Who is Ellie Light?

Yesterday I posted a letter being sent to several newspapers by someone signing their name “Ellie Light.” My guess is that she was an Obama supporter who was sending the same letter around to multiple newspapers. Conservatives thinks there is a plot in the White House to plant a letter written there. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has been trying to unravel this.

Initially it appeared they had the answer as they spoke with a nurse claiming to be the Ellie Light who wrote the letters.  Then things got more complicated:

A woman in Texas named Barbara Brooks – who knows a lot about this whole scam, whose information turns up in some of the above-mentioned records, now says the person with the husky voice is actually a male acquaintance.

He sent letters to newspapers using the name “Ellie Light” – one of the pseudonyms he has used over several years – and now, is using Brooks’ name, she said.

“He’s making up all kinds of garbage,” said Brooks.

Asked why he would claim her identity, Brooks said he apparently is afraid of being harmed by “right-wing crazies” in California as the real story emerges.

“He just doesn’t want anybody to trace him because he’s afraid of the right-wing crazies up in Bakersfield,” Brooks said. “It’s not right for him to lie,” she added, but he’s afraid.

This conversation with Brooks was followed by yet another call with the husky-voiced individual, who was adamant that “she” really is Barbara Brooks.

Gawker says this may be “Ellie Light” aka Winston Stewart:

The actual identity of Ellie Light remains uncertain. There remains on evidence of the conspiracy theory popular in the right wing blogs that this all originates at the White House. I imagine they won’t be satisfied until they see Ellie Light’s birth certificate.

Protests Over Profiteering At Tea Party Convention

The Tea Party movement is a scam–both intellectually and financially. Intellectually the tea baggers spread the talking points of the far right with simplistic views on the issues based upon a lack of understanding of the facts. Besides taking advantage of the ignorance of the tea baggers to promote their political agenda, some leaders of the movement are also using this for financial gain as I recently discussed. Even some in the Tea Party movement are catching on:

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”

The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.

The convention, to be held in Nashville in early February, made a splash by attracting big-name politicians. (Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech.) But some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin’s speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny…

Philip Glass, the national director of the National Precinct Alliance, announced late Sunday that “amid growing controversy” around the convention, his organization would no longer participate. His group seeks to take over the Republican Party from the bottom by filling the ranks of local and state parties with grass-roots conservatives, and Mr. Glass had been scheduled to lead workshops on its strategy.

“We are very concerned about the appearance of T.P.N. profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement,” he said in a statement. “We were under the impression that T.P.N. was a nonprofit organization like N.P.A., interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.”

Mr. Glass said he was also concerned about the role in the convention of groups like Tea Party Express, which has held rallies across the country through two bus tours, and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party umbrella. He called them “Republican National Committee-related groups,” and added, “At best, it creates the appearance of an R.N.C. hijacking; at worst, it is one.”

Erick Erickson, the editor of the influential conservative blog RedState.com, wrote this month that something seemed “scammy” about the convention. And the American Liberty Alliance withdrew as a sponsor after its members expressed concerns about the convention’s finances being channeled through private bank accounts and its organizer being “for profit.”

“When we look at the $500 price tag for the event and the fact that many of the original leaders in the group left over similar issues, it’s hard for us not to assume the worst,” Eric Odom, the executive director of the American Liberty Alliance and an organizer of the tax day rallies last April, wrote on the group’s Web site.

More commentary via MemeorandumThe Atlantic Politics Channel, Washington Monthly, Top of the Ticket, Mother Jones, Wonkette, The Politico, Politics Daily and The Monkey Cage

Spending Freeze And Good News on the Deficit

While it is not surprising that everyone is talking about the proposed spending freeze, I’m not sure that this is the biggest economic news of the day. I still want to see more details on the freeze, but as it comes down to decreasing spending in some areas in order to increase spending in others it largely sounds like a PR attempt to point out the fact that Obama is hardly the big spender the right makes him out to be (and some on the left wish he was). Those who paid attention to what Obama was saying while campaigning before the crash should not be surprised by his desire for fiscal restraint.

The more significant news today might be that the Congressional Budget Office has improved its estimates as to the size of the deficit this year:

The deficit will come in at $1.35 trillion in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30, the Congressional Budget Office said, a slight improvement over the $1.38 trillion figure it predicted last August.

That’s also slightly lower than the record $1.4 trillion posted in the last fiscal year.

But at 9.2 percent of gross domestic product, the deficit still hovers at levels not seen since the end of World War Two.

Other reports attribute the lower estimates to a combination of  less money spent on the bank bail outs and the economy improving more than expected. While there is still a long term problem to be dealt with, this news sure contradicts the tea-bagger narrative.

I suspect that the goal of announcing the freeze is to try to change this narrative. We will have to see how this plays out but I’m not very optimistic this will work. There has already been overwhelming evidence that the conservative meme that they are more fiscally responsible than the democrats is outright false. Conservatives prefer to exaggerate the effects of the stimulus on the deficit and ignore the Republican record. Adding talk of a freeze is unlikely to change this. Rather than acknowledging that the Democrats have shown greater fiscal restraint in recent years than the Republicans, conservatives will point to any areas where spending does increase as signs that Obama was lying while ignoring any offsetting cuts.

What Brown Voters Want

Daniel Larison at The American Conservative looked at the  Washington Post poll of Massachusetts voters. I’ll post his interpretation to avoid any question of the results being spun to support Obama’s policies. Of particular interest are the views of Brown voters on Obama and on health care reform:

According to the new Washington Post poll of Massachusetts voters, between approximately one-third and one-half of Brown’s voters claimed that neither Obama (52%) nor the Democratic agenda (29%) in Washington was a factor in their vote. The difference in opposition to Obama among Brown voters (43%) and opposition to the Democratic agenda (65%) is fairly remarkable, as if one could cast a vote to convey displeasure with the agenda without also sending a message of opposition to Obama. Inexplicably, a small percentage of Brown voters (4 and 5% respectively) said that they were voting for Brown to express support for Obama or the Democratic agenda. We also find that 29% of Brown’s voters had voted for Obama, and 33% still approve of Obama’s job performance. 24% of Brown voters are enthusiastic or satisfied with administration policies! They have a funny way of showing it…

Looking at what Brown’s voters want him to do with respect to health care, we see that they are divided right down the middle: 50% (47% strongly) do want Brown to work to halt Democratic health care efforts, and 48% (40% strongly) want him to work with Democrats to make changes to their proposals. Half of Brown’s voters want him to sink Obama’s agenda, full stop, and approximately half of them want him to collaborate with Democrats. That is what we might call a mixed message. Looking at Brown voters’ opposition to the health care bill itself, we see that two-thirds of them strongly oppose the bill, which is consistent with what we saw earlier, 14% “somewhat oppose” it and 13% actually support it. 26% of Brown voters believe government should be doing more “to solve problems.” 51% of Brown voters support MassCare. Perhaps most amusing, 52% of Brown voters approved of Ted Kennedy’s job performance.

So what we have here is a significant bloc of Brown voters, at least 24% of them, who approve of Obama, support his policies, and want more activist government, and some of them even support the bill Brown has promised to kill. On one level, it makes perfect sense that these people voted for Brown, because Obama and the Democratic agenda were apparently not factors in deciding how to vote.

The Right Way To Play The Blame Game

James Carville argues that Democrats are making a mistake in not playing the blame game and placing the blame where it belongs:

Democrats would not be playing the blame game with one another for the loss or for the healthcare debacle if they had only pointed fingers at those (or in this case, the one) who put Americans (and most of the world) in the predicament we’re in: George W. Bush.

It is under his disastrous tenure in the White House that health insurance premiums nearly doubled for the average American family and the number of uninsured skyrocketed. It was under Mr Bush that the deficit spiralled out of control as we fought an unnecessary and endless $3,000bn war in Iraq and enacted the largest unfunded entitlement programme in history with the Medicare prescription drug benefit. It was Mr Bush’s economic team that worshipped at the Church of Deregulation and was asleep at the wheel as banks and insurance companies became too big to fail.

Carville complains that Obama  “admirably and eloquently argued that the US was ready to turn the page on the Bush years.” While he might be right that Obama has gone too far in trying to turn the page, such political charges are better made by people other than the president.

Responding To The Cry Babies Who Forgot The Past

George Bush entered office with a surplus and after eight years ran up a massive deficit, the size of which was hidden by fighting two wars largely off the books. Barack Obama entered office with a wrecked economy as well as the deficit run up by George Bush. Now the right wing noise machine blames Obama for both the state of the economy and the deficit, with some people having such a short memory that they believe this.

Andrew Sullivan posted an email from such a person and responded:

If this is the basis for revolt, what can one say?

If Obama and Bush had refused to bail out the banks, does this small business owner believe she’d be in business at all? Is she demanding – in a conservative outlet – that the federal government bail out all small businesses in trouble? Or what? Who “threw” her small business under which bus? And then the usual reckless spending schtick – when basic economics will tell you that drastically tightening your belt in a recession that might have been as bad as the 1930s would not exactly have helped small business.

What you have here is big babyism. After the worst downturn in memory, bequeathed a massive and growing debt, two failing wars, a financial sector threatening to bring down the entire economy, Obama has betrayed this person by preventing a Second Great Depression.

We will hear more of these non-sequiturs; the 24-hour news cycle prevents any memory past the last six months; the easy, lazy meme of Obama-the-lefty will be pressed home by FNC/RNC and the MSM will grab onto it because it’s a narrative they can understand and that helps insulate them from charges of bias. That none of this has any direct relationship with economic and political reality is barely relevant.

Immediate Benefits of Health Care Reform

One potential political problem with passing the Senate health care reform bill (and hopefully making some improvements through budget reconciliation) is that people will continue to hear the distortions from Republicans but won’t see many of the benefits for a few more years. Jonathan Cohn notes this problem and reminds us that there are real benefits which will be seen soon after passage of the health care reform bill:

These benefits will be abstractions when you run for reelection in the fall. The big structural changes to health care–the ones that guarantee good, affordable coverage for all–wouldn’t happen for several years. And without tangible benefits, voters will remain easy prey for Republican misinformation–the kind that nearly derailed reform over the summer and, undoubtedly, helped elect Brown on Tuesday.

But the people who constructed this reform plan aren’t stupid. They knew voters would be anxious to see results. And they designed the reform plan to produce such results. Health reform is full of what wonks call “deliverables”–tangible benefits scheduled to take effect mere months after the bill becomes law. Among them:

Seniors will see the Medicare “donut hole” start to shrink.

Families will get to keep kids on their policies past high school, until the kids are 26.

Preventative services will have “first-dollar” coverage, meaning you’ll pay nothing out-of-pocket–that’s right, nada, zilch–when you get a regular checkup.

People who are uninsurable because of high medical risks will get access to catastrophic policies, as a stopgap until full coverage becomes available in a few years.

The government will set up a website with information about different insurance plans, letting people compare benefits in standardized, plain English terms.

It will also make investments in the health care workforce–spending money to train or hire new primary care doctors, nurses, and direct care workers.

Insurers will have to fess up about how much money they divert from patient care to overhead and profits–and to set up systems for appealing coverage denials.

People will have the right to go to the emergency room–and women the right to see an obstetrician/gynecologist–without prior approval.

The list goes on.

It is possible people will not see the benefits on this list because people in Massachusetts, who see no reason to vote for a national plan similar to what they already have in their state, voted out of fear last week.

Big John’s Sex Tape

There has been talk about a sex tape with John Edwards and Rielle Hunter since last June but it is being discussed more today, probably due this item in the report from Gawker:

Sources have told us that, in the throes of their affair, John Edwards and Rielle Hunter made a sex tape that contains “several sex acts.” And that his aide, Andrew Young found it on an unmarked DVD.

The tape, say both our sources, is explicit and reveals that Edwards “is physically very striking, in a certain area. Everyone who sees it says ‘whoa’. She’s behind the camera at first.”

Such stories are bound to help provide publicity for Andrew Young’s book, The Politician, which is scheduled to be released on February 2. At least John Edwards might have a one day reprieve as people will be paying far more attention to the season premiere of Lost than to him on that date.

Economists Disagree With Public On Benefits of Stimulus

Polls based upon general perceptions by the public often say very little about the actual policies and are often more a reflection of the misconceptions being spread by the right wing noise machine. I recently noted that many of those who say they oppose the health care reform plan agree with it when the specifics are actually explained to them. Another poll shows widespread public belief that the stimulus money was wasteful. Joe Klein thinks these people are Too Dumb to Thrive.

While Klein does present a brief argument as to why they are wrong, Steven Benen provides further information:

Among economists, however, we seem awfully close to complete unanimity that the Democrats’ recovery effort rescued the economy from collapse, created jobs, and generated economic growth that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Among the experts, this isn’t even worth debating anymore — it’s simply an obvious truth that the stimulus was effective.

USA Today published an item today after surveying a panel of economists.

“President Obama’s stimulus package saved jobs — but the government still needs to do more to breathe life into the economy, according to USA TODAY’s quarterly survey of 50 economists.”

Unemployment would have hit 10.8% — higher than December’s 10% rate — without Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program, according to the economists’ median estimate. The difference would translate into another 1.2 million lost jobs.

Not surprisingly, the economists believe there should be more stimulus, not less, including increased spending on infrastructure.

Latest Conservative Conspiracy Theory Sees Pro-Obama Letters As Coming From White House

It must be a very slow news day. The latest thing to get the conservative bloggers all worked up is a letter sent under the name of Ellie Light. At very least the same letter was sent to multiple newspapers, and it also appears that the writer attached different addresses from different cities. Ben Smith posted a copy of the letter as emailed to him a few weeks ago:

A year ago, if we had read in the paper that employers were hiring again, that health care legislation was proceeding without a bump, that Afghanistan suddenly became a nice place to take your kids, we would’ve known we were being lied to. Back then, we recognized that the problems Obama inherited as president wouldn’t go away overnight.

During his campaign, Obama clearly said that an economy that took eight years to break couldn’t be fixed in a year, that Afghanistan was a graveyard of empires and would not be an easy venture for us. Candidate Obama didn’t feed us happy talk, which is why we elected him. He never said America could solve our health care, economic and security problems without raising the deficit. Instead, he talked of hard choices, of government taking painful and contentious first steps towards fixing problems that can’t be left for another day.

Right after Obama’s election, we seemed to grasp this. We understood that companies would be happy to squeeze more work out of frightened employees, and would be slow to hire more. We understood that the banks that had extorted us out of billions of dollars, were lying when they said they would share their recovery. We understood that a national consensus on health care would not come easily. Candidate Obama never claimed that his proposed solutions would work flawlessly right out of the box, and we respected him for that.

But today, the president is being attacked as if he were a salesman who promised us that our problems would wash off in the morning. He never made such a promise. It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything.

Compared to the nasty and dishonest letters from Obama haters, typically repeating the same lines, this is extremely tame. Many conservative bloggers are claiming that this is being sent out by the White House without any evidence to back up their claim. This is probably yet another baseless conservative conspiracy theory.  Besides, I wonder how many of them were upset when the false claims spread by the Swift Boat Liars were eventually tracked back to Karl Rove’s misinformation operation at the Bush White House.

My bet is that this is one of a large number of Obama supporters who is acting on her own. We have seen many examples of individuals working to support Obama since there was first talk about him running for president. It is not necessary for the White House to send out letters. There are plenty of Obama supporters who regularly do so on their own.

It would be wrong of her if she sent out the letter with false return addresses (and perhaps a fake name) but considering the state of politics in this country this is hardly worth getting terribly upset over. The Cleveland Plain Dealer noticed the variety of return addresses on this letter in other papers and received this response from Light:

In a Sunday morning e-mail to The Plain Dealer, Light denied speculation that she’s actually President Obama, his wife, Michelle, or National Security Council member Samantha Power.

“I’m flattered, and I must give the Tea Partiers credit for even knowing who [Power] is,” Light’s e-mail said. “But what I want to point out is that, if I were a person trying to imply this huge groundswell of support for our beleaguered president, then I would have signed the letter with different names. However, as you may have noticed, my main point is that absence of support for the president.

“I am not surprised that an article that tends to discredit a pro-Obama letter-writer has lots of readers. I understand that there are 10 million dittoheads that daily scour the airwaves, print and online press for something nasty to say about the president, so I’m sure your article will get more hits,” she wrote in another e-mail later Sunday. “I’m not sure why you would write me that people would probably be interested in what I have to say. My impression is that my letter could contain Chinese food recipes with a Pro-Obama subject line, and the event would be interpreted as fodder for that same highly-motivated, but narrow class of people.”

Representatives of the White Houses media affairs office did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

Light said she didn’t submit her letter to all the outlets that published it, and said many carried it after it was cited several weeks ago by Politico’s Ben Smith. She says she prefers submitting her letters to smaller papers, “specifically because I think rationality needs a broader audience.”

Further in the article she is quoted again:

“I think there’s only one reason why an editor publishes something in his or her paper: because they think it is going to be read,” Light’s e-mail said.

“If my letter were boilerplate [White House senior adviser David] Axelrod dribble, as has been suggested by your new fan club, it would not have been published. Many of my friends have written letters to the editor and bemoan the fact that they never get published. I reply that everything they wrote in their letters has been said before by others. I think, however, this one letter that I wrote, is unique enough, that it was worth widespread attention, simple as that.”