Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Energy, Price Signals, and Conservation

Energy efficiency is much more than a personal virtue (I;m looking at you, Dick Cheney).--SS

Energy, Price Signals, and Conservation:

Gas prices remain up there—latest national average is 3.72/gal, up $0.33 from a year ago. Though oil fell back a bit today the pressures on energy supply behind this recent spike remain in place, including geopolitics in Iran, some offline refineries, a bit of market speculation (nothing untoward, but it matters), and just general tightness in a tight system as demand recovers somewhat both here, and more portentously, in Asia (see Jim Hamilton, as always, for details on this).

In terms of the overall economy, what you worry about here is a) oil is an important production input to everything we do, and b) higher gas prices mean less disposable incomes for people. Those are the dynamics behind the rules of thumb—the ones that say a $10 increase in a barrel of oil translates into about a quarter more per gallon at the pump, and, if it sticks, could shave 0.2% off of GDP growth. Not good, and why oil is #2 on my list of threats to the recovery (right after fiscal drag and before Europe).

But there’s other stuff in play which you’d also want to consider, some of which should give you hope. Most of it is longer term, so it’s worth remembering that there’s little anyone could or should do to reverse price spikes like this, at least not in a knee-jerk sense (i.e., you wouldn’t want to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve every time there’s a price pop at the pump—that’s supposed to be for real emergencies, not political ones).

For example, here’s a picture of energy consumption per dollar of GDP, down about 60% over the last 60 years. It means we’re using energy more efficiently than we used to.

Source: EIA

Here’s energy consumption per person, which isn’t going down, but hasn’t trended up either over the last few decades.

Source: EIA

Average fuel efficiency of cars, at least, is up by about half since the 1980s, though adding all those SUVs has obviously hurt us here. However, these data only go through 2009, and anecdotally, it’s said that consumers have been pretty aggressively shopping away from gas guzzlers.

Like I said, there is such a thing as price signals. IE, the prices of a fixed commodity that’s heavily demanded, like oil, should go up over time, even with all the drilling and fracking going on out there. And one of the things that price increase is trying to tell us is to conserve more—to insulate our buildings, to increase our fuel efficiency, to develop renewables.

But in order to hear what the price is saying, we gotta listen–we can’t just screech about how the President is to blame, we’ve got to drill and frack more, and somebody do something…anything…fast! I’m not trying to be a scold here–these price spikes hurt low- and middle-income families the most, not to mention folks whose jobs depend on driving (truckers, cabbies). In that sense, one of the the best things we could do right now would be to focus policy on jobs and paychecks of families still climbing back from the Great Recession (in this sense, the renewed payroll tax break should help offset the recent price spike a bit).

Finally, I’ve often pointed to the picutre below to suggest that folks are just driving a lot less right now compared to any other time period in the figure going back to the mid-1980s. I’ve wondered if that’s largely recession related or a sign of a more elastic response to higher prices—i.e., drivers refusing to eat the higher costs and instead just staying put. I’ve crunched a few numbers and I now think it’s the economy, not a change in the elasticity, but there’s more work to be done here.

So, am I saying that we’re out of the woods and that if gas goes well above $4/gallon no one will notice? Of course not. In fact, I crunched a few other numbers and found that if you regress the consumer confidence index on gas prices and include a dummy variable for when we went over $4 for a few months in 2008, you shave 2-3% off of the confidence index, which ain’t nothing (and that regression controls for unemployment and the general rising trend in gas prices at the time, so it does seem associated with crossing $4).

All’s I’m saying is that it’s a good thing that we’re using energy more efficiently and that this—and not just drill/frack—is an important way to think about the longer term challenge of energy costs.

Source: US DOT, FHA

Dave Dutton and Sonia Sola’s Story | Backstage w/Supak: organic search optimizing progressive environmentalist

We're still looking for votes to help our friends raise the funds to build a commercial kitchen on their farm! All help is appreciated! Spread the word, re-post, and vote!--SS

Dave Dutton and Sonia Sola’s Story | Backstage w/Supak: organic search optimizing progressive environmentalist:

"Raising Organic Family Farms is letting farmers tell their stories, and the farmers with the most votes for their stories will get a grant to help them with their latest project. Our good friends, who provide us with organic produce, eggs, honey, apple cider, and grass-fed beef and other meats, run Nectar Hills Farm up here near Cooperstown, NY. Dave and Sonia are hoping to raise funds to build a commercial kitchen where they can branch into prepared foods and further expand their business. So please, go read Dave and Sonia's story, and click the little thumbs up there to give them a vote!"

Why We Need a Buffett Rule

Great graphics!--SS

Why We Need a Buffett Rule:

Download this column (pdf)

In recent months President Barack Obama articulated a fairness principle known as the “Buffett Rule,” named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who disclosed that he pays a smaller percentage of his income in federal taxes than his secretary. The Buffett Rule holds that no millionaire should pay a lower effective tax rate than middle-class families.

On February 1, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012. The bill would turn the principle behind the Buffett Rule into a rule of the U.S. tax code, requiring that all households with incomes above $1 million pay at least a 30 percent minimum tax rate (with a phase-in for incomes between $1 million and $2 million).

Here are seven compelling reasons why we need a Buffett Rule.

1. The incomes of the top 1 percent have skyrocketed over the past three decades, nearly quadrupling and leaving middle-class incomes far behind. Rising inequality has meant that the very rich have captured an outsized share of the country’s economic gains.

2. During these same years, tax rates on millionaires dropped sharply as a result of the Bush tax cuts and successive rounds of tax cuts on investment income (capital gains and dividends).

3. A large number of millionaires are now paying lower taxes than millions of middle- class Americans.

4. While many at the top continue to pay lower taxes than those below them on the income scale, the entire burden of deficit reduction falls on investments and services for the middle class.

5. The Buffett Rule would raise significant amounts of revenue to address our budget challenges, while affecting a tiny percentage of people who can easily afford it.

6. The Buffett Rule enjoys broad, bipartisan support.

7. And that’s because the rule would restore fundamental American values.

Seth Hanlon is Director of Fiscal Reform at the Center for American Progress.

See also:

Download this column (pdf)

May the Best Candidate Win?

Willard is the worst campaigner I've ever seen.--SS

May the Best Candidate Win?:

The Nate Silvering of election analysis—the endless and addictive parsing of exit polls and demographics and historical precedents and outliers and predictive models and Intrade odds—has made campaigns increasingly look, to politicos at least, more like science than art. But there is one “predictive model” that matters more than any other—and it’s entirely the province of unmeasurable, flesh-and-blood, gloriously subjective intangibles. It’s also refreshingly simple: In general elections, the best campaigner wins.

Think about it: When was the last time the superior campaigner of either party lost the presidency? Barack Obama out-talked, out-charmed, and out-disciplined John McCain by a country mile in 2008. George W. Bush, despite his oratorical handicaps, communicated more warmly and stayed on message more relentlessly (and repetitiously) than Al Gore or John Kerry. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were, of course, masterful on campaign stumps and television screens alike. George H.W. Bush had the great good fortune, in 1988, of facing not-ready-for-prime-time Michael Dukakis. You have to reach back almost four decades, to the Jimmy Carter victory over Gerald Ford in 1976, to find a contest in which the candidates were fairly matched in the seductive arts of wooing voters. The last time the better campaigner lost a presidential election was 1968—and even then, “happy warrior” Hubert Humphrey came amazingly close to overcoming the dark cloud of Vietnam and the crack-up of the Democratic Party and defeating Richard Nixon.

It hasn’t always been this way, of course. Before the mass-media age, unappealing candidates—William Howard Taft, anyone?—could prevail, and often did. But arguably since Roosevelt and certainly since Eisenhower, presidential nominees have been superstar celebrities. The reason that it matters so much which candidate voters would rather invite over for a barbecue, or go to a baseball game with, is because we virtually have to do just that. In the 24-hour news cycle, presidents’ voices and images are always with us. They’re part of our everyday lives.

Of course, it’s true that just as candidates matter, so do campaigns. Effective campaigns can make mediocre candidates—like Nixon and Bush II—more appealing.

None of which offers much hope for Romney in a contest with Obama, assuming he continues to grind his way to the Republican nomination. Even Ann Romney might have to concede that her husband is no match, either on the stump or on TV, for the easy charm and forceful eloquence of this president. And if Romney’s campaign staffers are wily enough to make him substantially better, they certainly haven’t shown it yet. Romney might kvetch about Obama’s star quality, as McCain did last time (remember that McCain ad likening Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears?), and try to use it against him. But if the last seven decades of political history are any indication, he’s going to have a devil of a time overcoming it.

Six Years Since Cheney Shot His Friend

The Cheney Philosophy: Shoot first, celebrate the misery later. Oh, and gun safety is for pussies.--SS

Six Years Since Cheney Shot His Friend: "The sixth anniversary earlier this month of Dick Cheney shooting his buddy in the face during a quail hunt went largely unnoticed... except for the ceremonial consumption of a quail snack," The Daily reports.

Said Harry Whittington: "It was a commemorative hors d'oeuvre."

"Six years after the incident, Whittington, 84, is still riddled with the bird shot Cheney accidentally hit him with. Some 30 odd pellets are lodged in the lining of his heart, his gums, his hand, his forehead, and the bridge of his nose... But rather than complain, Whittington refers to the lead embedded in his
body as 'memorabilia,' and says that he and Cheney remain in touch and
still trade hunting tales."

Stimulus 101

They can't argue with facts, so they make shit up.--SS

Stimulus 101:

Valerie Jarrett, a senior aide to President Obama, argued the other day that unemployment benefits "stimulate the economy." The Romney campaign apparently didn't care for the remark.

"First they told us that borrowing $1 trillion from China was supposed to stimulate the economy," a campaign spokesperson said. "Then just yesterday, one of President Obama's top advisors said that unemployment stimulates the economy. That's like saying an iceberg stimulated the Titanic. Only in White House fantasy world do debt, unemployment and higher taxes stimulate the economy."

It's unsettling how easily confused Team Romney gets on these issues. The economy is supposed to be the former governor's signature issue.

For one thing, the stimulus (a) didn't cost $1 trillion; (b) wasn't financed by China; and (c) really did stimulate the economy. For another, Jarrett didn't say "unemployment stimulates the economy"; she said unemployment benefits stimulate the economy.

And third, whether the Romney campaign likes it or not, Jarrett was right. Paul Krugman had a column on this a while back that the former governor might find helpful.

When the economy is booming, and lack of sufficient willing workers is limiting growth, generous unemployment benefits may keep employment lower than it would have been otherwise. But as you may have noticed, right now the economy isn't booming -- again, there are five unemployed workers for every job opening. Cutting off benefits to the unemployed will make them even more desperate for work -- but they can't take jobs that aren't there.

Wait: there's more. One main reason there aren't enough jobs right now is weak consumer demand. Helping the unemployed, by putting money in the pockets of people who badly need it, helps support consumer spending. That's why the Congressional Budget Office rates aid to the unemployed as a highly cost-effective form of economic stimulus. And unlike, say, large infrastructure projects, aid to the unemployed creates jobs quickly -- while allowing that aid to lapse, which is what is happening right now, is a recipe for even weaker job growth, not in the distant future but over the next few months.

The basic concept here is quite simple: unemployment benefits are good for the economy. People who receive the aid aren't sticking it in a mattress or a money-market fund; they're spending it and doing so immediately because it's their main source of income. This injects demand and capital into the economy quickly, helping the beneficiaries and the rest of us.

In fact, when it comes to bang for the buck, jobless aid is the second most effective stimulus in the public-sector arsenal, right behind food stamps.

Mark Zandi from Moody's

So who's actually stuck in a "fantasy world"?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Joe Nocera Claims Fracking Raises U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Almost 20 Percent

From Dean Baker.--SS

Joe Nocera Claims Fracking Raises U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Almost 20 Percent:

In his column today, which argues for responsible fracking, telling readers that there can be enormous gains from using cleaner techniques in fracking. In discussing the importance of reducing fracking related methane emissions Nocera comments:

"How big a difference will it make to the environment if industry can minimize methane leaks? A lot. ... Suppose, for instance, the current leak rate turns out to be 4 percent. Suppose we then reduce it in half. That would mean an immediate reduction in overall U.S. greenhouse gases by — are you sitting down for this? — 9 percent. If the leaks are reduced to 1 percent, the decrease in greenhouse gases jumps to 14 percent."

While Nocera does not make this point, but if cutting the methane emissions from fracking in half would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent, then the methane emissions must come to close to 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. If methane emissions are actually 6 percent, as indicated by a study Nocera cites, then fracking would account for more than one quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Nocera may have his numbers completely wrong, but the implication of the evidence presented in his piece is that fracking is an incredibly dirty process from the standpoint of greenhouse gas emissions. If his numbers are right, he makes a compelling case for banning fracking unless it can be done far more cleanly than is currently the case.

S.C. Gov. Haley urges Obama to deepen Atlantic ports

Look, Ma! A Republican for borrowing and spending on infrastructure!--SS

S.C. Gov. Haley urges Obama to deepen Atlantic ports:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley implored President Barack Obama on Monday to find more money to deepen the Charleston port and other Atlantic harbors so they can accommodate giant cargo ships after the widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014.

The GOP's White Men Problem

They just can't help themselves.-SS

You know the parable of the scorpion and the frog: The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the river, and the frog says, "But what if you sting me?" The scorpion replies, "Why would I sting you? If I do that we'll both drown." Then midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. "Why?" the frog cries, as they begin to sink to their doom. "It's my nature," replies the scorpion.

I keep thinking of this as in one election after another Republicans lash out at one large group of American voters after another in the hopes of holding on to the affections of the older white men who form the party's base. The people who run the party know that their continual efforts to stir up resentment, bitterness, and at times outright hatred at people who are not older white men do profound long-term damage to the party. But as a collectivity, the GOP just can't help itself. It's their nature.

This is a topic Jonathan Chait takes up in an essay in New York magazine, in which he argues that 2012 is the Republicans' last chance to hold on to power before their shrinking base undoes them:

In the wake of [Bush's] defeat, strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to [immigration] reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, "a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.

None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states—ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. "Voting liberal, that's what kids do," overshared William O’Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.

It isn't just clinging to a shrinking portion of the electorate that does the Republicans harm, it's the way they do it. By focusing on resentments and animus, they make their politics more anti than pro, the consequence of which is that you only win some of your target group (whites), while alienating all or most of the groups you're setting yourself in opposition to (blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, non-religious people, young people, women...). And while it's difficult to make a particular portion of the electorate love you, it's pretty darn easy to make them conclude that you hate them, and thus they shouldn't even consider voting for you.

It's important to remember that this is seldom a coherent, organized strategy. When George W. Bush was in office, one smart operative, Karl Rove, could to a large degree dictate the party's direction. But today, any bunch of yahoos can hijack the party and set it moving down a politically dangerous path. Bush can spend years courting the Hispanic vote, and then when he's ready to leave office, the guys trying to succeed him get into a nasty fight about who hates immigrants more, and all that work is undone, the result being that Barack Obama beats John McCain among Hispanics by 36 points (and then four years later, they do it all again). A bunch of crazy legislators in Virginia introduces a bill mandating transvaginal ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion, and before you know it the whole party has jumped aboard an anti-contraception train, even though anyone in the party with a brain knows it's politically disastrous. A crazy primary process ends up with Rick freakin' Santorum, perhaps the most personally unpleasant, Puritanical national figure in American politics, becoming one of the faces of the party.

In short, the incentives to appeal to the resentments of its base are strong enough that the party goes through campaigns telling one group after another, "We can't stand you, so don't even think about voting for us."

Monday, February 27, 2012

James Inhofe Takes the Climate Conspiracy Theory to New Heights, Even as Global Warming Bakes His Home State

Great graphic.--SS

James Inhofe Takes the Climate Conspiracy Theory to New Heights, Even as Global Warming Bakes His Home State:

by Chris Mooney, reposted from DeSmogBlog

James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has a new book out. It is entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

I have not read it yet. So I cannot say much about its contents, but I can say this: The title suggests that Inhofe, like Rick Santorum, is endorsing the global warming conspiracy theory. Indeed, where Santorum only muttered the word “hoax” without a great deal of elaboration, it looks like Inhofe is going to put some real meat onto those paranoid bones.

Let me once again reiterate why the global warming conspiracy theory is, well, just plain ridiculous.

To believe that global warming is a “hoax,” or that there is a “conspiracy,” you must believe in coordinated action on the part of scientists, environmental ministers, politicians, and NGOs around the world. It won’t do just to situate the hoax in the United States and its own scientific and NGO community, because the idea of human-caused global warming is endorsed by scientists, and scientific academies, around the globe.

Any one of these could blow the whistle on the so-called “hoax.” That this has not happened either means there is no hoax, or that the degree of conspiracy and collusion—among people who are notoriously individualistic and non-conformist, by the way—is mindboggling. We’re talking about some serious cat-herding going on.

Oh, and by the way: You also have to believe that the colluding hoaxers have nefarious objectives—basically, they want to kill capitalism and strangle economies. This is even less plausible.

In other words, there is no hoax, and to believe in one is to be a conspiracy theorist. Inhofe himself uses the word “conspiracy” in his subtitle, so I do not think it at all unfair to describe him in this way. Either he is actually right in his claims—not likely—or else he’s conjuring a conspiracy where none exists. It’s that simple.

I point this out, incidentally, because I am continually amazed that our national discourse basically shrugs at conspiracy theories. That’s saddening evidence that we live in an “anything goes” political culture that has become unmoored from reality.

And how did this happen? Here’s a hint: Inhofe will debut his book on Fox’s Sean Hannity program tonight.

Let me end this post with a dose of reality. Inhofe, the climate conspiracy theorist, not only hails from but represents the state of Oklahoma. Here is what has been happening, climatologically, to Oklahoma lately, according to NOAA and other sources:

* The summer of 2011 was the hottest summer on record for the state. According to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, “Oklahoma experienced the hottest summer of any state since records began in 1895 with a statewide average of 86.9 degrees.”

* July 2011 was the worst. Says the Oklahoma Climatological Survey: “July’s average temperature was 89.3 degrees, becoming the hottest month for any state on record, besting over 67,000 other months.”

* August also fried Oklahoma, and was the hottest August on record.

* This, of course, caused serious damage and monetary losses: “Agricultural damage alone from the drought and related heat has been estimated as high as $2 billion.”

From the perspective of Inhofe’s constituents—say, an Oklahoma farmer—the global warming conspiracy sounds like an intellectual dalliance that the state simply cannot afford.

– Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine, senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of the bestselling book The Republican War on Science. This piece was originally published at DeSmogBlog. The top graphic is from Grist.

Related Posts:

Summer 2011 Record Statewide Temperatures

Public Opinion Snapshot: Cut Military Spending, Tax the Rich

Conservatives say they want to tax the rich and cut the military, but they will vote for Willard.--SS

Public Opinion Snapshot: Cut Military Spending, Tax the Rich:

The conservative view is that we should solve our fiscal problems by cutting spending on everything but the military and that under no circumstances should we increase taxes, especially on the rich. The public begs to differ. In a recent CBS/New York Times poll, the public overwhelmingly favored cutting military spending (52 percent) over cutting Social Security (13 percent) or Medicare (15 percent).

americans favor cutting military spending over cutting social security or medicare

And when it comes to taxing the rich, the public says bring it on! By a lopsided 67-29 margin, the public thought taxes on households earning $1 million or more a year should be increased to help deal with the budget deficit.

public favors taxing the rich

The fact of the matter is that the conservative approach to fiscal issues takes too many reasonable policy approaches off the table just because they don’t fit with conservative ideology. The public evidently agrees.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis, go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.

American Future Fund takes aim at Obama, irony

Well, which is it young feller? Do you want I should drop or freeze?--SS

American Future Fund takes aim at Obama, irony:

For a few years, the right has maintained a pretty consistent message when it comes to President Obama and Wall Street: the president is the financial industry's enemy.

Indeed, in most conservative circles, this is just taken as a given. Obama led the way on an onerous Wall Street reform package; he's said unkind things about "fat cats"; he wants to close the carried interest loophole that hedge fund managers are so fond of; and overall, the president has just been a big meanie when it comes to those poor folks in the financial industry.

With this in mind, it came as quite a surprise when the secretive American Future Fund launched this new attack ad yesterday, part of a $4 million ad campaign targeting nine swing states. In the commercial, AFF effectively says their own conservative allies have had it backwards all along: Obama isn't too mean to Wall Street; he's too cozy with Wall Street.

The minute-long spot doesn't lie, exactly, in making its case. The American Future Fund, which relies on undisclosed contributions from conservative donors, tells viewers that Obama has hired Wall Street veterans, supported the Bush/Cheney bank bailout, and has accepted campaign contributions from the financial industry. As attack ads go, these criticisms are fairly honest.

But it's the larger context that makes the ad so unintentionally amusing. For one thing, the ad contradicts three years of GOP talking points, which have gone to almost comical lengths to convince voters that the president has waged war on Wall Street's "wealth creators." For another, as Jon Chait noted, Mitt Romney's campaign is reportedly being bankrolled by the financial industry, and Romney has vowed repeatedly he'll remove safeguards and layers of accountability created after the 2008 crash, freeing Wall Street of its "burdens."

The underlying message the AFF is trying to get across is among the most ironic things we'll see this year: "Obama is too friendly with Wall Street, so vote for Republicans, who'll make things easier on Wall Street."

If it seems like these disjointed lines of attack keep coming up, there's a good reason for that. At different times over the last three years, Obama's detractors on the right have said he's a ruthless Chicago thug and a weak pushover. He's a bystander who goes golfing too much and an activist president who engages too much. He's sticking to the Bush/Cheney script on national security and he's putting us at risk by abandoning the Bush/Cheney national security agenda. He's cutting cherished entitlement programs like Medicare and he refuses to cut entitlement programs like Medicare.

If the right would just pick a caricature and stick with it, their criticisms would at least be more coherent.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Practically Frothing For War

Zandar's got their number, as usual: Sticky Ricky is the neo-con choice for going to Tehran with boots on the ground.--SS

Practically Frothing For War:

The redemption of Rick Santorum as Serious Foreign Policy Thinker(tm) comes courtesy of Michael Ledeen in the WSJ.

After leaving the Senate in 2007, Mr. Santorum wrote about foreign policy frequently for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he was a fellow until June of 2011. In essays written for the center, he acknowledges that terrorists are indeed inspired by radical Islam—but he wants to work with Muslims who do not wage jihad, subjugate women or oppress minorities. He’s specific about the radicals: They are evil men who have perverted the meaning of “martyrdom,” changing it from the act of dying for one’s faith to killing others to advance the dominion of one’s faith.

His opposition to tyranny abroad has been a constant in his political career. Even in the final days of his losing 2006 re-election campaign, Mr. Santorum never stopped calling for action against Iran and Syria. Apparently, Pennsylvanians weren’t impressed by his Iran Freedom and Support Act, enacted in 2006, which imposed sanctions on the regime and authorized $100 million annually for the democratic opposition, or his 2003 Syria Accountability Act.

But today he looks prescient and gutsy. Back then, the Bush administration was trying to run away from such ideas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at one point turned to a Democrat, then-Sen. Joe Biden, to block Mr. Santorum’s Iran bill, before it finally passed. But Mr. Santorum’s basic vision has prevailed.

And so it goes. Clearly the Murdoch machine is hedging their bets when it comes to the very real possibility that the man who will carry the GOP’s standard into battle against President Obama is going to be a know-nothing fundamentalist dipstick. So like Bush 43 before him, the same “scholars” who told us that it didn’t really matter that the Republican candidate is a moron because he would be surrounded by a brain trust of great minds led by the necessary vision and will to “win” are hard at work constructing the exact same fantasy with Iran as their target.

Ledeen and his crew of bloodthirsty ghouls have been after “regime change” in Iran now for over a decade. To see him latch his lamprey maw onto Santorum’s back to try to ride him into a war with Tehran should be setting off alarm bells in the head of every American old enough to vote. They want war, and Rick Santorum is the best way to get it. Ledeen allowed out of his crypt to try to sell Santorum as Commander-in-Chief means that not only is the GOP establishment making plans for Santorum vs Obama in the fall, but that when it comes to all the truly important boxes to be checked, that Ricky will do for them just fine.

The GOP establishment will prevent Santorum from winning over Romney? Really? At best they are hedging pretty damn hard, and at worst they are sabotaging the increasingly failtastic Mittens to get the man they wanted all along. If “probability of deciding to go to war with Iran” is your top criteria for picking a GOP nominee, then Santorum’s the clear choice. If Murdoch and the neo-cons are backing him, the notion that Santorum will crash and burn long before Tampa is no longer so assured, is it?


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mitt Romney’s budget in less than 150 words

Just the facts, Willard.--SS

Mitt Romney’s budget in less than 150 words:

Money comes into the federal government through taxes and bonds. The vast majority of it is then spent on old-people programs, poor-people programs, and defense.

Mitt Romney is promising that taxes will go down, defense spending will go up, and old-people programs won’t change for this generation of retirees. So three of his four options for deficit reduction — taxes, old-people programs, and defense — are now either contributing to the deficit or are off-limits for the next decade.

Romney is also promising that he will pay for his tax cuts, pay for his defense spending, and reduce total federal spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years. But the only big pot of money left to him is poor-people programs. So, by simple process of elimination, poor-people programs will have to be cut dramatically. There’s no other way to make those numbers work.

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Mitt Romney promises anti-union construction business lobby he'll make their dreams come true

Union members who vote Republican are traitors to their union.--SS

Mitt Romney promises anti-union construction business lobby he'll make their dreams come true:
Mitt Romney
(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Mitt Romney once again laid into unions on Thursday as he accepted the endorsement of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a staunchly anti-union industry group:
Thursday’s crowd was particularly receptive as Mr. Romney said he would pursue right-to-work laws and forbid unions from collecting dues that could be used for political purposes.

“If I become president of the United States, I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving union bosses an unfair advantage in contracting,” Mr. Romney said. “One of the first things that I will do – actually on Day One- is I will end the government’s favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects.” The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Romney was referring there to Project Labor Agreements, agreements that set uniform standards for all workers, union and non-union and from different trades, on a large construction project. They promote efficiency on projects involving multiple contractors and avert strikes and other labor disputes; additionally, they can contain provisions calling for jobs to be filled by local workers or, as in a recent Los Angeles PLA, people from economically disadvantaged communities.

The Associated Builders and Contractors really hates PLAs, even though PLAs include non-union workers, as part of a more general hatred of unions and workplace safety regulations and prevailing wage laws and really anything else that protects workers. But it's important to understand that the ABC is not the voice of the construction industry. Though the organization tries to present itself that way, a forthcoming (not yet available online) independent report by Thomas Kriger, a professor at the National Labor College, finds that if the ABC's claim to represent "23,000 merit shop construction and construction related firms" is true, it represents just 0.03 percent of the nearly 800,000 construction firms in the country. There is not a single state in which more than 6 percent of licensed or registered contractors are ABC members.

Not only that, the ABC does not appear to define "construction related firms" in the way that most of us would: Its members include 59 banks Freddie's Bar-B-Que of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the Land and Sea Restaurant of Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Rose of Sharon European Florist of Jacksonville, Florida. In fact, there are only six states in which 75 percent or more of ABC members are actually contractors.

The Associated Builders and Contractors is a totally appropriate Mitt Romney endorser, in other words, since like him, it's not quite what it wants you to think it is. It portrays itself as speaking for a higher proportion of contractors than it does, portrays itself as speaking for contractors specifically when in fact many of its members are restaurants and banks, and uses that false image to promote a comprehensive anti-worker agenda. And in his speech to them, Romney basically promised to enact that entire agenda if he's elected.

How Serious Is The Democratic Crossover Vote Threat In Michigan? | TPM2012

If you know anyone in Michigan (or VT, TN, or ND), please tell them to vote for Santorum in the GOP (open) primary!--SS

How Serious Is The Democratic Crossover Vote Threat In Michigan? | TPM2012:

"Republicans tried to tamp down on crossover voting when they designed the Feb 28 primary, but the peculiarities of the state rules made that effort basically futile. Democrats will allow members of their party to vote in Tuesday’s primary and still participate in the March 5 Democratic caucus, so Democrats can ask for GOP ballots on Tuesday with impunity. Crossover voting is a rich part of the Michigan primary tradition (this Detroit News column explains the tit-for-tat crossover efforts both parties have engaged in over the years pretty well), and so was born Operation Hilarity, the DailyKos-led effort to drive progressive voters to the polls for Santorum and serve up a loss to Romney."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Raising Organic Family Farms: The Farm Favorite

We need your vote to help our organic farmer friends!--SS

Raising Organic Family Farms: The Farm Favorite:
Our friends and local organic farmers Dave and Sonia of Nectar Hills Farm could use your vote at the Raising Organic Family Farms "The Farm Favorite" contest.
From Feb. 22 – March 16, 2012, encourage your friends, family and social networks to vote for your story on Raising Organic Family Farms. Raising Organic Family Farms is excited to announce the launch of the “Farm Favorite “ people’s choice grant recipient. [...] The story with the most votes will receive the grant or scholarship requested as well as an additional $500 Farm Favorite grant from Raising Organic Family Farms.
We're encouraging our readers to go vote for Dave and Sonia, who struggle to make ends meet while they provide our local area with organic grass-fed beef and many other organic meats, produce, honey, apple cider and more. Here's more of their story from Raising Organic Family Farms:
Nectar Hills Farm is incredibly picturesque, with 200+ acres of pastured rolling hills, natural bubbling streams and crooked heirloom apple trees. It is the epitome of wild beauty. From the front steps of the 150 year old farmhouse it is easy to make out herds of sheep and scottish highlander cattle, seen as moving specks along the vast countryside. Curious pigs root through scattered brush with their babies in tow and two large emu birds step cautiously and proudly around the barnyard. Chickens and ducks cluck and waddle across the driveway enjoying their free range to the fullest, while the lone peacock seems to always be on his own personal mission. Grapes hang on a vine outside the kitchen door and near that stands a peach tree with fresh and fuzzy fruit. Throw in a few rescued dogs, a couple of friendly cats, several goats and three handsome horses and the joyful lively abundance has just begun to be summed up.
It's an encouraging story that should appeal to anyone who thinks that organic, local food is an important part or any sustainable economy. Go vote!

The wrong way to argue about gas prices

Republicans really don't understand basic economics.--SS

The wrong way to argue about gas prices:

President Obama was in Miami yesterday talking about gas prices, making a pitch for an "all-of-the-above" energy policy that would rely on oil production, alternative energy, and improved fuel-efficiency standards. Anticipating the Republican response, Obama added, "Anybody who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about, or just isn't telling you the truth."

If an "all-of-the-above" policy sounds vaguely familiar, there's a good reason: as recently as 2008, it's what Republicans said they wanted, too. But like health care mandates, cap and trade, the DREAM Act, the payroll tax cut, and contraception coverage, the GOP is now against what they were for a few years ago.

Regardless, Republicans aren't just demanding expansive drilling. They're also pushing a talking point that's quickly become ubiquitous on the right.

"The president would like everyone to forget that gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy," a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Brendan Buck, said in a statement.

The second part of this is just silly; oil production has increased every year under Obama's presidency, and is now higher than it was at any point in Bush's second term. But it's the first part that's important.

At first blush, the GOP line may seem compelling. Indeed, at a certain level it's just a matter of arithmetic -- either the price has doubled or it hasn't.

But for those who care about context and a more thorough understanding of the situation, the relevant details make all the difference.

It's true that when President Obama took office, gas cost about $1.81 a gallon, roughly half of where it is now. The price had fallen sharply in late 2008 for a very good reason: there was a global economic catastrophe. GOP officials may not understand this -- or they may chose not to -- but gas was cheap because the economy had fallen off a cliff. As the economy improved, demand went up, and the price of gas started climbing. It's Economics 101.

As Matt Yglesias explained yesterday, "It turns out that driving to work, ferrying stuff from the warehouse to the store, hauling containers across the Pacific Ocean, and flying around to meetings all takes oil. If you manage to orchestrate a situation in which millions of people lose their jobs, retail sales plummet, stores close, and economic activity generally grinds to a halt, this frees up a lot of extra oil. Cheap oil leads to cheap gasoline, so if you did have a job at the depths of the recession your commute got cheap. And good for you. But this should all serve as a reminder that there's little constructive action the American government can take to lower the price of gasoline."

This may seem unsatisfying, and it may make Republican talking points appear ridiculous, but reality in this area is stubborn.

The end of a short-lived grace period

Because threatening to kill people is so damn funny.--SS

The end of a short-lived grace period:

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt against Gabrielle Giffords, there was an effort on the part of many to show restraint when it came to rhetoric about politics and violence. That grace period is now long gone.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz, for example, is comfortable joking about using his car to run down President Obama. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) thought it was funny to say, "In Arizona, sometimes to gain office you have to have shot someone." Rep. Paul Broun (R) of Georgia held a town-hall meeting last year in which a constituent asked, "Who is going to shoot President Obama?" -- a line which reportedly prompted a "big laugh" from the crowd.

Right-wing humor is just so droll.

Rep. John Sullivan (R) of Oklahoma became the latest to use this kind of political/violent rhetoric this week, sharing some thoughts on the federal budget at a town-hall meeting on Wednesday:

"I supported the Paul Ryan budget and sent it over to the Senate. Now I live with some Senators, I yell at them all the time, I grabbed one of them the other day and shook him and I'd love to get them to vote for it -- boy I'd love that. You know but other than me going over there with a gun and holding it to their head and maybe killing a couple of them, I don't think they're going to listen unless they get beat."

Sullivan's office later acknowledged his "poor choice of words," and extended an apology "to anyone he offended."

KOKI-TV in Tulsa aired this video of Sullivan making the remarks. Note the gun gesture with his hand when he talks about murdering senators who oppose the Paul Ryan budget plan.

In my heart of hearts, I sincerely doubt the Republican congressman would commit acts of violence against other lawmakers, but in the larger context, and just days after Luntz's "joke" about violence towards the president, I have to admit I liked the post-Giffords grace period better.

Santorum's Dutch death panels

Don't Euthanize me, bro!--SS

Santorum's Dutch death panels:

Appearing recently at the American Heartland Forum, Rick Santorum shared an interesting perspective on the fate of the elderly in the Netherlands. It's an absurd perspective, of course, but it speaks to a larger issue.

"In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly," Santorum said. "And the bracelet is: 'Do not euthanize me.' Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized -- 10% of all deaths in the Netherlands -- half of those people are euthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don't go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness."

In other words, in the mind of this Republican presidential hopeful, there are (cue scary music) Dutch Death Panels, including the "involuntarily" euthanization of the elderly in hospitals in the Netherlands.

Glenn Kessler took a detailed look at all of Santorum's claims, reviewing the bracelets, the legal euthanasia safeguards, and the alleged "involuntarily" euthanizations. Kessler's conclusion?

"There appears to be not a shred of evidence to back up Santorum's claims about euthanasia in the Netherlands. It is telling that his campaign did not even bother to defend his comments."

The moral of the story: Rick Santorum, as part of his culture-war crusade, doesn't mind making stuff up. He makes outlandish claims in a sincere way -- Santorum actually seems to believe his own nonsense -- but that doesn't change the fact that the guy really has no idea what he's talking about.

And there's a larger truth here, too. As an extension of the fight over health care reform, the right desperately wants the public to fear the government, not just in general, but literally fear the possibility that bureaucrats might start killing innocent Americans -- just like those rascally Europeans.

It's shear madness, of course, and constitutes demagoguery on an almost comical scale, but as Santorum's Dutch gibberish helps remind us, conservatives are heavily invested in the message anyway.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

George W Bush in 2012 Election - The Man Who Wasn't There - Esquire

Charles Pierce dives into the heart of GOP denial.--SS

George W Bush in 2012 Election - The Man Who Wasn't There - Esquire:

"I think they were booing George W. Bush.

"He is the man who isn't there. Until NCLB came up last night, the years 2000-2008 had been successfully written out of the narrative of the 2012 election. For these jamokes, time effectively began in January of 2009. It was Year Zero on the Kenyan Muslim Socialist Calendar. I do not believe that Bush's political non-personhood is an accident. It is now an article of faith among the Republican base that Bush's failures stem not from the fact that he was a manifest incompetent, but that he was too liberal a president. Putting through Medicare Part B without paying for it is a greater sin to these people than running two wars off the books was. No Child Left Behind had the endorsement of Teddy Kennedy! (Aieeeeeeee!) If only Bush had tried conservatism, the fairytale goes, then conservatism would have succeeded, as it always does. It never fails. It is only failed. C-Plus Augustus failed conservatism."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Man Nominated As Delegate To Gingrich Campaign Pleaded Guilty To 'Voter Fraud'

Why is it that the only proof I can ever find of voter fraud is of Republicans doing it?--SS

Man Nominated As Delegate To Gingrich Campaign Pleaded Guilty To 'Voter Fraud':

A man who would be designated as an Illinois delegate for Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pleaded guilty to voter fraud charges back in 1991, TPM has learned.

Back in 1991, Charles Augustyniak pleaded guilty to a voter registration violation after he tried to register his mother, father and brother (who lived in Du Page County, Illinois) as Cook County voters. As punishment he had to speak at training sessions for deputy registrars "explaining how he committed his crime and discussing correct procedures for voter registration," according to a newspaper report from the time.

Augustyniak is listed as a delegate on a petition on the Illinois for Newt website. In an interview with TPM he said he hadn't thought about the incident in a number of years.

"There was no fraud perpetrated, it's technically a misdemeanor election code violation which I admitted to," Augustyniak said in an interview. "My folks were in the process of retiring and were living with me for awhile, that's what that was all about."

Augustyniak explains that his parents moved in with him for a few months as they were selling their home in Du Page County but before they moved to Alabama in early 1991.

"They wanted to claim that they perpetrated some fraud, and I didn't think I wanted to put my mid-60 year old parents through that," Augustyniak said.

"It's something I haven't thought a whole lot about in over 20 years, if people want to look at my public record, I don't even think i've had a traffic ticket, but I don't really think it's any kind of an issue," Augustyniak continued.

Augustyniak said that he continued to speak to deputy registrars about his violation even after he had completed his required hours of community service.

The Gingrich campaign in Illinois didn't respond to a request for comment. Gingrich has supported conservative anti-voter fraud measures in the past, having been critical of the Justice Department for blocking South Carolina's voter ID law while calling for voter ID laws in all 50 states.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gas, Past Tense, Made Facially

Graphs are hard.--SS

Gas, Past Tense, Made Facially:

What the price of gas has done over the last 12 months (top green line there):

Source: AAA

What FOX News makes out of the green line:

Fox News

“Man, Mr. Murdoch’s third period math class is effin’ hard. But just leave out the uninteresting data points AND BLAME PRESIDENT MELANIN MCDARKGUY LOL HOMEWORK’S DONE. I bet I get a B plus for this one.”


Capitalism Works When Workers Are Productive

When Matt's good, he's very good.--SS

Capitalism Works When Workers Are Productive:

I think I understand what David Autor is trying to say here about rising wages at Foxconn, but it's pretty misleading:

“This is the way capitalism is supposed to work,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “As nations develop, wages rise and life theoretically gets better for everyone.
“But in China, for that change to be permanent, consumers have to be willing to bear the consequences. When people read about bad Chinese factories in the paper, they might have a moment of outrage. But then they go to Amazon and are as ruthless as ever about paying the lowest prices.”

The implication here seems to be that the reason the average American in 2012 earns a much higher wage than the average American in 1912 is that consumers have become much more willing to pay high prices. But of course that's wrong. The issue is the greater productivity of workers. This happens two ways. One is that when production of air conditioners becomes more efficient, the real wage of everyone who buys air conditioners goes up. The other is that as production of air conditioners becomes more efficient the producers of air conditioners make more money and the owners, managers, and workers bargain with one another to get a share of the returns.

The big story in China is that China has lots of very poor people living and working on farms. Average productivity, in other words, is very low so owners and managers have been able to get away with paying very little money. But as more and more high productivity factories get built, average productivity is rising and workers have more ability to bargain for higher pay in the factories. But this dynamic isn't going to result in higher prices for consumers of manufactured goods, it's going to lead to a bounty of manufactured goods as the world's total capacity to create manufactured goods increases. That is how capitalism is supposed to work—more output per worker means more goods per consumer which means that when the consumer is at work he's earning a higher wage.

Rand Paul Opposed Synthetic Drug Prohibition To Protect You From Radical Islam

Something in the water in Kentucky?--SS

Rand Paul Opposed Synthetic Drug Prohibition To Protect You From Radical Islam:

Late last year Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) cited the fact that many prisoners convert to Islam as cause for blocking legislation that would make synthetic drugs illegal.

Paul explained in a December letter sent to Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) recently obtained by the Bowling Green Daily News that he was blocking the bill because the "stigma of incarceration can make it practically impossible for many people to find work after they are finally released from prison."

But there was also another reason.

"In addition, there has been much discussion in the Senate regarding combatting radical Islam. Notably, Islam is currently the fastest-growing religion among prisoners in the United States. Sending people - often young people - who may already come from broken homes and difficult family situations into a brutal prison environment is potentially a breeding ground for radicalization," Paul wrote.

Paul's stance got a quick response from the Kentucky Democratic Party.

"Rand Paul says that he is helping to keep drugs on Kentucky's streets because he wants to make sure criminals aren't converting to Islam - you simply cannot make nonsense like this up," chairman Dan Logsdon said in a statement. "If he's so worried about prisoners converting to Islam that he is willing to place the lives of Kentucky's children at risk by allowing dangerous drugs on our streets, my advice to Senator Paul is that he just go ahead and make crime legal so we won't have prisons any more. Rand Paul needs to regain whatever toehold he had on reality and realize that what he is doing is going to hurt Kentucky's children in a very real way and he is going to have to live with that."