Tea Party & the Auto Bailout

Duncan Black:

While our liberal media coddled and adored them, the truth was that the Tea Party never actually had anything to be angry about. Obama didn’t take their guns, or raise their taxes, or give free Cadillacs to strapping young bucks. He did continue to be black, so there’s that I guess. They couldn’t be mad at the Wall Street bailout, because that’s who was funding them. The only thing that kinda sorta made ideological sense was the auto bailout. So that became their thing.

Duncan’s link goes to a post at Media Matters by Eric Boehlert around rightwing hatred of the auto bailout and the electoral consequences of it for Mitt Romney.

There is something really bizarre about the frontal assault on the auto bailout from the right. It’s one of the most tangible and consequentially good moves of the Obama administration. Unlike the healthcare bill, it’s something that is fully realized today.

Obama’s horrific coal attacks

President Barack Obama, in last night’s second presidential debate:

And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, when — Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, “This plant kills,” and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.

So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil, same thing with natural gas.

It was jarring to see President Obama attack Romney for saying true things about coal, particularly when those things are the same sorts of things environmentalists in the Democratic Party have been saying for years. It literally made my stomach turn when the President launched this attack.

This is not the first time the President has launched this attack on Romney for previously correctly noting that burning coal kills people. His campaign has had an ad up in coal country hitting Romney along for exactly the same statements:

Prior to this, the Obama campaign had run a similar radio ad in Ohio.

By way of disclosure, the organization I work for, Citizen Engagement Lab, works with an anti-climate denial project called Forecast the Facts. I consult on some of their campaigns, including one which called on Obama For America to remove this cynical television ad. That said, this post is my own and does not represent the opinions CEL nor Forecast the Facts.

The most charitable defense of Obama is that he is merely calling out Romney’s changing of positions from someone who recognized that burning coal kills people to someone who denies that burning fossil fuels cause climate change. It certainly is sad that Romney has walked away from a true position from nine years ago.

And though he’s hardly made it an issue in this campaign, the President has made moves to reduce coal pollution. But when he’s attacking Romney for being critical of coal, it’s about being hawkish in Obama’s pursuit of fossil fuel votes in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. That he does this while not mentioning the danger of climate change even once last night is all the worse. Not only has the President staked a position where being critical of coal is meant to be a liability in 2012, he didn’t make a single energy policy argument that had to do with anything other than jobs and cheap energy prices.

Here’s more of the President’s words last night on energy policy:

Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional source of energy. We’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we doubled clean — clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.

And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.

And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficiency energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.

This summer, Bill McKibben had a seminal article in Rolling Stone noting that global consensus is that we cannot let the temperature rise more than 2 degrees Celsius if we want to stop catastrophic climate change. The problem, per McKibben, is that the amount of fossil fuels it will take to raise it 2 degrees is only 20% of the known fossil fuel resources on the planet. Energy companies already know where these fuels are and have plans to extract them and make trillions of dollars in the process. The result is we need to immediately change our fossil fuel consumption patterns to avoid blowing through this destructive mile marker — and this change has to happen in the face of some of the largest companies in the world being told they will not be allowed to realize their planned profits.

When President Obama talks about pursuing cheap energy and having 100 years worth of natural gas here in the US, it makes clear that he does not think climate change is a serious issue demanding immediate policy changes.

The great irony is that a massive shift towards green energy would create jobs. It would create more energy and lower the cost on energy as a result. It would be driven by domestic energy protection, providing greater national security. In short, an aggressive pivot away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy would be a move that achieves the jobs and costs goals the President is arguing for through the continued use of fossil fuels.

Climate change has been a complete non-issue in this election. While Obama has offered passing hints around reducing pollution and expanding renewable resources, he’s not explicit that this is meant to discourage climate change. More often than not he’s framing any energy issue around job creation and lowering energy prices. While Mitt Romney is undoubtedly worse than Obama on these issues, Romney too was once better on them. Both candidates have utterly failed to offer a vision for how they would address climate change. At this late stage, their denial of the dangers of this issue could well amount to a fatal blow to this planet as we know it. We simply don’t have the time for both major political parties to ignore global warming. And if ignoring it wasn’t bad enough, Obama’s cynical attacks on Romney for saying true things about the negative impact of coal make me ill.

OFA’s Big Bird Ad & Wall Street Accountability

This is a funny, hard hitting ad by the Obama campaign on what may have been the biggest mistake Mitt Romney made in last week’s debate.

Except David Dayen notes that the OFA ad has a bit of a problem with who it puts up as Wall Street criminals:

Let’s look at that litany of Wall Street “criminals” and “gluttons of greed,” which later get juxtaposed with Big Bird. You have Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski. So two CEOs prosecuted and convicted by George W. Bush’s Justice Department, and Madoff, whose son turned him in before Obama took office, in December 2008, and who pleaded guilty.

So the Obama campaign could not fill a list of three Wall Street criminals that the Obama Justice Department actually sent to jail. Heck, they couldn’t fill a list of one!

This is despite Eric Holder telling students at Columbia University in February of this year that his Justice Department’s record of success on fighting financial fraud crimes “has been nothing less than historic.” But not historic enough that his boss could point to, well, one Wall Street criminal behind bars as a result of DoJ’s actions.

That’s painfully telling. Nobody from Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Citigroup or JPMorgan Chase or Goldman Sachs or Bear Stearns or Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch or even Countrywide or Ameriquest was available to stand in as a “glutton of greed” in this advertisement. Literally no major figure responsible for the financial crisis has gone to jail. So the campaign has to use two CEOs from a decade-old accounting scandal, and a garden-variety Ponzi schemer. The financial crisis plays no role in this advertisement trying to juxtapose cuts to PBS with the financial crisis!

Yeah this is pretty revealing and it’s not flattering towards the President and his Department of Justice at all.

As is so often the case with President Obama, the rhetoric sounds a whole lot better on first blush than on close examination.

Vice Documentary: The Mexican Mormon War

Vice Magazine has created a truly fascinating documentary on the Mexican drug cartels, the Mormons who live in northern Mexico, and the state of near constant war between them. Many of the Mormons interviewed in the documentary are either close or distant relatives of Mitt Romney, whose family fled the USA to avoid prosecution for polygamy. Many Mormon polygamists settled in Mexico to be able to live as polygamists without fear of arrest. Mitt’s father George was born in Mexico and immigrated to the US. Mitt Romney is himself a first-generation American.

While the fact that Romney’s family moved to Mexico to be polygamists should be a relevant part of his biography as a presidential candidate, his religion and his family’s dubious legal history have not been issues in neither the Republican primary nor the general election.

The Vice documentary is one of the best made for the web documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s a really excellent piece of journalism and a fascinating look at a brutally violent conflict, one driven by a bizarre two-way trafficking of drugs into the US and guns into Mexico. The Mormon families in the documentary come across as very sympathetic in their fight against the cartels, so don’t assume that just because a liberal outlet is telling the story of Mitt Romney’s Mexican polygamist family history that it reflects poorly on him. In fact, the only thing that reflects poorly on Romney in this video is his opposition to sane immigration and drug policies which would diminish the risk his family in Mexico faces on a daily basis.

Krugman on the Republican hatred of workers

Paul Krugman gets seriously shrill in his dissection of Mitt Romney’s revealing 47% comments and how they reflect what the contemporary Republican party thinks about workers. The whole thing is worth reading, but this passage stands out:

For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.

Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.

I’d missed that Cantor tweet, which is pretty damned outrageous. How hard is it to just say we appreciate who work, be it in a skilled trade or a service industry job or behind a desk in businesses owned by other people?

Krugman goes on:

Where does this disdain for workers come from? Some of it, obviously, reflects the influence of money in politics: big-money donors, like the ones Mr. Romney was speaking to when he went off on half the nation, don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But it also reflects the extent to which the G.O.P. has been taken over by an Ayn Rand-type vision of society, in which a handful of heroic businessmen are responsible for all economic good, while the rest of us are just along for the ride.

It’s also worth noting that Romney is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and most politicians either enter Congress millionaires or have easy pathways to become millionaires through lobbying or high level jobs in industries like finance or defense. Promoting policies which help the super rich now will lead to opportunities to become super rich for these Republicans.

I’m not convinced that as an institution the Democratic Party is particularly good on helping workers out. No progress on workers rights has been made under the Obama administration. But at least the Democrats pay lip service to workers.

Romney & Obama on outsourcing

Adam Serwer has a very good piece at Mother Jones on the dynamic of Obama and Romney largely agreeing on the question of outsourcing, but pretending otherwise in the political debate.

“I think their basic view is pretty much the same,” says Dean Baker, the cofounder of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Dan Ikenson, a trade expert with the libertarian Cato Institute, agrees. “Both the president and Mr. Romney understand that outsourcing is an unobjectionable fact of life, that the process generates large net benefits for Americans, and that attempts to restrict outsourcing would have deleterious effects on the US economy,” Ikenson says. “However, both campaigns have decided, thus far, that it is easier to demagogue the issue and label the opponent as the bigger outsourcer than it is to explain how outsourcing works.” That’s because Romney doesn’t want to look like a callous moneybags to American workers, and Obama doesn’t want to undermine the image of the populist he plays on TV. So the détente serves both sides.

The Obama administration’s secret negotiation of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” deal that could end up being much larger than NAFTA, is a good indicator of their willingness to pursue policies which facilitate outsourcing and offshoring of American jobs.

As Matt Taibbi has noted, this election has the potential to be very boring, but the campaigns are finding ways to create contrast and distinctions between the two candidates. I don’t think Obama and Romney are the same, but there are many key issues, particularly economic issues, where the differences amount to Obama thinks rich people should be slightly more taxes than they currently pay and Romney disagrees. On outsourcing, it’s hard to see much of a difference outside the demagoguery.

The rich man’s burden

The volume of throb-wankery coming out of Mitt Romney’s fabulous weekend of fundraising from multi-millionaires in the Hamptons is excessively loud. Take these examples:

LA Times:

A New York City donor a few cars back, who also would not give her name, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. “I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

“We’ve got the message,” she added. “But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

Yes it truly is the millionaires’ burden to make sure the poor, under-educated, non-millionaires who have somehow through a bizarre quirk of history been given the right to vote understand how the system works. Can you imagine the horrors if baby sitters and college kids voted for Obama, not understanding the impact it might have on millionaires in the Hamptons? It’d be like Soviet Russia or something.

The New York Times provides some insight into the world these Romney donors come from and their transparently bizarre assessments of who they are and how the other 99% view them:

A few cars back, Ted Conklin, the owner of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, long a favorite of the Hamptons’ well-off and well-known, could barely contain his displeasure with Mr. Obama. “He is a socialist. His idea is find a problem that doesn’t exist and get government to intervene,” Mr. Conklin said from inside a gold Mercedes, as his wife, Carol Simmons, nodded in agreement.

Ms. Simmons paused to highlight what she said was her husband’s generous spirit. “Tell them who’s on your yacht this weekend! Tell him!”

Over Mr. Conklin’s objections, Ms. Simmons disclosed that a major executive from Miramax was on Mr. Conklin’s 75-foot yacht, because, she said, there were no rooms left at the hotel.

Ignore the fact that this particular millionaire sounds as educated as your average Tea Party activist holding a sign that says, “Keep your government’s hands off my Medicare.” This couple’s sense of charity thinks letting a millionaire stay on their yacht is an act of charity. So everything else is okay.

These people are very different from you and me. They are the financial elites who control political elites. They are transparently arrogant, stupid and self-centered people, with no care for anything but the preservation of their own wealth.

Of course, as some of those interviewed in the LA Times article note, significant portions of these people were Obama supporters in 2008 and many of their peers remain top Obama donors today. This isn’t just about Romney and his donors, Obama’s are bad too. But at least the financial elites who are supporting Obama have the good sense to recognize that what is in the national interest may come with minor tax increases and inconveniences that will do nothing to hurt their standing in the world.

Major offensive on Romney and Bain Capital

The half-hour documentary on Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, When Mitt Romney Came To Town, is a huge story this week. Watch it – it’s devastating and the interviews of workers who lost their jobs after Romney’s Bain came in and broke their companies are heart-breaking.

“When Mitt Romney Came To Town” is the product of a pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC, but both Gingrich and Rick Perry have been hammering Romney over his job-destroying ways at Bain for a while now. What’s incredible to watch is two 1%-coddling politicians adopt the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement to wage attacks on Romney. What’s even more incredible is to watch these attacks explode the internal contradictions of the Republican Party.

On the one hand, you have Fox News’ Eric Bolling treat accusations against Romney and Bain as an attack on capitalism itself. Rush Limbaugh has likened Gingrich to Fidel Castro for his attacks. Likewise the right wing US Chamber of Commerce is calling for a halt to attacks on private equity. On the other hand, conservative icon Bill Kristol has criticized those reflexing defending Bain and Romney as “silly“. You even have Sarah Palin saying Romney should back up his claims that he created a 100,000 jobs in his tenure at Bain.

What’s most remarkable, though, is that this debate isn’t happening at Occupy encampments, but on Fox News and The Weekly Standard (well, presumably folks at Occupy are talking about the destructive thievery of Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital). I don’t think any of us knew that the GOP had this sort of rhetoric in it! The reality is, of course, that they don’t. This is pure politics, as Robert Reich notes, otherwise Gingrich and Romney would be making some sort of prescription of how they would stop the newly-discovered evils of private equity and Wall Street greed. Reich writes:

Is Newt proposing to ban leveraged buyouts? Or limit the amount of debt a company can take on? Or prevent financiers – or even CEOs and management teams – from taking a public company private and then reselling it to the public at a higher price?

None of the above.

Rick Perry criticizes Romney and Bain pushing the quest for profits too far. “There is nothing wrong with being successful and making money,” says Perry. “But getting rich off failure and sticking someone else with the bill is indefensible.”

Yet getting rich off failure and sticking someone else with the bill is what Wall Street financiers try to do every day. It’s called speculation – and at least since the demise of the Glass-Steagall Act, investment bankers have been allowed to gamble with commercial bank deposits, other people’s money.

So is Perry proposing to resurrect Glass-Steagall? Not a chance.

This is politics, plain and simple. Romney’s opponents are making a last, desperate plea to knock him off of the winner’s podium. Had they made this case for the better part of the last year and had they backed it up with prescriptions to stop companies like Bain Capital from committing these crimes against American workers, they may have even succeeded in defeating Romney. While it’s certainly possible that these attacks can gain traction against Romney, neither Gingrich nor Perry are credible messengers. Reich concludes that, “the only serious question here is what kind of serious reforms Obama will propose when, assuming Romney becomes the Republican nominee, Obama also criticizes Bain Capitalism.” I think that’s right, though it remains to be seen if Obama splits off the path being set by faux populists Gingrich and Perry.