Archive for December, 2012

The GOP has staked its future on political quicksand

Why are congressional Republicans at such a disadvantage in negotiations about the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling? Is it just a failure of messaging? Is it a simple lack of backbone, as Rush Limbaugh, Jim DeMint and others argue?

Well, it doesn’t help the GOP cause that President Obama’s job-approval rating has jumped to 57 percent in the latest AP poll, the highest since the death of Osama bin Laden. (And isn’t it refreshing that the entire “Obama ain’t a real American/president” meme has simply evaporated since the election?) In that same poll, just 32 percent of Americans say they support extending the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, a policy that represents one of the cornerstones of current Republican policy.

I realize that poll interpretation has been a bit of a problem for Republicans recently, but even they must know that a policy backed by just 32 percent of the country is a poor piece of ground on which to stake your party’s future.

However, things get really dicey …

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Economic trends bode poorly for the working man

Jonathan Rauch at National Journal has an excellent in-depth exploration of what’s happening in the American economy. The headline, “The No Good, Very Bad Outlook for the Working-Class American Man,” captures its thesis perfectly.

The article focuses on themes that I’ve tried to address here as well, such as the blog post earlier this week detailing how employees are being forced to split an ever-smaller share of the economic pie, while the share of the economy going into corporate profits increases. The National Journal piece tells a similar story through a different chart, this one focusing on increased productivity and how the benefits have been allocated:

Source: National Journal

Source: National Journal

As Rauch notes, and as the chart illustrates, for decades employees shared in the benefits of greater productivity. As labor became more efficient, both employees and employers shared in the benefits. However, that relationship ended somewhere in the late 1970s, at what you might call “the Big …

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An old conflict between bottom line and human lives

Friends and relatives gather at a burial site for some of the 112 victims of a fire at a Bangladesh garment factory. (AP)

Friends and relatives gather at a burial site for some of the 112 victims of a fire at a Bangladesh garment factory. (AP)

A little over a hundred years ago, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York killed 146 workers. Many of the victims had tried to flee but were prevented from doing so by exits that had been locked by management. Scores of people died as they fell or jumped from windows to escape the flames, plummeting to the ground from the 10-story building.

The tragedy proved to be an important turning point, helping to lead to passage of tougher workplace safety and fire laws, as well as creation of labor unions in the garment industry. (As someone who covered the 1980 MGM Grand fire in Las Vegas that killed 85, and who witnessed the adoption of much tighter fire-safety rules as a result, I know how that dynamic works. Even after the MGM tragedy, Nevada’s powerful casino industry resisted fire-code changes as too expensive, changing its tune only after a …

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Jim DeMint, Tea Party champion, leaving Senate

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, probably the most influential Tea Party advocate in Congress, is resigning his seat to become head of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

DeMint’s term was to have expired in 2016. The vacancy will be filled through appointment by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, with a special election held in 2014. That’s the same cycle in which South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, will be seeking re-election, which makes it less likely that Graham will face a stern primary challenger.

– Jay Bookman

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Why the Republicans may regret holding the House

The worst thing to happen to Republicans in the 2012 election cycle will not turn out to be Mitt Romney’s defeat. Nor will it be their party’s squandering of a great opportunity to take the Senate.

No, the worst thing to happen to the Republican Party in 2012 was holding onto the House. That victory will be their undoing. It will cause major damage to the Republican brand and to Republican party unity. In fact, that victory — not the setbacks mentioned above — may end up being the catalyst that finally forces a rethinking of the GOP strategy and approach.

I understand that sounds odd, but it’s true. Without control of the House, Republicans would not be suffering through their current existential crisis. Without GOP control, it would be the responsibility of majority Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide the politically risky votes for tax hikes and spending cuts that are needed to correct our fiscal course.

The Republicans, in contrast, would be free to sit back, …

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A little sympathy for Boehner? OK, but just a little

You have to feel a least a little sorry for John Boehner.

In fact, I wouldn’t blame the speaker of the House for wondering what terrible thing he did in some previous life to deserve being handed this budget mess. He finds himself under siege not just by his opponents, which is to be expected, but by his supposed friends as well.

And despite what some of those “friends” would like to believe, this is a battle that Boehner cannot fight and win, and he knows it. The issues at stake in the budget standoff are essentially the same issues fought out during the presidential campaign, and as speaker, Boehner has neither the pulpit nor the firepower to win against Obama where Mitt Romney failed.

That was confirmed by a new poll released Tuesday in which just 27 percent of Americans said they would blame President Obama if budget negotiations fail and the country is forced off the so-called fiscal cliff. Almost twice as many — 53 percent — would blame congressional Republicans. And …

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Let’s be honest: Chip Rogers is being paid to go away

Can we at least be honest about this?

Sen. Chip Rogers had become an embarrassment to the Georgia Senate that he served as majority leader, to the Georgia Republican Party and to the entire state of Georgia. His strange obsessions, from a ban on involuntary chip implantation to conspiracy theories about Agenda 21, made him a laughingstock nationwide. His long-concealed history in the sports gambling business and ethical questions, including efforts to wriggle out of responsibility for a defaulted bank loan, compounded the embarrassment.

But most importantly, as majority leader, Rogers helped to preside over a state Senate that had become dysfunctional. He needed to be gone. After voters in his north Georgia district were given the chance to do so but failed, other means had to be arranged.

So last month, Rogers was informed that if he sought another term as majority leader he would lose. At the same time, he was also quietly offered a nice, cushy little job, arranged by the …

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America’s political challenge, in one little chart

Two data points:

1.) Corporate profits — corporate after-tax profits — reached $1.75 trillion in the third quarter of 2012, an increase of 18.6 percent over a year ago. In fact, corporate after-tax profits now account for a bigger share of the national economy than at any point since World War II ended.

2.) Workers’ wages, on the other hand, now account for just 43.5 percent of our national economy. That is the lowest share of the national economy going into workers’ paychecks that has been recorded since World War II.

In fact, when you combine those two statistics into a single chart, you have created a snapshot of the single most important, consequential long-term issue facing both the U.S. economy and the U.S. political system. It looks like this:

corporateprofitsvswages1

In the chart, the share of the national economy, or GDP, going to workers’ paychecks is in blue. The share of the economy that is going to corporate profits is in red. (Note that in this combined chart, the two statistics have …

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President Petraeus? Fox News sure liked the ring of it

ap_general_petraeus_cia_testifies_thg_121115_wg

Somehow — and that “somehow” is a no doubt fascinating story in its own right — Bob Woodward at The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording of a long, detailed conversation between Fox News correspondent KT McFarland and then-General David Petraeus in the spring of 2011 in Afghanistan during which McFarland:

A.) Urges Petraeus to run for president against Barack Obama;

Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes

B.) Tells Petraeus that she was instructed to carry that message to Petraeus by Fox News President Roger Ailes and its owner, Rupert Murdoch;

C.) Tells Petraeus that Fox would fully back his presidential campaign, and by fully back she means:

D.) Murdoch would finance the campaign. Ailes would leave Fox to run the campaign. And Fox News itself would become the house organ of the campaign. As McFarland puts it point blank, “The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house.”

Throughout the conversation, Petraeus makes it clear …

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Bromance, not Benghazi, may explain Rice’s predicament

UN Ambassador Susan Rice

UN Ambassador Susan Rice

According to U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and a few others, harsh Republican criticism of UN Ambassador Susan Rice has been motivated by racism and sexism, not by any role she might have played regarding the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi.

The editorial board of the Washington Post recently made a similar suggestion, noting that 97 House members have taken the very rare step of sending a letter to the president opposing a possible Rice nomination to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (The House, remember, has no constitutional role in the confirmation of Cabinet nominees.) As the Post pointed out, “more than 80 of the signatories are white males, and nearly half are from states of the former Confederacy.”

Personally, I think that explanation is far-fetched at best. There’s no evidence whatsoever that racism is involved, and making such a serious charge without evidence to support it is simply wrong.

That said, however, I can see …

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