Wingnuts Say The Darndest Things: Bombing Iran

“What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all,  and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.’–Sheldon Adelson, a major financial backer of Mitt Romney

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Rand Paul’s Use Of Misinformation Dates Back To Med School

It is looking like looking back at their behavior in school can provide important insights on Republican leaders. During the last presidential campaign we learned that Mitt Romney was a bully and a homophobe while a student at Cranbrook. Rand Paul, who, like Mitt Romney, regularly makes up facts to support his position, showed that he understood how to use misinformation while in medical school.  National Journal found that Paul even admitted it:

Rand Paul was talking with University of Louisville medical students when one of them tossed him a softball. “The majority of med students here today have a comprehensive exam tomorrow. I’m just wondering if you have any last-minute advice.”

“Actually, I do,” said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”

He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. “We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver,” he said. “We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver” and not studying much else.

“So, that’s my advice,” he concluded. “Misinformation works.”

That was a perfect lead-in for an article on the misinformation Rand Paul continues to spread:

“Under Obamacare and the current evolution of things, we have 18,000 diagnostic codes. We’re going to 144,000 diagnostic codes,” Paul told them. It wasn’t the first time he had implied that the number of codes—complete with seemingly absurd categories for injuries from macaws, lampposts, and burning water skis—was exploding as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But fact-checkers across the spectrum, from the conservative website The Blaze to USA Today to the liberal site Think Progress, had thoroughly debunked that notion months earlier. As Paul must know, the new diagnostic codes were approved by the Bush administration and have nothing to do with Obamacare.

Later in the article:

But then, there are the half-truths, cherry-picked factoids, and outright errors that Paul seems steadfastly unwilling to relinquish.

Take health care. Although he’s a doctor, Paul repeatedly misrepresents aspects of the Affordable Care Act. For example, all of those crazy-sounding new billing codes he implies are the spawn of Obamacare were in fact released by the World Health Organization 20 years ago and, as The Blaze reported, approved by the Bush administration in 2008, scheduled for 2011, delayed until 2013, and then delayed again until late 2014, so they’ll finally take effect the same year as most of the ACA.

In discussing the expenses the law will impose on consumers, Paul rarely mentions the subsidies many people will receive, and he sometimes says a single person making $30,000 a year will have to pay $15,000 a year in premiums. The government is going to require somebody to pay 50 percent of their income for health insurance? “It depends on circumstances,” Paul replies. “I can’t tell you where the cutoff is for single without kids. But I think there will be people who are single without kids who don’t get subsidies who will struggle to pay $15,000 for insurance.” PolitiFact labeled that assertion “especially off the mark.” Citing available facts, PolitiFact said such a person would pay at most about $3,000 and could pay far less due to the law’s caps, subsidies, and bare-bones coverage options.

The Louisville med students were worried and curious about Obamacare, which could greatly affect their future. “I will continue to fight to make it less bad, at the very least,” Paul told them. It sounded like he wanted to fix or improve the law. Later, away from those students, asked how he would improve the law, he told National Journal he would try to delay and defund as much of it as possible in hopes of eventually getting rid of it entirely, because “the whole thing is rotten.”

Paul’s logic in justifying the GOP drive to kill Obamacare is dicey, too. He says that while the president won reelection by “a small majority” in 2012, “a majority of the people believe Republicans should be in charge of the House” and therefore don’t want something like the law that was passed solely by Democrats. Obama won last year by nearly 5 million votes. Some people might consider that a small majority. But while Republicans won a majority of House districts, it’s not accurate to say a “majority of the people” wanted a GOP House. Democrats won the House popular vote by more than 1.7 million votes nationwide, the Federal Election Commission reported in July.

On another front, Paul routinely exaggerates the size of the annual federal deficit, pegging it at $1 trillion. In fact, the deficit for fiscal 2013 fell to an estimated $642 billion, heading toward $378 billion in two years, according to a Congressional Budget Office report in May.

Paul, like most Republicans, is also dishonest in blaming the size of the deficit on Obama when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were the biggest spenders in recent years. The current deficit problem is a consequence of George Bush passing on a combination of unfunded expenses and tax cuts to his successor.

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Conservative Denial of Republican Racism

The Republican Party bases much of its appeal on racism and fear, scaring middle class white voters into voting against their true economic interests. They scare people into voting Republican out of fear that poor minorities will take their money, with greatly exaggerated views of the cost of programs such as welfare and foreign aide. At the same time, they have no concept of the real redistribution of wealth underway in this country–Republicans transferring wealth to the top one-tenth of one-percent at the expense of the middle class. While racism permeates the Republican Party and Tea Party movement, they tend to be in total denial of their own racism. Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posts that American Needs A White Republican President.

It is hard to deny that a headline such as this is not racist, but Joe the Plumber follows with: “Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”

The true racists according to Joe appear to be Mexicans,  liberal blacks, and white Democratic presidents. He wrote that, “Many deranged Mexicans believe we should open the country up to them, some saying that much of America belongs to Mexico anyway.”  As for blacks and white Democratic presidents:

Liberal blacks have disagreed with most Republican presidents since Eisenhower, yet these blacks are not considered racists. In fact, when blacks had sanity and disagreed with the policies of racist white Democrat presidents, nobody accused black people of being racists.

Joe believes that blacks should vote Democratic because, he claims, “Reagan ushered in a veritable Renaissance for blacks.” His source? Fox News. Remember what David Frumm said about the effect of Fox creating an artificial reality for Republicans just a few days ago?

Joe also cited current economic data as reason why Obama has been bad for blacks. I haven’t checked on his actual statistics, which I would be skeptical about, but the key factor which Joe ignores is the economic crash caused by Republican economic policies under Bush and the fierce battle waged by Congressional Republicans to hinder economic recovery, especially for the poor and middle class. It would take someone from the Fox artificial reality to really believe that blacks would not be even worse off now if John McCain or Mitt Romney were deciding economic policy instead of Barack Obama.

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The One Thing Mitt Romney Was Right About

Remember how Mitt Romney spent the presidential campaign avoiding making any meaningful statements on political issues or responding to Obama’s actual views? Maybe it wasn’t purely because he’s a pathological liar who preferred to attack an imaginary version of Obama which he made up. Perhaps it was because Romney never really was interested in running for president.

Over the Christmas break of 2010, Mitt Romney and his family took an internal poll on whether he should run for president once more. Twelve family members cast ballots. Ten said no. One of the 10 was Mitt Romney himself.

The doubts that the former Massachusetts governor harbored before ultimately launching his second unsuccessful bid for the presidency are one of several attention-grabbing details in “Collision 2012,” the newest book on the 2012 campaign.

We had a candidate who didn’t want to run heading a party of people who don’t believe in governing.

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Quote of the Day

“Mitt Romney gave a commencement speech where he advised graduates to start a family before they turn 30. He also advised them to pay for it by inheriting millions of dollars.” –Conan O’Brien

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Quote of the Day

“In his first interview since losing the election, Mitt Romney says it kills him to not be in the White House. He said he’ll always think of it as the one house he couldn’t buy.” –Conan O’Brien

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Mitt Romney Admits He Didn’t Believe What He Said

“What I said is not what I believe.” –Mitt Romney in interview with Fox

Romney was specifically referring to the 47 percent comment but this quote has attracted considerable attention today for what it says about Mitt Romney’s entire political career.  As First Read commented, “Folks, that one sentence sums up Romney’s two failed presidential bids.”

Ironically, the 47 percent comment appears to be about the only thing Romney really believed during the campaign. He even showed this mind set during the same interview.

In a polarized political world, disgust over Mitt Romney’s dishonesty is a rare thing which many on the left and right agreed about. Liberals objected to the manner in which Romney repeatedly lied about everything from Obama’s positions to economic statistics to questions on his own background during the campaign. Steve Benen documented 917 falsehoods during the campaign (and over the course of the year I noticed a few more which didn’t make the list).

Conservatives also distrusted him, believing that his conversion to far-right conservatism was opportunistic and not sincere. They were also right to mistrust him. Take this assessment of Romney from Daniel Larison at  The American Conservative:

Of course, it never mattered whether Romney “really” believed what he was saying, because it became clear years ago that he would have said almost anything to win. In that case, it was a good bet that Romney was always more likely to lie to his audience than not, and for that reason he disqualified himself through sheer, overwhelming dishonesty. When in doubt, it was safe to assume that Romney was lying, and it was usually safe to assume the worst about his intentions. If there was a chance that he might cave in to hard-liners and ideologues in his party, there was no reason to believe that he would ever stand up to them. When the 47% remarks came out, it didn’t matter whether he believed what he had said, because he had been willing to say it and he had done so because he was so desperate to appeal to the worst elements in his party. As it was, everyone assumed that he didn’t believe what he was saying, but we attributed it to his unprincipled willingness to pander, which simply made his awful statements seem that much worse.

Romney told more falsehoods than most politicians, but other conservatives were coming close. To a considerable degree Romney’s falsehoods echoed the false narratives which are common in echo chamber of the conservative movement, as they falsely portray liberals as supporters of big government and out of control spending when this is a better description of actual Republican policies when they are in power. Newt Gingrich is often as out of touch with reality as any conservative, and at other times provides an accurate insight into politics. He was honest in an interview with Salon:

…I think conservatives in general got in the habit of talking to themselves. I think that they in a sense got isolated into their own little world. So our pollsters, many of whom were wrong about turnout. No Republican pollster thought you could get 87 percent turnout in Milwaukee. You just sort of have to say that to some extent the degree to which we believed that the other side was kidding themselves, it turned out in fact in the real world – this is a part of what makes politics so fascinating – it turned out in the real world we were kidding ourselves.

Reality intruded into predictions of the election outcome. Does Gingrich realize that the same isolation from reality applies to virtually all the noise now coming out of the conservative movement? Being out of touch with reality, as well as the beliefs of most Americans, is why the Republicans are now unable to win a national election.

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Michigan Republicans Promote Election Rigging Scheme

Michigan wound up with far right Republicans in control of state government during the GOP sweep of 2010. This has led to problems including passing a so-called “right to work” law, attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and state government attempting to ignore the will of the voters in legalization of medical marijuana. While most states have given up on the idea of trying to rig elections,  many Michigan Republicans are still pushing for this:

Republicans handed Bobby Schostak another two-year term as state chairman Saturday and overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to change Michigan presidential electoral vote rules in a way opponents charge is intended to distort election results in favor of GOP candidates.

By a 1,370-132 margin at the party convention in Lansing, GOP members approved a resolution backing a proposal from Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, to divvy-up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. The other two would go to the state-wide vote total winner.

That switch from a winner-take-all formula that has been in effect 175 years could water down the dominance Democrats have had in Michigan in presidential elections for the last 24 years.

Critics say the plan would have given Mitt Romney nine of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes last year, although he lost by more than 500,00 votes to President Barack Obama state-wide. With the win, Obama captured all 16 Michigan electoral votes.

Lund introduced a bill to make the revision last year but it was unsuccessful. Hesaid he intends to reintroduce it in 2013, but leaders of the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers haven’t publicly announced a position on it.

Governor Rick Snyder, who is more moderate than most of the Republican elected in 2010, is not currently supporting this proposal. However, Snyder has often given in to the radical right, such as in reversing his position and signing “right to work” legislation in late 2012.

The current winner take all system in effect in all but two states might sound undemocratic, but provides results far closer to the national popular vote than allocating electoral votes by Congressional district. Under the current system, the winner of the popular vote has won the vast majority of elections. The 2000 election provided a notable exception with Al Gore winning the popular vote but George Bush winning the electoral vote. Reviews of the results in Florida afterwards did show that Gore would have won Florida (and therefore the election) if there was a state-wide recount, but not in the more limited recounts sought by Gore which were ultimately shut down by the Supreme Court.

There are two problems with the Republican proposal to allocate electoral votes based upon Congressional districts. Republicans hold a larger number of Congressional districts than they should receive based upon numbers of votes for each party due to gerrymandering. Even if not for gerrymandering, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities compared to the more rural Republican voters would result in Democrats controlling a smaller number of Congressional districts–winning by larger margins in cities than Republicans would win in other areas.

While is is preferable that the winner of the popular vote becomes president, allocating electoral votes by state helps to level out these issues and provides a result far closer to the popular vote than the Republican proposal would. Of course the Republican proponents realize this and prefer rigging elections to providing a platform which more voters would support. Even many Republicans oppose this. Hopefully some oppose this in support of democracy. Other motivating factors for some Republicans is the hope that they can carry an entire state and receive all of its electoral votes in the future, and fear of their state becoming less meaningful to candidates and receiving less attention during elections.

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Republican Defeat Was For Reasons Beyond Demographics

The Democratic demographic advantages in presidential elections has been predicted for years in works such as The Emerging Democratic Majority published in 2002. There is no doubt that changing demographics played a major role in Barack Obama’s victories but Republicans should be cautious about blaming their loses too much on this and ignoring other reasons for their electoral defeats.

The most recent use of this argument comes from an article entitled How to Save the Republican Party by Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner in Commentary:

The first factor is America’s changing demographics. Much has been written on this topic, but the essential datum is the long-term shrinking of those demographic groups, especially white voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP: from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category. But it has much more to do with a real, ongoing change in the composition of the American populace. In any given contest, the GOP can overcome this obstacle. Over time, however, the obstacle will grow ever larger.

Consider the performance of Mitt Romney, who carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same last year as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than his pathetic 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. Republicans, in short, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

While demographics were important, this does not mean that Obama or another Democrat could not have won with the electorate of earlier years. Besides demographics, Obama did better than Romney due to using modern technology more efficiently and understanding the electorate better than the Romney campaign. If the demographic changes had not occurred, Obama would have targeted the electorate which actually existed and might have won some of the voters which were written off to Republicans in recent years.

A more important factor is that the white vote, which Romney won, would not have voted as they had if not for the demographic changes. The Republicans have been promoting fear, racism, and xenophobia to win a large percentage of the white vote. Republicans would not have been as effective in promoting fear of minorities  among white voters if the percentage of minorities in this country has not been increasing, and Republicans likely would not receive as high a percentage of the white vote as they currently do.

Gerson and Wehner are also making a mistake in concentrating on racial demographic changes and not the effect of losing young voters. The Republicans have taken positions on economics, national security, and social issues which are counter to reality and out of touch with the desires of most voters. Even most remaining Republican voters tend to support Democratic positions in polls where positions are polled without attachment to a party. As people tend to stick with the party they first vote for, Republicans might have lost a generation of young voters who understand the folly of current Republican positions.

Gerson and Wehner are also over-confident about the prospects of Republican recovery because of controlling the House and a majority of governorships. This is due to a combination of gerrymandering, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, and the electoral advantages for the party which dominates in small rural states. More people voted for Democratic Congressmen than Republican in 2012 but that was not enough to give Democrats a majority in actual House seats. Republicans dominate in state governments due to a combination of victories which were probably an aberration in 2010 and because of holding a large number of small states.

While demographics present a problem for Republicans, in the long run their platform is what harms them more. Republican politicians and the media outlets they control talk about issues in terms which do well in polls and focus groups, regardless of actual Republican policies. While they do still fool a significant number of low-information voters, enough voters see through their propaganda. Republicans cannot win by claiming to be the party of small government when they are the ones who support a government which intrudes in the private lives of individuals. Cutting the deficit polls well, but that does not  help Republicans among informed voters who understand that in recent years the deficit problem is the fault of Republican economic policies. Similarly Republican fantasies of winning in 2012 because of the economy didn’t come true because informed voters realized that it is Republican policies which are to blame for the recession and for slowing economic recovery.

Republicans have electoral problems as their history of promoting racism and xenophobia is now back-firing against them and because of promoting policies which are unpopular with most voters. Blaming this on racial changes among the electorate as opposed to understanding the faults their entire message will not help the Republicans recover.

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Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration

Today Barack Obama joined a small group of people who have taken the oath of office more than twice. The oath was repeated in 2008 to avoid giving right wingers another reason to deny Obama’s legitimacy after John Roberts made an error when first administering the oath. (I note Roberts did use a note card today). He was sworn in for his second inauguration in a private ceremony on January 20, with the public event postponed to Monday. Only FDR and Obama have taken the oath of office four times. Bill Clinton is the only other president to my knowledge to have been sworn in more than twice as one of his inaugurations also occurred on a Sunday.

With Obama being sworn in, dogs everywhere gave a sigh of relief. Maybe now that Obama has been sworn in two more times Karl Rove is willing to give up hope for a Romney victory and concede defeat. Tea Partiers and Mitch McConnell swear to oppose Obama’s agenda and make him a two-term president. (Surprisingly some commentators do not realize how the Republicans really did decide to oppose everything Obama did on the day of his first inauguration.) All the living former presidents were in attendance except for George H. W. Bush, for health reasons, and George W. Bush, because everyone in Washington hates his guts.

Getting serious, Obama gave a liberal speech to mark the start of his second term (full text here and video above). He sounded neither like the socialist Republicans claim he is or the conservative a handful on the far left claim he is. James Fallows found this to be a startling progressive speech. Think  Progress called this a landmark moment for LGBT equality. Obama made a strong push for taking action on climate change.

While Obama has learned he cannot compromise with the extremism and intransigence of Congressional Republicans, I do like see Obama continue to try to explain how the real world works to conservatives in the hopes that there are some who will listen. Radical conservatives and libertarians believe a mythology that the free market is something which exists in nature, and that any government action is an abomination. In reality, markets are a creation of men and require government regulation to exist. Rothbardian anarch0-capitalism provides a fun background for some science fiction stories, but cannot exist in the real world. Obama explained:

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

He did learn it is politically dangerous to point out the truth that businessmen did not build the infrastructure they depend upon after the Republicans themed their convention around misquoting Obama, claiming Obama was saying businessmen did not build their businesses.

Obama’s record is not perfect. No president’s record is. Even if he did not do everything hoped for by the left, in a two party system, and with the constraints on presidential power, Obama did have a strong first term. Even his frequent critic Paul Krugman has been acknowledging this in recent columns, such as yesterday’s column, calling Obama’s record a Big Deal:

Health reform is, as Mr. Biden suggested, the centerpiece of the Big Deal. Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman; they’ve finally succeeded.

True, this wasn’t the health reform many were looking for. Rather than simply providing health insurance to everyone by extending Medicare to cover the whole population, we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.

But this was what was possible given the political reality — the power of the insurance industry, the general reluctance of voters with good insurance to accept change. And experience with Romneycare in Massachusetts — hey, this is a great age for irony — shows that such a system is indeed workable, and it can provide Americans with a huge improvement in medical and financial security.

What about inequality? On that front, sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal. Like F.D.R., Mr. Obama took office in a nation marked by huge disparities in income and wealth. But where the New Deal had a revolutionary impact, empowering workers and creating a middle-class society that lasted for 40 years, the Big Deal has been limited to equalizing policies at the margin.

That said, health reform will provide substantial aid to the bottom half of the income distribution, paid for largely through new taxes targeted on the top 1 percent, and the “fiscal cliff” deal further raises taxes on the affluent. Over all, 1-percenters will see their after-tax income fall around 6 percent; for the top tenth of a percent, the hit rises to around 9 percent. This will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution that has taken place since 1980, but it’s not trivial.

Finally, there’s financial reform. The Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless, and it’s certainly not the kind of dramatic regime change one might have hoped for after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees.

Still, if plutocratic rage is any indication, the reform isn’t as toothless as all that. And Wall Street put its money where its mouth is. For example, hedge funds strongly favored Mr. Obama in 2008 — but in 2012 they gave three-quarters of their money to Republicans (and lost).

All in all, then, the Big Deal has been, well, a pretty big deal

While Obama’s record was not perfect, there is no problem which would be handled better if the Republicans had taken the White House. Just think of the executive orders which were not issued today because Mitt Romney did not have the opportunity. Romney, like Republicans before him, would have probably immediately reinstated the Global Gag Rule, limiting access to abortions world wide. While it would probably take more than a quick executive order, he would probably have made an effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He may have immediately put an end to federal funding of stem cell research. Who know what else what he would have done to accommodate the far right on his first day alone.

Seeing Barack Obama sworn in to be president for the next four years is a Big Deal.

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