly" doing in there, by the way? You don't think your old dead pal Atwater didn't pick a black convict on purpose?) In 1988, whatever else he was doing, Michael Dukakis was not running on his record as a crime fighter. This time around, Romney has made as his only qualification for the office he is seeking his experience running Bain Capital and, to a lesser extent, the fact that he made the bobsleds run on time.

He isn't even running on his one experience in elective office. That experience — and the personal wealth he accrued from it — is the only measure by which he is allowing himself to be judged, and he is simultaneously demanding to be judged on that measure through incomplete information. This isn't a campaign. This is a long con.

(Klein, by the way, also knows on which side his honoraria are buttered. He, too, praises Bain as an engine of general economic growth, and not simply a gathering of nicely tailored crows come to pick on the carrion of the American economy — "a class act in an industry marked by a critical mass of bottom feeders and low-lifes." He also throws around the phrase "creative destruction," the favorite dodge of people involved in industries unlikely to be pillaged by people like the good personal trainers at Bain Capital.)

The institution of the mainstream press continues to fail us all in so many ways, but none so badly as it fails us in its inability to shake loose all those ingrained instincts for compromising with the truth of things that it continually mistakes for "ethics." 

In the long con of American politics, the mainstream press continues to be the biggest collection of buffoons at the grand ball.

Read more here.

There Are Spies Among Us, and There Shouldn't Be

Charles Pierce, Esquire Magazine

17 July 12

have a suggestion for the Constitutional Law Professor In Chief.

Knock off this scarifying pissantery. Today.

Outside of its embracing of some - but not all, god knows - of the Bush gang's more outre interpretations of the president's national-security powers, the one thing that could cause me to vote this fall for Dr. Jill Stein, my old fellow fencing parent, is the Obama administration's apparent mania for tracing down leaks, and the administration's increasingly clumsy attempts to explain why they're engaging in formalized Egil Krogh-isms when they get caught out. There is simply no excuse for the continuing treatment of Bradley Manning. Their attitude toward the reporter-source relationship in certain areas is downright alarming. And now this - the Food and Drug Administration has an apparent secret-police function.

Moving to quell what one memorandum called the "collaboration" of the F.D.A.'s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and "defamatory" information about the agency.
I don't often play this card, but, if this came out during the Bush administration, you wouldn't be able to get some people off the ceiling with a crowbar. This is not about protecting "secrets." This is about squelching criticism, and using the powers delegated to you by the federal government to do so, regardless of the lame excuses offered by officials of the FDA. This is about spying on members of Congress - from both parties - who tried to exercise their legitimate oversight function.

While they acknowledged that the surveillance tracked the communications that the scientists had with Congressional officials, journalists and others, they said it was never intended to impede those communications, but only to determine whether information was being improperly shared.

And I am the czar of all the Russias

Some slopes are not necessarily slippery, but some of them are luge runs, and this is one of them. If you allow one part of the executive branch - the intelligence community, let's say - to act beyond the Constitution, and you do so with such regularity that it seems to become the political status quo, well, then you license every department of the executive branch to behave the same way. And thus does the FDA take upon itself some of the essential functions and justifications of the CIA, as ludicrous as that sounds in theory.

Over the past decade, the entire executive branch has become in some way police-ified. And again, if you allow that to become the way things are - "Mankind are disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable," Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration Of Independence, "than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed" - you normalize the instincts of authoritarianism both in the government, where they are always barely dormant, but, even worse, in the citizenry as well.

The intercepted e-mails revealed, for instance, that a few of the scientists under surveillance were drafting a complaint in 2010 that they planned to take to the Office of Special Counsel. A short time later, before the complaint was filed, Dr. Smith and another complaining scientist were let go and a third was suspended. In another case, the intercepted e-mails indicated that Paul T. Hardy, another of the dissident employees, had reapplied for an F.D.A. job "and is being considered for a position." (He did not get it.) F.D.A. officials were eager to track future media stories too. When they learned from Mr. Hardy's e-mails that he was considering talking to PBS's "Frontline" for a documentary, they ordered a search for anything else on the same topic.
Science dies without the free flow of information. The same can be said of democracy.

See Also: Reports From F.D.A. Surveillance Operation

And for the final "blow" . . . .
What a Tangled Web

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