Alex Pareene offers up some great strategic advise for Democrats in DC:

If Democrats want to get the big pundits on their side, they should pull a Boehner and just name whatever it is they’re trying to pass “The Simpson Plan.” That should be the name they use when they reintroduce card-check. And cap-and-trade. Planned Parenthood should rename itself “The Simpson-Bowles Planned Parenthood” and then no one will ever again try to defund it, I promise.

The funniest part of this is that Pareene thinks Democrats would introduce legislation to provide any sort of increase in power for America’s workers.

Celebrating Nonsense

Charles Pierce on today’s Supreme Court rulings and the larger American zeitgeist:

We live in the unreality of the moment now. We have tolerated — nay, celebrated — nonsense in our public life for so many years that we are now both its victims and its accomplices. We have detached ourselves from the duties of self-government to the point where the government itself has detached itself from our lives, partly because of the deliberate acts of venal and corrupt men, and partly because we listened to those venal and corrupt men and threw it away ourselves. We think ourselves free when, actually, we have bound ourselves in shackles of apathy and cynicism and childish fantasy. We have accepted fiction as fact because it sells. We are accessorial to the murder of truth.

Against corruption

I actually agree with this:

We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistleblower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren’t really blind because they’re managed by family members or friends.)

No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors. No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments. No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit. No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session. No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office. No more revolving door, ever.

This call for real reform must transcend political parties. The grass-roots movements of the right and the left should embrace this. The tea party’s mission has always been opposition to waste and crony capitalism, and the Occupy protesters must realize that Washington politicians have been “Occupying Wall Street” long before anyone pitched a tent in Zuccotti Park.

Remarkably, this is coming from Sarah Palin in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

I do think there’s opportunity for the populist movements of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party to come together and oppose government corruption and the two-tiered justice system. Of course in this instance by Tea Party, I mean the grassroots base and not the Koch Brothers or Dick Armey front groups used to support any old Republican.

Of course, Palin’s complaints against government corruption would be much more believable if she hadn’t used her powers as governor to fire or intimidate personal enemies. Or if she and her staff didn’t obstruct FOIA requests by using personal email accounts for state business. Or if she didn’t pay herself to live at home while flying her children around the country on the Alaskan taxpayers’ dime. As an Alaskan taxpayer while Palin was governor, I’m not going to forget her own corruption and her own use of public coffers for personal enrichment. In short, the woman is a hypocrite, but what she’s saying today isn’t wrong, she just has no standing to make the argument against corruption.

Dem Sen. Kerry stops fundraising while on Super Congress

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

A rare moment of political integrity emerges from the Super Congress process, thanks to Senator John Kerry:

“I’m not meeting with a lot of lobbyists; I’m meeting with people I choose to meet with, who can inform me, assist in the process of crunching numbers and dealing with consequences, and so forth,” Kerry told the Globe last week in his first extensive interview about his committee membership.

“I will not fund-raise; I will raise no money,” the senator told the Globe. “I’m not raising any money while the committee is working.”

Asked why, Kerry said: “Because I don’t want people to think that I’m being leveraged by contributions. I just don’t want want the appearance of money being associated with anything I do on this.”

The Super Committee became a lobbyist free-for-all the moment it was formed, with industries large and small throwing millions of dollars towards getting their views heard by members of the Super Congress. That includes lots of fundraising events and it is every bit as slimy as it sounds. Good for John Kerry.

Of course, we will have to wait and see if the lack of lobbyist meetings and big dollar fundraisers nets a more progressive result from Senator Kerry and the committee as a whole. But at least on paper, this is a positive step.

A Republican insider takes on both parties

Via John Aravosis, this piece at Truthout by Mike Lofgren, a thirty year veteran Republican staffer, is an interesting read. Lofgren claims he resigned recently after watching the GOP get taken over by lunatics (his word) like Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Patrick McHenry and Steve King.

This passage stands out:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

Lofgren astutely notes the media’s complicity in this sabotage, through the devolution of journalism from a noble profession practiced by talented individuals to a medium defined by false equivalencies and “he said, she said” reporting.

While Lofgren’s critique of his own party is devastating, his analysis of the failings of the modern Democratic Party is also insightful.

What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style “centrist” Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. “Entitlement” has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is “entitled” selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them “earned benefits,” which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the “estate tax,” it is the “death tax.

Lofgren actually mistakes inept messaging with desired political outcomes, while simultaneously missing the real point of the DLC-made Democratic Party’s free trade policies. Give voters too much passion from the government as a source of job creation and health care, and they’re bound to want more. But that’s not what the corporatists in the right of the Democratic Party want, so they don’t push for it. Obama and many conservative Democrats are pushing for cuts to the Big Three social support programs. They don’t want there to be an estate tax, because they don ‘t want their rich donors to be taxed. So when Lofgren writes, “The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors,” it’s also the case that the same could be said for many, many conservative Democrats.

Lofgren’s piece shows him as someone who is outraged by what is happening in an America where one of two political parties is hell-bent on destroying government. But his analysis of the other party is centered around political cravenness, giving no real attention to the rightward shift of controlling Democratic ideology. In the end the problems don’t necessarily arise from one party dashing to the right, but the other moving along with it. In that sense, no choice is preserved for voters and thus the people who make the move to shift to the frame of acceptable debate are the ones who win out over time.

Lofgren spent 28 years working on at the House and Senate Budget Committees. I’m sure he has seen an evolution in how the Democratic Party operated and how the increased influence of first the DLC and then Third Way shifted the Democrats to the right, while a similar shift was ongoing in his party. It would be interesting to see him write about that narrative, now that he’s established himself as a smart, credible critic of government and politics in the 21st century.

Government isn’t broken

In an op-ed in the Nashua Telegraph, Daniel Weeks writes:

Our problem today is not a broken government but a beholden one: government is more beholden to special-interest shareholders who fund campaigns than it is to ordinary voters. Like any sound investor, the funders seek nothing more and nothing less than a handsome return – deficits be darned – in the form of tax breaks, subsidies and government contracts.

This is pretty much what I’ve been saying for a long time now. The same thing could be said about the economy as well as the government.

Doom Loop, or Political Elites Missing the Point

Paul Krugman describes what he calls the Doom Loop – the process wherein political elites are radically (and potentially deliberately) misinterpreting signals from financial markets to enact destructive policies.

1. US debt is downgraded, sparking demands for more ill-advised fiscal austerity

2. Fears that this austerity will depress the economy send stocks down

3. Politicians and pundits declare that worries about US solvency are the culprit, even though interest rates have actually plunged

4. This leads to calls for even more ill-advised austerity, which sends us back to #2

Krugman points out that this loop and the people who are giving it energy are “impervious to evidence.”

Ben White of Politico noted in his daily tip sheet today essentially the same phenomenon:

Moving between NYC and DC as I do it can be jarring at times to hear politicians in Washington talking endlessly about markets demanding that the U.S. focus on spending and deficit and debt reduction. Then I come back to New York and such talk is simply laughed at given rock-bottom Treasury yields and the commonly held (and correct) view that the U.S. does not have much of a debt problem, certainly not in the near term. But it has a MASSIVE and potentially disastrous growth problem.

That’s why traders often mute the TV (or start cursing) when President Obama begins talking about super committees and shared sacrifice and tax hikes. To be fair, they mute GOP leadership as well. It’s hard to recall a time when the debate and rhetoric in Washington seemed more completely disconnected from what is actually going on in markets and the economy.

There’s a disconnect, to be sure. But it’s driven by ideology. People who believe that austerity should happen and that austerity is the only tool in their tool chest will seek out and find reasons for austerity to be deployed, regardless of whether they are right or not.

Ari Melber on Super Congress

This is going up shortly at AMERICAblog

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Above is a rant by Ari Melber on the Super Congress that’s a big piece of the deficit deal that passed earlier this week. Here’s a snippet of the transcript:

I think that brings us to the last ingredient in this farce: the idea that these arbitrary cuts are magically going to result in equal pressure on both sides. …Well many Republicans opposed default too, but in practice you know and I know this GOP congress has proven itself willing to risk great harm in pursuit of its agenda.

There are other larger issues with the Super Congress, but the notion that it will work out of a fear of mutually assured destruction is bogus. For starters, it’s a central tenet of the modern Republican Party’s governing philosophy that the social support network should be removed and Americans should all be on their own. As we saw with the deficit hysteria, conservatives are anxious to use this narrative as a means of destroying the Big Three social programs and many smaller ones as well. While some Democrats have sought to reduce waste and Cold War era weapons systems from the Pentagon budget, reducing the size of the defense budget isn’t exactly a driving force of the Democratic Party. And since all of our many wars aren’t funded out of the Pentagon budget, this Super Congress isn’t affording liberals a mechanism to speed the end of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Reducing defense spending is no Democratic holy grail. Dennis Kucinich and Mark Warner aren’t in the same place on it. Decreasing the raw Pentagon budget just isn’t a guiding star for the Democratic Party, particularly given the amount of Democrats who supported and funded the war in Iraq, the President’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and his initiation with little Democratic objection of a war congressionally irrelevant kinetic action in Libya.

And that’s just the Democratic Party’s tensions on defense spending. There’s a real tension in the Republican Party between war hawks and tax cutters. This is has the potential to undercut the Republican fear of the Super Congress not reaching a deal and snap cuts to defense. Since that fear, we are told, is critical to good-faith negotiation within the Super Congress, this is actually a pretty large structural problem with the mechanism for finding future spending cuts.

As Melber points out, the nut result is that there will be tremendous pressure on Democrats to block social spending cuts and some amount less pressure on Republicans to stop defense cuts, paired with rabid pursuit by conservatives of social spending cuts with some degree of understanding that defense should be cut some too coming from Democrats. This structural asymmetry seems destined to produce deeper social spending cuts that inflict more damage and more pain on working American families than will be felt by cuts to contracts with Halliburton, Raytheon, BAE Systems, and KBR.

Home Rule for DC

I’ve lived in Washington, DC for almost two and a half years, but only this past weekend, as Congress approved a budget which included a ban for the District to use its own funding to pay for abortion services for poor women, did the absurdity and cruelty of DC’s status become clear. The budget bill included a provision that makes a special application of the federal ban of money being used to fund abortion. DC’s budget, even with money raised from its own taxes and not from federal funds, must currently be approved by Congress. And this Congress has said that not only can no federal dollars go to pay for abortion in DC, but none of DC’s money can be used to pay for abortion services for poor District citizens.

License plates in DC carry the slogan, “Taxation without representation,” and clearly this is the system we live under. But the cruelty of the structure is not merely about the quid pro quo the rest of America makes with our government (taxes in exchange for how those taxes are spent). DC is, at the end of the day, a colony of the United States, and we live at the whims of a Congress in our own back yard.

There’s been talk in recent years of giving DC a representative with full voting rights in the House of Representatives, often pairing this addition with a new congressional district in reliably Republican Utah. But even this would be to treat DC like a colony, with sub-standard rights when it comes to representation. Either DC needs to be given full statehood – and the accompanying representation in the Senate – or DC should be merged into Maryland, our contiguous geographic neighbor.  While full statehood for DC is probably the most appealing and straightforward solution, at the end of the day, the necessity for a particular cure of the current colonial system is more important than the particular solution which is used to treat it. If Maryland will take us, fine. If statehood is achievable as the state of Columbia, great. But what we currently have must end and fast.

For what it’s worth, a while back Matt Yglesias mocked up a simple map of how you could give DC statehood, while still carving out the constitutionally required federal district around the White House, Capitol, the Mall and most federal buildings. It would include essentially no residential areas and certainly end the current situation where DC has a larger population than the state of Wyoming. Ygelias’ rough map:

dc statehood

My hope is that the absurdity and the cruelty of the recent budget bill – an outright attack on the rights of poor women in DC – is enough to engender wide support in Democratic circles for DC statehood.  The current situation is a blight on our national conscience and an affront to our Founding Fathers’ memory as patriots who fought against unfair taxation and non-representative colonialism.