Republican Priorities

via Ezra Klein:

“The revenue loss over the next 75 years just from extending the tax cuts for people making over $250,000 — the top 2 percent of Americans — would be about as large as the entire Social Security shortfall over this period,” write Kathy Ruffing and Paul N. Van de Water at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Members of Congress cannot simultaneously claim that the tax cuts for people at the top are affordable while the Social Security shortfall constitutes a dire fiscal threat.”

We do have fiscal problems in this country: health care, for instance. We have to get growth in that sector down or we’ll bankrupt the country. But that’s not the case with Social Security. Social Security is just a question of priorities. And the legislators who are saying that we can extend the Bush tax cuts without offsets but that we need massive benefit cuts in Social Security are showing where their priorities lie, not stating a sad economic reality.

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Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bilibertaralarians?

via Cato Institute:

The conservative movement–and, with it, the GOP–is in disarray. Specifically, the movement’s “fusionist” alliance between traditionalists and libertarians appears, at long last, to be falling apart. To understand what’s happening, look at the Democratic gains made in previously Republican strongholds on Election Day. In “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, both House seats–as well as control of both houses of the state legislature–flipped from the GOP to the Democratic column. Out in the interior West, Jon Tester squeaked past Conrad Burns in the Montana Senate race, while other Democrats picked up a House seat in Colorado (along with the governorship) and two more in Arizona. These parts of the country are all known for their individualism and suspicion of officialdom–in short, for their libertarian sympathies.

Libertarian disaffection should come as no surprise. Despite the GOP’s rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq.

This woeful record cannot simply be blamed on politicians failing to live up to their conservative principles. Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions.

{…}

The basic outlines of a viable compromise are clear enough. On the one hand, restrictions on competition and burdens on private initiative would be lifted to encourage vigorous economic growth and development. At the same time, some of the resulting wealth-creation would be used to improve safety-net policies that help those at the bottom and ameliorate the hardships inflicted by economic change. Translating such abstractions into workable policy doubtlessly would be contentious. But the most difficult thing here is not working out details–it is agreeing to try. And, as part of that, agreeing on how to make the attempt: namely, by treating economic policy issues as technical, empirical questions about what does and doesn’t work, rather than as tests of ideological commitment.

Can a new, progressive fusionism break out of the current rut? Liberals and libertarians already share considerable common ground, if they could just see past their differences to recognize it. Both generally support a more open immigration policy. Both reject the religious right’s homophobia and blastocystophilia. Both are open to rethinking the country’s draconian drug policies. Both seek to protect the United States from terrorism without gratuitous encroachments on civil liberties or extensions of executive power. And underlying all these policy positions is a shared philosophical commitment to individual autonomy as a core political value.

Could we make a 3rd party by cementing a new fusionist alliance between liberals and libertarians? I be for it.

Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Secret War in Yemen

via Glenn Greenwald:

What’s going on here seems fairly obvious.  The absurdity of escalating a war in Afghanistan by pointing to The Scary Al Qaeda Menace — when there is virtually no Al Qaeda presence in that country — is becoming increasingly apparent.  Just yesterday, Washington Post article documented — using the WikiLeaks war documents (which, remember, told us absolutely nothing worth knowing) — that Al Qaeda is virtually non-existent in the war in Afghanistan.  So now, administration officials — hiding behind the anonymity which these media outlets naturally provided — fanned out to announce a new, Growing, Scary Al Qaeda Threat in Yemen, which, they boast, now needs its own escalated bombing attacks and CIA operations.  The goal is that the War never ends; the only variable is where it happens to increase on any given day.

The illogic and propaganda driving this is so familiar because it’s what has been driving the American National Security State for the last decade.  There is anti-Americanism and radicalism in Yemen; therefore, to solve that problem, we’re going to bomb them more with flying killer robots, because nothing helps reduce anti-American sentiments like slaughtering civilians and dropping cluster bombs from the sky.  Who could have watched the last decade and have doubts about that brilliant strategic insight?  As Yemen expert Gregory Johnson told The Christian Science Monitor in June, after reports of the use of American cluster bombs:

It is incredibly dangerous what the US is trying to do in Yemen at the moment because it really fits into AQAP’s broader strategy, in which it says Yemen is not different from Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are able to make the argument that Yemen is a legitimate front for jihad.  They’ve been making that argument since 2007, but incidents like this are all sort of fodder for their argument.

Just imagine how helpful a new, escalated drone campaign in Yemen will be — on top of the U.S.-backed abuses from their own government — for helping extremists in that country make the argument that Yemen is a new front in the American crusade against Muslims, similar to what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Of course none of this is new.  A Rumsfeld-commissioned report from all the way back in 2004 identified the “underlying sources of threats to America’s national security” and emphasized among the leading threats the “negative attitudes” towards the U.S. in the Muslim world and “the conditions that create them.”  That report specifically explained:

American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab states.   Muslims “do not hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies.

Personally, I wouldn’t call that a “paradox”:  nothing is easier to understand than why American bombings in the Muslim world increase anti-American hatred and thus fuel anti-American Terrorism and swell the ranks of extremists.  It’d be a “paradox” if that didn’t happen.  And it’s therefore unsurprising that the 2009 Nobel Peace laureate is rapidly becoming as disliked in the Muslim world as the prior U.S. President:  what looks to five Norwegians sitting in Oslo to be a Man of Peace looks much different in the region where his bombs are falling, his hit squads deploying, his war commitments expanding, and his sky robots multiplying.

There’s a particularly bitter irony here.  The campaign against the Park51 community center in Lower Manhattan is being condemned, rightfully so, because it is driven by a desire to stigmatize all Muslims and even institute a generalized war against Islam as American policy.  But far from Ground Zero, having nothing whatsoever to do with the warped right-wing fanatics driving that campaign, we’re increasingly engaging in actions perceived — understandably so — to be exactly the War against Muslims which, with our pretty presidential words, we renounce.  Escalation in Afghanistan, a sustained bombing campaign in Pakistan, all sorts of increased covert actions in multiple Muslim countries, the ongoing imprisonment with no charges of Muslims around the world, bellicose threats to Iran, and now a proposed expansion of our drone campaign into Yemen:  we can insist all we want that we are not waging a War Against Muslims, but it’s going to look to a huge number of people as though we’re doing exactly that.

How long will America run around Muslim nations “playing” protector of the greater good? Forever. And ever. And ever. At this rate I really hope the Aztecs were right about the world ending in 2012.

Hey neoconservative, right-wing lunatics, and no spine democrats do you get it yet? They hate us because we kill innocent civilians, and blow their country up into little pieces–every single day. Would you feel all warm and fuzzy inside about another country if it was blowing up your country into little pieces, all in the name of protecting the greater good? Imagine reliving 9/11 and Pearl Harbor over, and over again–every single day.

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sums up the Political Environment

via The Nation:

The political calculus is stunning. More than $1 trillion for the banks? No problem. But $10 billion for teachers and $16 billion to help the poor get healthcare? Only if it’s deficit-neutral and offset by other cuts to social spending. Never mind that many people using food stamps are already living through a depression or that food stamps are one of the most reliable ways to stimulate spending. The food stamp lobby doesn’t have quite the same pull as the Chamber of Commerce or US corporations—which have seen their profits rise by 36 percent this year and enjoy profit margins as a share of GDP that are near postwar records.

What happen to a government for the people by the people? Well, it is a government for the corporations by the corporations, which it always has been, but it just has come home to roost. Big banks if you are having a hard time, we will bail you out. Hey you, middle-class person trying to live a comfortable life, do you need some help? Well too f***ing bad, you don’t lobby well enough. Maybe someday, LOSER!

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ron Paul Shines Again

Congressman Ron Paul today released the following statement on the controversy concerning the construction of an Islamic Center and Mosque in New York City:

Is the controversy over building a mosque near ground zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery?

It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

Just think of what might (not) have happened if the whole issue had been ignored and the national debate stuck with war, peace, and prosperity. There certainly would have been a lot less emotionalism on both sides. The fact that so much attention has been given the mosque debate, raises the question of just why and driven by whom?

In my opinion it has come from the neo-conservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.

They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill conceived preventative wars. A select quote from soldiers from in Afghanistan and Iraq expressing concern over the mosque is pure propaganda and an affront to their bravery and sacrifice.

The claim is that we are in the Middle East to protect our liberties is misleading. To continue this charade, millions of Muslims are indicted and we are obligated to rescue them from their religious and political leaders. And, we’re supposed to believe that abusing our liberties here at home and pursuing unconstitutional wars overseas will solve our problems.

The nineteen suicide bombers didn’t come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Fifteen came from our ally Saudi Arabia, a country that harbors strong American resentment, yet we invade and occupy Iraq where no al Qaeda existed prior to 9/11.

Many fellow conservatives say they understand the property rights and 1st Amendment issues and don’t want a legal ban on building the mosque. They just want everybody to be “sensitive” and force, through public pressure, cancellation of the mosque construction.

This sentiment seems to confirm that Islam itself is to be made the issue, and radical religious Islamic views were the only reasons for 9/11. If it became known that 9/11 resulted in part from a desire to retaliate against what many Muslims saw as American aggression and occupation, the need to demonize Islam would be difficult if not impossible.

There is no doubt that a small portion of radical, angry Islamists do want to kill us but the question remains, what exactly motivates this hatred?

If Islam is further discredited by making the building of the mosque the issue, then the false justification for our wars in the Middle East will continue to be acceptable.

The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.

Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. But many conservatives and liberals do not want to diminish the hatred for Islam–the driving emotion that keeps us in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.

The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservatives’ aggressive wars.

The House Speaker is now treading on a slippery slope by demanding a Congressional investigation to find out just who is funding the mosque—a bold rejection of property rights, 1st Amendment rights, and the Rule of Law—in order to look tough against Islam.

This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.

We now have an epidemic of “sunshine patriots” on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended.

Political demagoguery rules when truth and liberty are ignored.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Free domain? Think again

By Andrew O’Brien

So ya wanna be a Philly blogger, eh? Hope you have $300, which apparently is the going rate for your minimally profitable blog about the Phillies, hipster beer and dumb pictures of your fat dog.

Philadelphia City Paper has the scoop: (hat tip from homeboy and muckraking watchdog S.F. Keppen)

For the past three years, Marilyn Bess has operated MS Philly Organic, a small, low-traffic blog that features occasional posts about green living, out of her Manayunk home. Between her blog and infrequent contributions to ehow.com, over the last few years she says she’s made about $50. To Bess, her website is a hobby. To the city of Philadelphia, it’s a potential moneymaker, and the city wants its cut.

In May, the city sent Bess a letter demanding that she pay $300, the price of a business privilege license.

It’s no secret the city has money problems, and one must give them some credit for due diligence in exploring sources of revenue that were previously ignored. This is too diligent, however, and simply makes the city look bad. In this age of Big Government fear and recessionary despair, charging for hobbies is not the best public relations. Doesn’t the city have enough on its plate battling the daily accusations of corruption, cronyism and sheer incompetence that plague it?

Other Philadelphia bloggers with similar “potential-for-profit” sites have received the same letter from the city. Though they argue (common-sensically) that a business privilege tax is an unnecessary expense for someone who does not consider their website a business, the City of Philadelphia disagrees:

Even though small-time bloggers aren’t exactly raking in the dough, the city requires privilege licenses for any business engaged in any “activity for profit,” says tax attorney Michael Mandale of Center City law firm Mandale Kaufmann. This applies “whether or not they earned a profit during the preceding year,” he adds.

What’s next, Philadelphia? Requiring business privilege licenses for wearing a shirt with a brand on it? After all, that person technically is advertising, and could be spotted on the street by a talent scout and offered a sponsorship contract. They could potentially profit from that.

By the city’s estimation, anything that has the potential to be for profit requires a business privilege license. That basically covers everything except the city itself, but it apparently figures it can make itself profitable – and then buy the $300 license.

This revenue-raising strategy may be around for the long haul:

In June, City Council members Bill Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez unveiled a proposal to reform the city’s business privilege tax in an effort to make Philly a more attractive place for small businesses. If their bill passes, bloggers will still have to get a privilege license if their sites are designed to make money, but they would no longer have to pay taxes on their first $100,000 in profit. (If bloggers don’t want to fork over $300 for a lifetime license, Green suggests they take the city’s $50-a-year plan.)

Their bill will be officially introduced in September. “There’s a lot of support and interest in this idea,” Green says.

The bill has noble intentions – to help small business – but shouldn’t there be a minimum for what is considered profit? Say, $100/month?

Fortunately, My Daily Take’s headquarters are a traffic-congested expressway ride outside the city’s limits. We funnel the profits through an offshore bank account and then hold our tequila-fueled weekend orgies in Philly.

How’s that for sticking it to The Man?

Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

ALASKA NOT AFRAID TO BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS

By Andrew O’Brien

Sarah Palin is the most famous Alaskan in America. It’s not even close. She is a woman who would have you believe that she, much like her adopted state, built herself out of nothing, without the help of a wealthy benefactor or sinister, generous caretaker. It is the narrative of her political life, one that has seen her rise quickly onto the national scene without much of a clue of what she is talking about.

She is also one of the new breed of conservative-libertarian Tea Partiers, fed up with the spending policies of the federal government which allegedly poses an undue burden on the wallets of each American by taxing them to the bone and spending frivolously on silly ventures like health care and unemployment insurance. The cost is more harmful than productive, they argue. America is losing its way.

Here, they are right. Americans are being unduly taxed without receiving proper benefits. Not those that live in Alaska, however.

Alaskans, meet the federal government, your loathsome sugar daddy. It is the one thing you cannot stand, but also the one you cannot live without.

Alaskan state lawmaker Carl Gatto sees the irony here. He’s a Republican state lawmaker who, though clearly aware of the lopsided financing (for every dollar given to the federal government for highway taxes, Alaska received $5.76), still believes the federal government is holding Alaska back.

From the New York Times:

“I’ve introduced legislation to roll back the federal government,” he says. “They don’t have solutions; they just have taxes.”

But…

Mr. Gatto, 72 and wiry, smiles and shakes his head: “I’ll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.”

He points to a newly graded and federally financed highway, stretching toward distant spruce trees. “Man, beautiful, right?”

Hell yeah, man – nothing like a stretch of asphalt highway to bring out the beauty of the pristine Alaskan wilderness. Mr. Gatto’s 180-degree turn from political righteousness to practical appreciation is the defining dichotomy of just how this Alaskan resolves his mixed feelings towards receiving government funds and choosing to go without.

Alaskans tend to live with their contradictions in these recessionary times. No place benefits more from federal largess than this state, where the Republican governor decries “intrusive” Obama administration policies, officials sue to overturn the health care legislation and Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted against the stimulus bill.

Although its unemployment rate sits at just 7.9 percent, about two percentage points below the national rate, Alaska has received $3,145 per capita in federal stimulus dollars as of May, the most in the nation, according to figures compiled by Pro Publica, an investigative Web site. Nevada, by contrast, has an unemployment rate north of 14 percent and has received $1,034 per capita in recovery aid. Florida’s jobless rate is 11.4 percent, and the state has obtained $914 per capita.

(more…)

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 11:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Prop 8 Decision Cannot Be Appealed?

via TMV:

Ever since long before Judge Vaughn issued his now-famous decision striking down California’s Prop 8 (and by extension of its logic, also striking down all state and federal anti-gay marriage statutes), it has been universally assumed that his decision would be only the first round in a process that would inevitably end at the Supreme Court.

That assumption could be wrong.  The case might already be over, because the proponents could lack standing to appeal.

I was skeptical when I read the headline, but the two cases cited by the appellees seem dead on point to me.

Justice Ginsburg wrote: “An intervenor cannot step into the shoes of the original party unless the intervenor independently fulfills the requirements of Article III.”

Prop 8 was a referendum, not a statute passed by the legislature.  The proponents of Prop 8 were therefore not the defendants, the state of California (personified by Gov. Schwarzeneggar) was.  And the state of California chose not to defend the case at trial and certainly has no intention of appealing Judge Vaughn’s decision.  Prop 8 proponents were intervenors, allowed by Judge Vaughn to stand in the stead of the state at trial.  That was a discretionary act by the judge and the higher courts are not bound to continue to honor it on appeal.  Thus, at the point that the state of California chooses not to appeal, Prop 8 proponents may have no legal basis to continue the case.  In order to continue, they would have to show that they were personally damaged by the Judge’s decision, which may be difficult.

It is possible that Prop 8 proponents could have standing on the basis that Vaughn’s overturning of their ballot initiative is a harm to their rights to enact valid changes to the law by ballot.  Alternatively, they could concoct standing for a new case by creating a new ballot initiative which would be rejected by the Secretary of State on the basis of Judge Vaughn’s decision, creating a new issue for a new case and a new appeal (after a very swift trial court decision) with no standing problem (since they now would be original parties, not intervenors).

Whatever the outcome, however, this turns out to be a risky argument for the appellees to make, as it risks dramatically limiting the reach of their victory:

On the one hand, that would be fortunate for those who want to marry in California.  On the other hand, it means that Judge Walker’s decision remains merely a trial court ruling and order, with no precedential authority beyond the state of California.  For those who think that Walker’s very persuasive decision can survive appellate review, this may seem like a lost opportunity to achieve a regional (9th Circuit) or nationwide precedent that could then be used to attack similar amendments in more than 30 states.

At the end of the day, this very clever legal argument might be too clever by half, as it transforms a sweeping legal victory to a much smaller one.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Real Benedict XVI

Andrew Sullivan writes:

We now know that this Pope was personally involved in enabling the rape of children rather than confronting criminal priests during his time as an archbishop in Munich. We know that while he had jurisdiction as head of the CDF, child-rapists were often allowed to carry on their crimes, and the most powerful rapist, abuser and cultist, Marcial Maciel, was abetted in his behavior. We know also that Benedict has seemed to try to get a grip on the problem as Pope, while never actually relenting on his own authority or the church’s own sense of its own immunity from legal or criminal investigation. And we had, for example, his stirring letter to the Irish bishops about the appalling legacy of child abuse, torture and cruelty perpetrated for decades by men and women abusing the power of their religious office.

In this mixed legacy, we now find this. Two bishops in Ireland tendered their resignations to the Vatican in the wake of the ground-breaking and earth-moving Murphy report on church abuse. The Pope has now refused to accept their resignations……..

And it continues, the wonderful world of religion and hypocrisy.

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

A gay couple’s take on marriage equality and their choice

via Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic:

A reader writes:

On a daily basis, we are asked the same question by friends and foes alike: “What the hell are y’all doing in Arkansas?”  And our answer is plain and simple: Because this is our home.  This is where we belong.  And when we start a family, we want our children to enjoy the richness of a childhood filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  But unless those darned “activist judges” on the federal bench step in, planning for our future will continue to be an endless game of absurd tradeoffs and unsatisfying options.

Living in Arkansas, my husband and I have a perspective on the “marriage equality should be driven solely by state legislatures” argument that is surely shared by many gay couples in the Bible Belt and elsewhere.  Our state is a good 20 years away from majority approval of same sex marriage, and we know that as long as we live in Arkansas, we do so as two single, cohabiting men in the eyes of the state.  Therefore, we are faced with an impossible choice: (a) live alone, with no support system, in a state that recognizes our marriage, or (b) live in Arkansas, where we are offered zero protections as a couple, but we enjoy the love and support of our family and friends.  For heterosexual couples in all 50 states, Home = Security.  For same sex couples in 45 states, it is more like Home vs. Security.

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment