‘Step Right up!’ Snake Oil for Sale

 

by WALTER BRASCH  

 

The Tea Party, mutant spawn of the Republicans, held their spineless parents and the nation hostage during the debt ceiling crisis, and is now demanding an even greater ransom.

Flushed with what they mistakenly believe is success, they have launched an all-out assault upon the presidency. Their generals, fattened by Iowa corn and midway schmaltz, are Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain. Sarah Palin, hovering near the battlefields to soak up the media sunlight, much like a black hole absorbs all energy and light from nearby stars, is waiting to see how the war goes (and if she can write some intelligent sentences) before deciding to re-enter battle.

Bachmann is the winner of the strangest political non-election in the country, the Iowa Straw Poll. She won the race the old-fashioned way. She bought it.

To make sure that Iowans entered the Tents of Instant Gratification and, thus, cast their ballot the right way, the candidates, who paid $15,000–$31,000 to rent space at Iowa State, provided food, music, and carnival fun for the voters. Bachman had a petting zoo, and drew fans to a concert by country superstar Randy Travis. Cost of the banquet: $30 a ticket.

To assure there were enough votes, Bachmann’s campaign, like all other campaigns, paid the $30 admissions ticket. That would be $144,690 for 4,823 votes, plus several hundred thousand dollars in related campaign expenses. Related campaign expenses for the candidates included renting charter buses to bring voters from throughout Iowa to Ames.

But, Iowans aren’t stupid. Many wanted to see Randy Travis and eat the food of politics but didn’t plan to vote for Bachmann. About 6,000 persons took the “free” $30 tickets. Thus, she officially paid $180,000, $37.32 a vote; unofficially, with all expenses figured in, the cost could easily have been well over $200 a vote so she could be the winner and earn the title of Media Darlin’ of the Week.

The establishment media generally avoided Ron Paul, the second place winner, who “only” got 4,671 votes, 152 less than Bachmann, and 27.7 percent. Paul is a pariah in the Republican party, and something the media can’t figure out, because he actually has a core set of principles, which sometimes leads him to ally with liberals, but for different reasons.

Third place, with 13.6 percent of the vote and, according to numerous media pundits not charismatic enough to be a serious contender, went to Tim Pawlenty, who didn’t drink much of the tea and dropped out of the race after spending about $1 million in Iowa. Not dropping out were Tea Party favorites Rick Santorum (9.8 percent) and Herman Cain (8.6 percent), who lured voters into his tent with free Godfather’s Pizza. Mitt Romney, who had spent about $2 million in the 2007 Straw Poll, but skipped this year’s non-binding poll, finished behind Rick Perry, dripping tea with every statement he makes, entered the presidential race only after the Iowa Straw Poll, but did get 718 write-in votes for 4.3 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, Romney is still believed to be the front-runner.

Thus, going into the primary season, the Tea Party can arouse themselves with Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Cain, and maybe Palin. Not identified with the Tea Party, but in its gravitational pull are Romney, Jon Huntsman, and whatever is left of Newt Gingrich’s chances.

The Tea Party began a few months after Barack Obama was elected president, with a stated purpose to reduce wild government spending. But its deep structure shows an amorphous bunch of white middle-class ultra-conservatives, aided by upper-class political consultants and media manipulators, who have developed the ability to sound impressive with only half-truths behind their rants and chants, and a zealous determination to keep President Obama out of a second term.

During the debt ceiling crisis, Tea Partiers refused to budge on a demand of not raising the debt ceiling, cutting numerous social and educational programs, and holding firm to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Everyone must cut back, especially during economic crises, they bleated. Austerity is their mantra.

But, based upon their extravagant lifestyle and the wild spending they did in Iowa, shouldn’t their mantra now be “hypocrisy”?

 

[As a young reporter in Iowa, Brasch covered everything from fairs to politics to rock concerts. His current book is Before the First Snow, a powerful look at how the collusion of Big Government and Big Business can destroy civil liberties and lead to environmental destruction and health issues. The book is available at www.greeleyandstone.com, www.amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.]

 

 

 

‘Step Right up!’ Snake Oil for Sale

 

by WALTER BRASCH  

 

The Tea Party, mutant spawn of the Republicans, held their spineless parents and the nation hostage during the debt ceiling crisis, and is now demanding an even greater ransom.

Flushed with what they mistakenly believe is success, they have launched an all-out assault upon the presidency. Their generals, fattened by Iowa corn and midway schmaltz, are Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain. Sarah Palin, hovering near the battlefields to soak up the media sunlight, much like a black hole absorbs all energy and light from nearby stars, is waiting to see how the war goes (and if she can write some intelligent sentences) before deciding to re-enter battle.

Bachmann is the winner of the strangest political non-election in the country, the Iowa Straw Poll. She won the race the old-fashioned way. She bought it.

To make sure that Iowans entered the Tents of Instant Gratification and, thus, cast their ballot the right way, the candidates, who paid $15,000–$31,000 to rent space at Iowa State, provided food, music, and carnival fun for the voters. Bachman had a petting zoo, and drew fans to a concert by country superstar Randy Travis. Cost of the banquet: $30 a ticket.

To assure there were enough votes, Bachmann’s campaign, like all other campaigns, paid the $30 admissions ticket. That would be $144,690 for 4,823 votes, plus several hundred thousand dollars in related campaign expenses. Related campaign expenses for the candidates included renting charter buses to bring voters from throughout Iowa to Ames.

But, Iowans aren’t stupid. Many wanted to see Randy Travis and eat the food of politics but didn’t plan to vote for Bachmann. About 6,000 persons took the “free” $30 tickets. Thus, she officially paid $180,000, $37.32 a vote; unofficially, with all expenses figured in, the cost could easily have been well over $200 a vote so she could be the winner and earn the title of Media Darlin’ of the Week.

The establishment media generally avoided Ron Paul, the second place winner, who “only” got 4,671 votes, 152 less than Bachmann, and 27.7 percent. Paul is a pariah in the Republican party, and something the media can’t figure out, because he actually has a core set of principles, which sometimes leads him to ally with liberals, but for different reasons.

Third place, with 13.6 percent of the vote and, according to numerous media pundits not charismatic enough to be a serious contender, went to Tim Pawlenty, who didn’t drink much of the tea and dropped out of the race after spending about $1 million in Iowa. Not dropping out were Tea Party favorites Rick Santorum (9.8 percent) and Herman Cain (8.6 percent), who lured voters into his tent with free Godfather’s Pizza. Mitt Romney, who had spent about $2 million in the 2007 Straw Poll, but skipped this year’s non-binding poll, finished behind Rick Perry, dripping tea with every statement he makes, entered the presidential race only after the Iowa Straw Poll, but did get 718 write-in votes for 4.3 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, Romney is still believed to be the front-runner.

Thus, going into the primary season, the Tea Party can arouse themselves with Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Cain, and maybe Palin. Not identified with the Tea Party, but in its gravitational pull are Romney, Jon Huntsman, and whatever is left of Newt Gingrich’s chances.

The Tea Party began a few months after Barack Obama was elected president, with a stated purpose to reduce wild government spending. But its deep structure shows an amorphous bunch of white middle-class ultra-conservatives, aided by upper-class political consultants and media manipulators, who have developed the ability to sound impressive with only half-truths behind their rants and chants, and a zealous determination to keep President Obama out of a second term.

During the debt ceiling crisis, Tea Partiers refused to budge on a demand of not raising the debt ceiling, cutting numerous social and educational programs, and holding firm to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Everyone must cut back, especially during economic crises, they bleated. Austerity is their mantra.

But, based upon their extravagant lifestyle and the wild spending they did in Iowa, shouldn’t their mantra now be “hypocrisy”?

 

[As a young reporter in Iowa, Brasch covered everything from fairs to politics to rock concerts. His current book is Before the First Snow, a powerful look at how the collusion of Big Government and Big Business can destroy civil liberties and lead to environmental destruction and health issues. The book is available at www.greeleyandstone.com, www.amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.]

 

 

 

Obama's Tipping Point

I have been saying for a long time now that President Obama is the world's worst negotiator and has absolutely no interest in fighting for progressive principles. I didn't make this up out of the whole cloth. I voted for the guy and I desperately wanted him to succeed. But my job is to cover politics and when you cover Obama all you see is him running for cover.

Let me give you a small example nobody talks about, but I think is telling. After Gabby Giffords was shot, his administration indicated that he would do a major speech on gun control ... later. I told my audience that was not going to happen. Why? Because I know Obama. He hates, hates, hates conflict. And he would never take on an issue where he did not have overwhelming support. It's not in his nature.

Of course, there was no major speech. Instead there was a small op-ed buried in a local Arizona paper (a lot of times they write op-eds when they don't want any video out there that can be used in campaign commercials or repeated on the evening news that night). But that wasn't even the telling part. There were about half a dozen issues he could have addressed on gun control. The major one after the shooting was how many bullets a magazine could hold. Would he address that? Of course, not!

It turned out that he advocated for every position that polled over 67%. But, alas, the magazine issue only polled at 51% -- not good enough for Obama. He has the majority of Americans behind him, this was the major issue being discussed at the time and he has an incredible moment to tell this story -- and he left it out of the editorial. It's hard to imagine a politician more timid. It's almost as if he is trying to be the exact opposite of Bush -- all brains, no guts.

These days many are also wondering about the brains part. Has he not been paying attention to Republicans at all? Is he awake? Could any sentient person actually believe they were going to compromise this time around, let alone the next time? He was out there this morning talking about how he is looking forward to compromising with Republicans again over the Super Committee.

Unfortunately, that is the only guiding principle Obama has -- compromise. But that is no principle at all. What if I wanted to sell you a car for $10,000 and you offered me $1? Would compromise dictate that I sell it to you for $5,000? For $2? What if the car is really worth about $10,000, should I compromise anyway? Compromise is a tactic, it's not a principle. It doesn't give you the right answer. It is sometimes necessary, but offers no guidance in what should be the final outcome.

Can anyone name Obama's principles? Something he will not bend on? A progressive priority he will defend to the end?

Does Obama even think of himself as a progressive? He once pointed to a glass half-filled with water and told Sen. Bernie Sanders, "That's the problem with you progressives. You see this as half-empty." You progressives?

But does anyone think that the guy who hired Tim Geithner, Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, William Daley, Peter Orszag, Ben Bernanke, etc. is remotely progressive? If you looked throughout the whole country, could you find more conservative, establishment Democrats? Barely, if at all. And, of course, some of those guys aren't even Democrats.

But finally, it isn't just us on the "professional left" pointing this out. After yet another unconditional surrender in the debt ceiling talks, he's hit his tipping point. Just go talk to any group of liberals in the country and see if half of them aren't incredibly pissed off at him. I do it all the time and their whispers of discontent has grown into a cacophony.

Finally, nearly every progressive commentator is talking about his profound weakness, if it even is that and not something worse (some have started to question whether he even wants to win on progressive issues or if he is fundamentally conservative).

Now, the Obama supporters won't believe this either. They'll blame the messenger as usual. But go ahead, ignore this message at your peril. Apparently, the people at the White House think they're such geniuses. "Did you know it turns out centrists decide elections?" This is the kind of politics you learn in third grade and they think they're playing three dimensional chess. Yes, independents are important, but they hate weakness in their leaders. Giving the Republicans everything they want every single time doesn't appeal to any independents and will lead to half of your own voters staying at home.

How did he not see that the Republicans would bludgeon him with the lack of jobs after he agreed to their spending cuts -- which would only lower the number of jobs in the country? How could anyone not see that and think they know anything about politics?

A young woman I talked to at the airport last week said that she will not vote in the next election. I hate to hear that. I think if you don't vote, you have no right to complain the next time around. You have voluntarily ceded your voice in this democracy. I told her that and she said, "After Obama, what is there left to hope for?"

If the clever guys at the White House don't realize they've hit their tipping point, they're in for a rude awakening when that tsunami washes over them. They're headed into the 30s in the polls and I don't think they have any clue how to get out of there. They don't even know that they're about to hit an iceberg. They think they're just one more compromise from turning the corner.

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The Debt Ceiling Crisis: Let’s Get Personal

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

You have a credit card with a $25,000 limit.

Because you have a good job, you only have $6,000 on the card, and routinely pay the monthly statement and a little extra on the principal.

But then you decide you need a 52-inch high-def LCD TV screen to go into your “man cave,” and your family rightfully decides they need a vacation. So, you add a few thousand to the credit card. But, it’s all OK since you just got a promotion at work.

A couple of months later, your 2008 Honda begins puffing smoke. By the time repairs are done, it’s another thousand on the card.

And then your boss calls you into her office. Your work has been excellent, she tells you. You have made numerous contributions to the company, she says. But her boss has figured out he can make even more money for himself and the nebulous apparitions known as stockholders, so he is sending much of the company’s manufacturing needs overseas, where labor (and often workmanship) is much less of a financial burden. Besides, he won’t have to deal with unions overseas. Oh, yeah, says your boss, you’ve been replaced by some guy in Pakistan who’ll work for a tenth of your salary.

But there’s good news, says your boss. Because of your long and dedicated service, you’ll get four whole weeks salary—and health care benefits for two full months. You’ll surely find work in that time, you believe.

Three months later, you’re still unemployed. The mortgage is due. Bills pile up. But, you’re optimistic. You have a good work record. You’ll find another job. Besides, your wife (who had quit her job to spend full-time taking care of the home and raising the three children) just got a job at $7.80 an hour as a clerk at a big-box department store to help out. It’s only temporary, the two of you believe. You’ll get a job soon; she’ll be able to quit her job. A few more months go by, and both of you are now working—she as a near-minimum-wage clerk; you as a part-time customer service representative for a hardware store at two bucks over minimum wage. That’s all you could find. You don’t have health benefits; hers, which cover the family, are significantly less than what you once had.

You’re depressed, but there’s no money for social workers or psychologists. You and your family are a bit testy, snapping out for no apparent reason; there’s no money for marital counseling.

The bills pile up. There’s unreimbursed medical costs, a couple of unexpected veterinary bills for your two dogs, clothes for the kids, gas for the cars so you can get to your jobs. And then that variable interest mortgage hits a new high. You put a few more necessities onto the credit card and are now are at $24,950 of your $25,000 debt limit.

So, you go to the bank—the one that sold you the house, and which gladly gave you a mortgage when times were good and it could make a lot of money—and ask for a raise in the credit limit.

But times aren’t that good right now, and the bank refuses to raise your credit limit. After all, says the banker, there’s no way you could make monthly payments.

You plead that if the bank doesn’t raise the credit card limit, you won’t be able to survive, that you’ll have to default. That means you’ll lose your house and, probably, your cars. Your credit rating, once among the best, will plummet even further. Too bad, says the banker. Get another job, he says. One that pays better. Or, maybe work two jobs. Of course, there’s no jobs at the bank, or anywhere else. But that’s not his problem.

You again plead for help, but the banker isn’t interested. It’s your fault you’re in this mess, he tells you. You spent too much, he coldly explains. Cut spending, and you’ll be able to meet your minimum monthly payment—you know, the one with the 13.5 percent interest that goes to the bank—and, well, figure out something. He has no compassion and won’t help.

But there may be hope. Another banker comes into the office, hears your story, and wants to raise your debt limit, but the other banker has taken a stand. With you in the office, the two of them talk, argue, and shout loud enough so the other bankers and customers can hear them. It’s now 3:55 p.m., and the bank closes in five minutes, at which time the credit card, because of steadily rising interest, will be maxed out.

Finally, the two bankers agree to provide a miniscule amount of help. They will temporarily raise your credit limit, but will now dictate exactly what you can spend, and how you’ll spend it.

Since you like hunting, and they like hunting, they’ll let you buy all the guns and ammunition you want. But, they can’t help you on your health bills, or even lower the insurance premiums and co-pays. And, they can’t do much for that inflated mortgage payment. Or to help you find another job.

You will have to wear old clothes, used clothes, or lower your clothing expenses, they say, but there’s a solution. They give you a catalogue of very nice clothes—men’s, women’s, children’s. The pictures of the clothes, in full color on glossy paper, is just what you need to reduce your costs so you look presentable at the next job interview. And no one notices that the clothes the banker wants you to buy are all made in Pakistan.

 

[Water Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, the story of a ’60s “flower child,” and the reporter who covered her life, and that of America, for more than three decades. The book is available at www.greeleyandstone.com]

 

 

Debt ceiling deal reached, catastrophe "averted"

Unless Boehner demands more (he is) of the everything he's already getting, it looks like the debt ceiling deal is in the bag. Voting expected in a few hours.

Brad DeLong and Yglesias forgo the not surprising -- if depressing -- details to ponder the biggest loser here: governance.

... whenever the desires of the president conflict with the desires of the speaker of the House, the president has little leverage. Any speaker who does not fear disaster can roll any president. In this future, any bill that a speaker insists is must-pass gets attached to a debt-ceiling increase, and--unless there are people in the Senate equally willing to risk disaster, which is unlikely because senators are status-quo players too--so becomes law.

It's like a parliamentary system, with the debt-ceiling votes filling the role of votes of confidence.

Ezra Klein says don't worry, Democrats.  You're the self-appointed losers again, but you could accidentally win as we're baking the welcome cakes for President Romney.

On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama’s current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is...nothing.

This scenario is the inverse of the current debt-ceiling debate, in which inaction will lead to an outcome -- a government default -- that Democrats can’t stomach and Republicans think they can. There is only one thing that could stand in the way of Democrats passing significant new revenues on the last day of 2012: the Obama administration.

Until then, brace yourself for increased state contraction thanks to all this Teanomic "compromise," and -- of course -- triggers:

Revenues, in other words, won't be forbidden by the deal, but will be an uphill climb. Some Democrats think they have added leverage because if Republicans pull such a trigger, it will provide them with a helpful message going into the next election: Republicans were so unwilling to end egregious tax loopholes and breaks for millionaires, that they triggered devastating cuts to domestic and defense programs. Levin doesn't really buy it.

Levin's a smart guy.

Meanwhile,

We have had a non-declining 9% plus unemployment very low interest rate economy for two years now. And the employment-to-population ratio has not moved. Something about the future must be different from the recent past in order to get it to move upward. Starting in 1994 it was the dot-com boom that pulled us out of that jobless recovery. Starting in 2004 it was the housing boom that pulled us out of that jobless recovery. What is going to pull us out of this jobless recovery? I don't see it yet.

In my view the chance that the unemployment rate will be 9% or higher at the end of 2012 has just crossed 50%, heading upward.

Yay compromise!

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