Monthly Archives: March 2009

Sebelius Taxes

Are you f***** kidding me?

_Charitable contributions over $250 are supposed to include an acknowledgment letter from the charity in order for a deduction to be taken. Out of 49 charitable contributions made, three letters couldn’t be found.

_Sebelius and her husband sold their home in 2006 and then took a mistaken deduction for mortgage interest.

_Insufficient documentation was found for some business expense deductions.

GOP Budget Cuts? Well, ah

At about 1:50 in this video, Donnie Deutsch, the token, occasional liberal in the CNBC “Power Lunch” gang asks Sen. Jeff Session (R-Ala.) to be specific about the budget cuts he would call for.  His answer begins with, “Well, ah” and goes downhill from there.


Note how co-anchor Sue Herrera rescues Sessions.

Kudos to any interviewer who asks for specificity when pols mouth vague talking points with no substance behind them.  Sessions finally retreats to the “the president presents a budget, not us” defense.

But in the tax cut debate, that question – what would you cut in the budget? – is often ignored by too many journalists who don’t bother to listen to answers.

Maybe the public has caught on to the disingenuousness of this argument.  But I’m not particularly optimistic.  It may be that now, people want jobs and would be happy to be taxed.  Once they are flush again, they may be susceptible to this false argument once again.


From today’s Media Notes by Howard Kurtz on

The easy, liberal solution would have been to keep postponing the day of reckoning. Instead, Obama slammed on the brakes, saying the companies haven’t gone far enough.

The “liberal” solution?  What makes it a liberal solution?  Oh, wait a minute.  This is Howard Kurtz, hubby of a Republican consultant and widely considered to be biased.

Furthermore, Kurtz maintains, the downfall of the auto industry?  It’s Obama’s fault.

…And if [the automakers] go belly-up and 100,000 jobs are lost, who owns the problem? Obama does.

Oh really!?

Democrats Implode

Not a lot new in Jonathan Chait’s New Republic article about feckless Congressional Democrats, but he sums it up nicely.

At this early date, nobody can know whether or not Barack Obama will escape this fate. But the contours of failure are now clearly visible. In Obama’s case, as with his predecessors, the prospective culprit is the same: Democrats in Congress, and especially the Senate. At a time when the country desperately needs a coherent response to the array of challenges it faces, the congressional arm of the Democratic Party remains mired in fecklessness, parochialism, and privilege. Obama has made mistakes, as did his predecessors. Yet the constant recurrence of legislative squabbling and drift suggests a deeper problem than any characterological or tactical failures by these presidents: a congressional party that is congenitally unable to govern.

Indeed.  Chait reminds us that while Obama won by 7 points, Bush actually lost the popular vote in 2000 but he and the Republican Congress governed as if they had a mandate.

Even at this early date, the contrast between Democrats under Obama and Republicans under Bush is stark. Republicans did not denounce Bush for squandering a budget surplus to benefit the rich, the way Democrats now assail Obama for big spending and deficits. And Republicans did not refuse to use the budget procedures available to them to break through the Senate’s inherent lethargy. Republicans, in other words, acted like a parliamentary party.

Part of the problem are Senate rules and the way the GOP has exploited them – when the Democrats didn’t.

Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute penned an article in AEI’s magazine titled "Our Broken Senate." Over the last three decades, the filibuster, once a rare weapon used to express unusually strong objections, has dramatically expanded and turned into a routine, 60-vote supermajority requirement. During the same time period, the Senate has developed a new, anonymous one-person filibuster called a "hold." The clubby traditions of the Senate have allowed these new practices to expand unchallenged. "The always individual-oriented Senate," writes Ornstein, "has become even more indulgent of the demands of each of its 100 egotists."

The Senate poses a particular obstacle to Democrats. Its structure gives greater voice to residents of low-population states, who tilt more Republican than the country as a whole. If you assume that every senator represents half the population of that state, then the Republican caucus represents less than 38 percent of the public. In electoral terms, we think of that as a tiny, even fringe minority. It’s less than the share of the electorate that voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964. But it supports enough senators to block the majority’s will.

Chait summarizes two problems the Democrats face.

One reason is that Democrats are trapped by their past. America’s two major parties have, historically, lacked much ideological cohesion. The GOP contained conservatives alongside progressives. The Democratic Party consisted of everything from Northern liberals to Southern reactionaries. The latter, in particular, held disproportionate sway in Congress. Having less in common with Democratic presidents than Republican ones, they carved out an independent role and guarded their prerogatives.

Since Democrats controlled the Congress almost continuously for more than 60 years beginning in 1933, the culture of Congress left a deeper imprint on their party. Republicans, shut out from the perks of majority status, finally decided under the opposition leadership of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s that their only path to power lay in partisan discipline.

Democrats, on the other hand, came of age under the old Democratic chieftains, and they have mostly aped that style. They do not fall in line, even under a Democratic president who mostly shares their goals. Shortly after Obama took office, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced, "I don’t work for him." Even House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, whose Harlem constituents danced in the streets after Obama’s election, sniffed of Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the rich, "I have to study it but I really don’t take presidents’ recommendations that seriously." Recommendation–that is the term that summarizes Congress’s attitude. A president can suggest whatever he likes, but Congress is the one making the decisions, and don’t you forget it.

A second factor encouraging Democrats to buck their presidents is the role of the rich and business interests. Unless you are a high school student reading this article in your civics course, in which case I’m sorry to dispel your illusions, you will not be stunned to learn that the affluent carry disproportionate political weight with elites in both parties. So, while people who earn more than $250,000 per year make up just a tiny slice of the electorate, they make up a huge chunk of any congressman’s friends, acquaintances, and fund-raisers.

What’s more, whatever their disposition toward business in general, Democrats feel it is not just a right but a duty to slavishly attend to the interests of their home-state businesses. That is why Kent Conrad upholds even the most absurd demands of agribusiness, or why even a good-government progressive like Michigan’s Carl Levin parrots the auto industry’s line on regulating carbon dioxide.

…Some moderate Democrats seem to suffer from a conflation of their own fund-raising strategies with responsible fiscal policy. The Wall Street Journal reported, of a group of Democratic Senate centrists, "Their stated goal is to rein in deficits and to protect business interests." In fact, this is not a goal but two often-conflicting goals, and neither is synonymous with "the national interest." This sort of behavior didn’t hurt Bush because his agenda largely was synonymous with business interests. But the Democratic agenda isn’t, and Democratic confusion of the two is poisonous.

..Taken as a whole, then, the influence of business and the rich unites Republicans and splits Democrats.

In the end, Obama and those who supported him, will suffer.

Democrats have locked themselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When their party controls all of Washington, things tend to go south quickly. The president’s popularity plunges, and soon his copartisans in Congress find themselves scrambling to keep from losing their own seats in the political undertow. It happened to Carter in 1978 and 1980, and again to Clinton in 1994.

And, so, they hedge their bets by carving out an independent identity. It doesn’t matter that Obama is popular now, or that a majority of Americans (according to a recent Pew poll) reject the criticism that he’s "trying to do too much." If Obama defies history and retains his popularity, they’ll retain their seats anyway. They have to worry about the scenario where Obama turns into an albatross.

But, of course, the more Democrats defect, the more the president is defined as an extreme liberal, and the more ineffectual he seems as his agenda crashes upon the shoals. Ultimately, the moderates find there is no escape. Republicans in Congress grasped the futility of beggar-thy-neighbor survivalism, and they stood behind Bush in 2005 and 2006, even as his popularity fell to Nixonian levels. The hard truth for Democrats is that Obama’s popularity is bound to fall. The economy will not turn around overnight, and the voters’ memory of disastrous GOP rule will grow dimmer and dimmer with time. The one factor within the Democrats’ control is whether their constituents see Obama as a s
trong leader taking action, like Roosevelt or Kennedy, or a floundering weakling, like Carter or first-term Clinton.

It seems impossible to believe that this party, with the challenges before the country so great and the opportunity to address them so rare, would once again follow the path to self-immolation. Yet, somehow, the Democrats can’t help themselves.

In the end, Democratic leaders suffer mostly from a lack of a spine.  I’ve toyed with the idea of going to Nevada in 2010 to work for whomever runs against Harry Reid.  If it takes his defeat to remove him from his leadership position, it may be, however heavy a price to pay, one well worth it.

Reid the Rube

Has there ever been a more feckless Democratic Senate leader than Sen. Harry Reid?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that John Roberts misled the Senate during his confirmation hearings by pretending to be a moderate – and that the United States is now “stuck” with him as chief justice. 

“Roberts didn’t tell us the truth, at least Alito told us who he was,” Reid said, referring to the second Supreme Court justice nominated by President George W. Bush, Samuel Alito. “But we’re stuck with those two young men, and we’ll try to change by having some moderates in the federal courts system as time goes on – I think that will happen.” 

Reid’s comments, which came during a wide-ranging discussion hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, reflect Democratic concerns that Roberts presented himself as a neutral arbiter of the law but has wielded a relentlessly conservative agenda.

No shit, Sherlock.  Most of us knew it at the time.  But believing Roberts’ lies gave Reid cover so he didn’t have to hurt the GOPer’s feelings by filibustering the nomination.

And then Reid has the balls to tell progressives to back off.

A Numberless Agenda

With yesterday’s announcement by Regug congressman that they have a “budget blueprint” with no numbers, a larger story went unreported.  According to my sources, the numberless budget is part of a greater legislative agenda the GOPers are preparing:

  • All baseball, football and basketball games will no longer be allowed to keep score.  Instead, umpires will decide baseball games based on the most beautiful swing, most graceful dive for a ball and most intense crotch scratch.  Football referees will decide fiercest tackle, best QB scramble and most creative touchdown dance.  Basketball refs will rely solely on best chest thumpings.
  • Top 25 basketball rankings will be determined by “best dressed” team.
  • Swimming competition will be judge differently for men and women. Men will be judged on best abs and women on best nipple reveal.
  • Weather forecasters will no longer be allowed to predict temperatures.  Instead, they will rely on the Homeland Security Advisory system of colors – red, orange, yellow, blue and green — as they already are in place and the GOPers estimate they can save billions of dollars in temperature tracking.
  • Home mortgages will no longer be offered with a specific interest.  Instead, the new system will simply be:  If your house has a swimming pool, pay what you want; If it is needs painting, pay whatever the banks want for two years and then allow them to foreclose.
  • Traffic tickets will no longer come with specific fines.  If you drive a luxury car, you will receive a warning and an invitation to a GOP fundraiser.  If you drive an American car, you will be asked to donate to the Autoworkers union.  If your surname is Spanish or Arabic, you will deported to Sudan.
  • Finally, no election will be determined by counting votes.  Instead, given its proven track record, the Supreme Court will decide all elections, but with a changes from the 2000 election process.  After deliberations and a canvass of all the judges, Antonin Scalia will decide what’s best for the country.

Gaza Offensive

In a report on yesterday’s “Morning Edition” on NPR, Israeli soldiers recounted actions in the recent Gaza offensive.

Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli army veteran, who has interviewed more than 20 soldiers who fought in the conflict:

Some soldiers from some units who led this operation in the front, basically when they received the briefing, it was – guys, we’re entering in, everything that moves, everything that is a threat, everything you are afraid of, you shoot.

NPR reporter Eric Westervelt continues: 

Shaul says some of the soldiers he’s interviewed also say they destroyed civilian property and homes, actions that seemed to have little or no tactical purpose or necessity. Some soldiers, he says, called it gratuitous and stupid.

Soldiers interviewed by the Military Institute and Breaking the Silence also allege the army’s chief rabbi used an inflammatory religious and nationalist rhetoric to encourage soldiers to see the Gaza attack as a sacred fight to expel non-Jews from Jewish land.

The rabbi’s office passed out booklets during the war that among other things urged soldiers not to show mercy to the enemy. The army’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronsky, is from Itamar, a West Banks settlement with a history of right-wing activism. Former soldier Yehuda Shaul says the picture that emerges is of a chief military rabbi promoting the fight in Gaza as a holy war.


It’s more than a holy war. You know, there was testimony of one of the guys who came to us – he’s a religious reservist who, you know, there’s a rabbi who approached him; he spoke in the terms of the forces of light against the forces of darkness, a very religious and messianic language, you know. Of course it’s disturbing.

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported on charges that the Israeli army illegally used white phosphorus.

Chemical weapons to kill civilians.  War tactics with “little or no purpose” that were “gratuitous.”  “[A]sacred fight to expel non-Jews from Jewish land.”

You have to wonder if the Israeli army has embarked on a Jewish jihad or the second Holocaust.

Regulating the Too Big to Fail

I didn’t get a chance to watch much of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s testimony before Congress today (though I saw enough to know he’s looking a lot more confident and assertive these days).  The chatter on CNBC was that  Congress is showing him new found respect and actually asking questions instead of acting prosecutorial. 

But what about his plan for regulating the financial industry.  I’ll leave it to others to parse the details.  (I couldn’t do it if I tried.)  But in the Washington Post’s article about the plan one thing is clear:  The administration has no plans to ensure that financial institutions do not become too big to fail.

The administration sent the first piece of proposed legislation to Congress this morning, which would grant the government the power to seize any large, troubled financial firm.

…Geithner discussed the proposed legislation at the hearing on Capitol Hill this morning, in addition to other steps aimed at limiting the risk that the largest financial firms pose to the economy.

…He said financial products and institutions should be regulated according to their economic function and the risks they pose, not their legal form.

…The agency would regulate the largest financial firms, including hedge funds and insurers not currently subject to federal regulation.

…Geithner called for legislation that would define which financial firms are sufficiently large and important to be subjected to this increased regulation.

You get the drift.  There will be no regulation that limits the size that financial institutions can attain.  I think that’s a mistake, though I’m willing to listen to arguments about why we need to let financial firms become behemoths.

It seems that at least two purposes would be served by limiting size.  One, If a firm fails, its stockholders, investors and employees take the fall, not taxpayers.  That’s the way it works in a capitalist system – or at least it’s supposed to.  Second, limiting size would also likely limit compensation plans.  If you can’t bring in a gazillion dollars in profits, you can’t make a bazillion in bonuses. 

Apparently, preventing companies from becoming too big to fail is not an off the wall idea.

If they are too big to fail, make them smaller.”

Nixon Treasury Secretary George Shultz about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

But maybe I’m wrong.  After all, a Repug is the only one I can find to agree with me.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), voiced general support for stronger regulatory authority but said that "any new regime for resolving or liquidating non-banks" should not rely on taxpayer funding.

Treasury’s legislative proposal "suggests the administration is considering using taxpayer funding to pay the cost of resolving these failed financial firms," he said. "This to me is unacceptable and would serve only to promote moral hazard and perpetuate a too-big-to-fail doctrine that the American people have squarely rejected."

Or do I have “the American people” behind me?

Obama Looks Straight Ahead

The Democratic Strategist Managing Editor Ed Kilgore observed that President Obama looked straight ahead during his opening statement at his press conference earlier this week.  Kilgore thought – and I agree – that Obama was to trying to make better eye contact with the TV audience, something he couldn’t do with the teleprompters only to the left and right of him.  At the presser, he had one in the middle.

At today’s town hall meeting, he did the same.  It’s clear he’s trying to make better eye contact with the viewer at home.  Good move.  But they need to make sure that the camera angle that most observers will see is the one closest to the teleprompter.  Certainly not the POLITICO angle.

Even on CNBC, it didn’t look like he was looking directly at the home audience.