Tag Archives: Moderate Voice

Silvio, Silvio, Silvio…

Rachel Donadio at NYT:

A Milan judge on Tuesday ordered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of prostitution and abuse of office, dealing the most serious blow to his leadership in the 17 years that he has dominated Italian politics.

In a brief statement the judge said the trial would start on April 6. Mr. Berlusconi faces charges that he paid for sex with an under-age nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby Heart-Stealer, and abused his office to help release her from police custody when she was detained for theft. The scandal has dominated political debate in Italy for months.

Mr. Berlusconi denies wrongdoing and has said he has no intention of stepping down. But in an increasingly tense climate after large anti-Berlusconi demonstrations on Sunday, analysts said the judge’s ruling makes it nearly impossible for the prime minister to govern and all but guarantees early national elections.

“The situation is more political than judicial now,” said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. He predicted that in the short term Mr. Berlusconi would hold on, but “in the middle-term it’s an unsustainable situation.”

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice

J.H. at Newsbook at The Economist:

EARLIER today a judge in Milan, Cristina Di Censo, indicted Italy’s prime minister, Silvio  Berlusconi, on charges relating to his alleged use of prostitutes. She said he should be tried for paying an underage prostitute and then attempting to cover up the alleged offence by taking advantage of his official position, which is itself an offence in Italy.

But Ms Di Censo did more than just indict Mr Berlusconi. She accepted, in full, arguments put forward by the prosecution that have potentially devastating implications for Mr Berlusconi (who denies any wrongdoing). First, she agreed with them that, because of “the obviousness of the evidence” they had gathered against him, he should be put on trial without a preliminary hearing. The full trial is due to begin on April 6th, and by a twist of fate (or, as Mr Berlusconi’s followers will no doubt contend, malevolent design) all three judges at the trial will be women.

That development seemed particularly resonant against a background of protests by Italian women against Mr Berlusconi and the entrenched machismo his female critics see him as representing. On Sunday, several hundreds of thousands took to piazzas around Italy to demonstrate “for a country that respects women”.

Their protest was the latest challenge to a prime minister whose personal popularity has fallen significantly since the scandal broke last October. Mr Berlusconi also faces daily problems attempting to get legislation through parliament following a walk-out by some of his followers last year.

The Jawa Report:

The legal age of consent in Italy is, holy cow, 14. But it is unlawful to engage in prostitution until the age of 18. Ms. Ruby, her stage name, was 17 when she let the PM boink her.

Berlusconi has said, “I didn’t pay her for the sex”. Which is a round about way of saying, “Yeah I hit that.”

Rick Moran:

Italian feminists are naturally up in arms.

On Sunday thousands took to the streets in Italian cities and worldwide in coordinated demonstrations that organizers said were aimed at restoring the dignity of Italian women amid the latest sex scandal and after years in which Mr. Berlusconi has routinely appointed television showgirls to political office.

No misogyny there. And how about Berlusconi’s lawyer’s take?

Noting that Mr. Berlusconi would be tried before a panel of three women judges, he said: “Great. Women are always appreciated, sometimes even agreeable,” the center-left daily La Repubblica reported.

Makes me wish I understood Italian so I could follow every twist and turn being reported in the Italian media.

Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic:

Despite the scandals, the angry women, and the splitting of his political coalition, Berlusconi has managed to hold onto power. Why? The Guardian’s Alexander Chancellor says it’s because he’s a master salesman. “When he was building his media empire,” Chancellor says, he demanded his sales team have “the sun in their pockets”–they had to be sunny, smiling, non-smoking, mustache-free. The rules made Berlusconi billions. And now, despite the bad headlines, “Berlusconi still has the sun in his pocket. Addressing political rallies, he always looks hopeful, confident, and in charge. … He may have fallen from grace among many women and Catholics, but most men, apart from those of the left, seem still to like him well enough. In Britain he would probably be resented for his wealth alone, but in Italy it works in his favour.”

Libby Copeland at The XX Factor:

Berlusconi is, after all, a guy who once called Rosy Bindi, the middle-aged woman who heads the opposition Democratic party, “increasingly more beautiful than you are intelligent.” Her response was to tell him “I am not one of the women at your disposal,” which prompted an “I’m not at your disposal” campaign in support of her. (Bindi’s rejoinder may have sounded more pithy in the original Italian.) Like that exchange, the insults in the so-called Rubygate scandal are fascinating for their degree of bile, if a little stilted in the translation.

A few days ago, before Berlusconi was indicted for allegedly hiring an underage prostitute, more than 100,000 people, mostly women, came out across the country to protest his dalliances with young women. (Not to mention his penchant for institutionalizing sexism by, among other things, putting skimpily clad showgirls on the networks he owns.) This prompted Berlusconi’s education minister, herself a woman, to label the protestors “the usual snob heroines of the left.” By American standards this is a fairly stunning thing for a high-ranking politician to say. Not to mention a great band name.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Foreign Affairs

Open The Hatch!

Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic with the round-up

Josh Gerstein at Politico:

A long-running federal investigation has found that White House political aides to President George W. Bush engaged in widespread violations of a federal law which limits partisan political activity by government employees during the 2006 midterm elections.

A 118-page report issued Monday by the little-known Office of Special Counsel cites numerous violations of the Hatch Act by the Bush-era White House Office of Political Affairs. The report concludes that federal taxpayers footed the bill for improper activities that were intended to advance Republican political candidates.

“The entire [Office of Political Affairs] staff was enlisted in pursuit of Republican success at the polls and many OPA employees believed that effort was part of their official job duties,” the report concludes. “Based on the extent of the activities described below, OSC concludes that the political activities of OPA employees were not incidental to their official functions, and thus U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls in 2006.”

Those efforts, according to the report, included assigning staffers to track “the amount of money raised at fundraisers held by Republican candidates and national, state and local Republican groups.”

Citing a “a systematic misuse of federal resources,” the report also points to Bush administration cabinet members who traveled to White House-targeted Congressional districts in what was called the “final push.” The inquiry found that although many of the trips were primarily political, they had been designated as official business, and the expenses were paid by the government.

Steve Benen:

There were, for example, several dozen mandatory briefings for federal employees — during work hours and in federal office buildings — in which White House officials instructed public employees on how they could help Republican campaign efforts. Bushies later described the briefings as “informational discussions,” but all available evidence suggests that’s a lie.

There were also the extensive travel expenses. In order to give the impression that vulnerable Republican lawmakers were important and powerful, the Bush White House arranged for cabinet secretaries to visit key campaign battlegrounds to give GOP candidates a public-relations boost. The law prohibits officials from using our money this way, and taxpayers were never reimbursed. When asked, Bushies said the trips were official government business. Like the rest of the defense, this wasn’t true, either.

And in case that wasn’t quite enough, Republican National Committee officials literally just moved their operations into the White House, to coordinate campaign efforts. This is illegal, too.

All of the transgressions were coordinated by the Bush/Cheney Office of Political Affairs, which was overseen by Karl Rove, and which is prohibited from using public funds for partisan political purposes.

In the Bush era, Rove’s operation seemed to do nothing but use our money for partisan political purposes.

If you’re wondering about the potential legal fallout of these revelations, the Office of Special Counsel, which released its report yesterday, said it no longer has any jurisdiction now that the Bush administration has left office. The Justice Department could conceivably pursue this, but it’s given no indication that it intends to do so.

The report comes just a few days after the Obama White House announced it would shutter its Office of Political Affairs altogether, so as to avoid any misuse of public funds.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) recent claim — he called President Obama’s team “one of the most corrupt administrations” in recent memory — is looking increasingly ridiculous all the time.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

As I said last decade, no one will be held accountable for the abuses described in the report. So forgive me for being underwhelmed by the release of the report that does no more than catalog what we already knew.

The report shows that under Bush, agency heads required agency political appointees  to attend briefings at which they’d get an overview (40-60% of the content) of the Republican prospects for the next election.It described how these briefings explained the importance of the Republican 72-hour plan to get out turnout. And it described how at least some agencies tracked the participation of employees in GOTV activities.

One Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Peace Corps testified that she maintained a spreadsheet showing the agency’s political appointees and when and where they were deploying to be campaign volunteers. The witness explained that OPA wanted to know the level of participation by political appointees as a group, and that she believed OPA expected all appointees to volunteer. She also understood that supervisors were expected to permit political appointees to take leave so they could “go off and do 72-hour campaigns.”

The most interesting finding of the report–though again, we knew this–is that the Office of Public Affairs became a mere extension of the RNC leading up to the 2006 election.

Specifically, OSC’s investigation revealed that OPA was essentially an extension of the RNC in the White House. Thus, OPA:

  • Worked with the RNC to develop a “target list” consisting of those Republican candidates involved in close races.
  • Encouraged high-level agency political appointees to attend events with targeted Republican candidates in order to attract positive media attention to their campaigns, a practice called “asset deployment.”
  • Utilized the services of several RNC Desk Coordinators – who worked inside the White House – to help coordinate high-level political appointees’ travel to both political and official events with Republican candidates.
  • Kept track of Republican candidates’ fundraising efforts as well as high-level agency political appointees’ attendance at events with targeted candidates.
  • Encouraged political appointees, on behalf of the RNC, to participate in 72-hour deployment efforts.

As explained below, OSC has concluded that all of these activities constituted “political activity” because they were directed at the electoral success of Republican candidates and the Republican Party as a whole. These activities took place in federal buildings and during normal business hours in violation of the Hatch Act. And although the OPA Director and Deputy Director, at whose direction these activities occurred, were exempt from the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace, the regulations require that the costs associated with the political activity of exempt employees be reimbursed to the U.S. Treasury when the activity is more than incidental. Here, the entire OPA staff was enlisted in pursuit of Republican success at the polls and many OPA employees believed that effort was part of their official job duties. Based on the extent of the activities described below, OSC concludes that the political activities of OPA employees were not incidental to their official functions, and thus U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls in 2006.[my emphasis]

In short, taxpayers paid for a big chunk of the Republican 2006 campaign.

Hey! That was the campaign where we took back both houses and Rove’s math was proven to be faulty, right? Suckers!!

Doug Mataconis:

Even if there aren’t criminal prosecutions, it would seem clear that the RNC, the NRCC, the NRSC, or the individual campaigns should reimburse the Federal Government for the costs the taxpayers paid that they shouldn’t have.

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

Where will this story go? It’s uncertain.

GOPers will likely not mention it or find a way to try and downplay or discredit it. Some Democrats may not press it too aggressively since it does refer to an administration out of power and some Dems may have aspirations to cut the same corners in the future.

On the other hand, there could be some big surprise and it could lead to some repercussions or reforms.

Wonkette:

American taxpayers (China) paid for Bush administration officials to conduct political campaign activities for the 2006 midterm elections, which violated federal law and is information that, perhaps, we could have used somewhat earlier than a half decade after the fact. This is not surprising, nor is it surprising Karl Rove directed this stuff. What’s really awful is the sheer incompetence of the federal officials using these taxpayer funds, seeing as the 2006 midterms were a total blowout for the GOP. If you’re going to spend our money on elections, at least win some of them. So, are any of these Bush people going to be prosecuted for breaking the law? LOL.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Political Figures

And Another One Bites The Dust

E.D Kain at Balloon Juice:

Why I am Not a Conservative

Short answer: When I think about the GOP retaking Congress I get cold sweats and flashbacks of 2000-2008. Ditto that for the prospect of say, Newt Gingrich sitting in The Oval Office. The only Republicans who are at all honest – like Gary Johnson who has really good civil liberties bona fides – would A) never win and B) are really way too economically conservative for me. So yeah, Republicans taking back Congress in a couple months is just bad news as far as I’m concerned.

[…]

Long answer after the fold…

It’s certainly been a change of pace and perspective for me to blog here at Balloon Juice, and one I’m profoundly grateful to John for. I’ve been drifting leftward for quite a while now (from dissident conservative to fed-up libertarian to, more recently, pro-market liberal with libertarian and especially civil libertarian streaks) – so drifting leftward, but on uncertain feet. And one weakness of my blogging style and perhaps of the habits I’ve gotten into blogging at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, is that I’ve been able to walk this particular ideological tightrope past the point of its usefulness. The ‘pox on both your houses’ style really is sort of annoying after a while even if it is unintentional and even if it is due to honest doubt rather than an attempt to please everyone. Certainly it’s nothing to build one’s political philosophy upon. And quite frankly, the pushback I’ve gotten in the comments about having it both ways is fair, and it’s gotten me thinking – a lot – about picking a side. How you frame your argument and who you frame it for matters. Picking sides matters.

So I will. I no longer have any desire to be considered a conservative – and no longer consider myself one (I do have a somewhat anti-modernist streak, for instance, which I blame on all the fantasy literature I read as a child but which is more a sort of romanticism than anything very political. I recall as a child being quite depressed by the thought that no matter how far I walked in any direction from my home I would inevitably come up against a paved road. How this translates into right vs. left is another matter though it does make me a strong supporter of localism and buying locally and so forth.)

I’ll vote Democrat this fall and I’ll almost certainly vote Democrat in 2012. If I’d been a Senator last year I would have voted for the HCR bill. The Democratic Party has its flaws but at least it cares about governance, at least Democrats try to make the world a less harsh, more egalitarian place even when sometimes their policies backfire or are simply wrong to begin with. And liberalism generally is just more serious an endeavor than conservatism is. More wonky, more beholden to, you know, data and facts.

I have always voted Democrat in any case, even as a self-described conservative, and remain pro-gay-marriage, anti-war, anti-torture, and against the drug war, against the security state, against crony capitalism. It’s not my politics so much that have undergone a change lately (though they have as well), but my thoughts on who I should and should not align myself with, and why this is important

Conservative politics don’t even lend themselves all that well to conservative ends to begin with.

For instance, I’d say the generous maternity leave in Sweden or Germany is far more in line with a belief in the importance of family than our lack of any policy to that effect. If being pro-family is conservative then I guess I’m conservative in that way – but I think ‘family’ should include committed gay couples. If wanting a stable fiscal future is conservative, then again I suppose that describes me. But we can’t simply cut spending down to the marrow to achieve this, nor should we. Slashing taxes at all costs is not fiscally conservative. Raising them is much more so – and conservatives are by and large too irresponsible to even countenance this. Only a very few are considering cutting defense spending to help balance the budget. And indeed, there are a very few very smart, honest, hopeful thinkers on the right who I admire a great deal but they are only a very few. And not movers and shakers in any case. On the libertarian front – or the liberal-tarian front at least – I see much more hope.

I also share a good deal more cultural affinity with the left, broadly speaking, than with the right and my cultural politics have always reflected this. I watch Colbert and the Daily Show and almost never turn the channel to Fox News. I listen to NPR. I hang out mostly with liberals. I have very liberal views on most social issues. I still believe in the importance of decentralized power structures, checks and balances, and in not placing too much faith in the state – but again, these are positions that are perfectly acceptable on the left in ways that my belief in gay marriage or higher taxes or non-interventionist foreign policy are simply not acceptable on the right.

Dennis Sanders at Moderate Voice:

Blogger E.D. Kain’s “Up from Conservatism” post had me thinking about something that I’ve seen over the years. You take a guy who was a conservative that starts to see some of the problems. They start to see them grow bigger and bigger and start to take on a crusade to reform conservatism. However, they continue to focus on the issues plaguing the movement, until the problems are all they see. At some point, they write a post renouncing their ties to conservatism and citing how awful the movement is. They either choose to become independent or go over to the liberal side of the political spectrum.

On the surface, one can look at this as proof about how messed up conservatives are. I don’t doubt that. The current state of conservatism has caused many to pull up stakes and move towards greener pastures. But I am also bothered by another concern and that is: why are there so few folks committed to reforming conservatism? Why is there not an effort to make conservatism more modern in the way it has been done in the United Kingdom?

Conor Friedersdorf at Sully’s place:

On the six week road trip I took when I left DC and moved backed to California, a highlight was having drinks with E.D. Kain in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he lives with his wife and child, works a day job to pay the bills, and manages to produce lots of enjoyable blogging. He wrote a post a couple days ago that’s handily summed up by this line: “I no longer have any desire to be considered a conservative – and no longer consider myself one.”

Unlike me, but like a lot of politically active people, Mr. Kain finds value in associating himself with a political/ideological team. It ought to trouble movement conservatives that they’re losing a married father in a red state who champions localism, decentralized power, checks and balances, and not placing too much faith in the state, and especially that in his judgment, “these are positions that are perfectly acceptable on the left in ways that my belief in gay marriage or higher taxes or non-interventionist foreign policy are simply not acceptable on the right.”

There are many on the right, however, who’d celebrate his repudiation of the conservative label, because he says things like this:

I would have voted for the HCR bill. The Democratic Party has its flaws but at least it cares about governance, at least Democrats try to make the world a less harsh, more egalitarian place even when sometimes their policies backfire or are simply wrong to begin with. And liberalism generally is just more serious an endeavor than conservatism is. More wonky, more beholden to, you know, data and facts.

Mr. Kain is conflating the conservative movement, a deeply unserious and corrupt political coalition, with the political philosophy of conservatism, which is every bit as serious as liberalism, and isn’t inherently less wonky either.

I disagree with Mr. Kain on health care reform too. I opposed it, and would’ve much preferred something like the plan articulated here. But do I understand why he’s concluded that movement conservatism is to be abandoned? Yes, I understand, and much as I’d encourage him to vote for divided government this November, and to keep trying to reform the right, the more important message is directed at those who prefer a pure, narrow coalition of hard core conservatives to an inclusive one: Mr. Kain fits into neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party, but you’ve driven him toward the latter’s coalition by assessing his particular mix of beliefs and asserting that he is a statist on the side of tyranny.

Tim Kowal:

E.D. Kain explains why he no longer considers himself a conservative.  He gives a lot of reasons, some prompting one to ask why he ever considered himself a conservative.  But testimonials of anyone publicly “switching sides” always interest me, and prompt me to re-examine just why it is I find the left such a non-option.  And I think I can plow through all the unimportant things down to a couple of the core psychological-emotional motivating factors that defines whether any given person will identify himself as “conservative” or “liberal.”

One of those things is whether you truly believe a “conservative” or a “liberal” political worldview is sustainable.  I admit I am intrigued by the notion of having every necessity of life guaranteed by the state, particularly when “necessities of life” include things like high-speed internet access and hip organic cuisine—one just cannot survive with the stigma of being unstylish or out of touch with leftist fads.  And I am aware that Europe’s experimentation with this sort of indulgent welfare state is, by certain accounts, going quite well.  But forgive me if I just don’t believe it.  While I’m sometimes tempted by the idea of packing up and heading to a generous European welfare state and living it up while the ship goes down, my gut reaction is that the ship is in fact going down.  I don’t think one can ever not be a fiscal conservative unless one is convinced that the new-math of welfare-state economics can actually work beyond a few generations.  And I’m not [convinced].

Another deep-seated psychological reason I cannot throw my lot in with liberals is that I don’t have compassion for the most of the would-be beneficiaries of their social safety nets.  Some, sure.  But I’ve come to the realization that what I might consider terribly unpleasant, others consider perfectly tolerable.  Take one example:  My wife, though conservative, is a filmmaker and photographer, and thus has a long list of Facebook friends on polar opposite sides of the political spectrum.  When a video went around the internet a while back profiling an Orange County, California family living in a motel room, the liberal bloc of my wife’s Friends noted the travesty of conservative OC governance that would let something like that happen in such a relatively wealthy area.  But this family was paying approximately $800 a month to live in a motel room.  While Orange County is still an expensive place to live, it’s not so expensive that apartments can’t be found for that amount.  Moreover, when the interviewer asked the family why they don’t move somewhere, perhaps out of state, where the cost of living is much more affordable.  The family responded they had no interest in moving out of temperate and beatific Orange County.

This epitomizes the majority of accounts of the impoverished that I’ve been exposed to in my lifetime.  Discomfort, yes.  Dire straits, hardly.

More Dennis Sanders:

I’ve seen this coming for a long time: the formerly prolific, hetrodox conservative blogger E.D. Kain has abandoned the conservatives, passing the liberaltarian lable and going full on liberal.Not that being a liberal is a bad thing.  Living in the liberal bastion of Minneapolis, I have a lot (and I mean a lot) of friends who are liberal Democrats.  And I also happen to sleep with a certain liberal gentleman of Scandanavian descent.

That said in some ways, this is sad, because the American center-right needs more people like Erik.  And yet, this is not surprising to me, though it is quite confusing.  I don’t know if it’s age or what, but it has always seemed to me that Erik was trying to figure out who he was and where he fit politically.  One moment he’s a Ron Paulite, the next moment he’s supporting Scott Brown, the next moment he’s writing the ultra-liberal blog Balloon Juice.  Maybe he’s finally found out where he fits.  If so, then I am happy for him even though it is the conservative’s loss.

Daniel Larison:

I understand what Erik wants to do here, but it seems to me that it has been quite clear where he has stood and what side he has picked in all the many debates over the years. It was no secret that he was basically sympathetic to the health care legislation, to which I was opposed, and he was furiously hostile to the Arizona immigration law, which I find basically unobjectionable. The label he chose for himself was essentially irrelevant in both of those debates, and there was no danger that he would be confused with the people aligned on the other side of the argument.

I’m sorry to say that I find Erik’s post to be very close to the flip side of the argument that mainstream conservatives have deployed against dissident conservatives for years, which is that we associate with the wrong kinds of people, tolerate “liberal” arguments, and generally fail to be good team players when it comes to organizing for electoral politics and reinforcing absurd ideological claims. In other words, we are too close or insufficiently hostile to the other “side.” From what I can gather, Erik is telling everyone that he isn’t a conservative so as not to be mistaken for “one of them,” which is almost as depressing to watch as it is when a thoughtful person feels compelled to jump through a series of ideological hoops to prove that he is “one of us.”

I had to grimace a little when I read Erik talking about his cultural affinities. The point is not that I object to most of his cultural affinities. When I’m in my car on long road trips, I listen to NPR, too, and I have several friends to the left of Russ Feingold (as well as friends who are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans). I’m sure I could rattle off a list of other such “heterodox” behaviors, but I had thought that Erik agreed that these affinities have or ought to have no bearing on political coalitions. All of this reminds me of the ridiculous political categorizing that people wanted to impose on everyday habits during the debate over “crunchy” conservatism, as if eating organic vegetables or shopping at a co-op were proof of left-wing convictions. Erik continues:

I still believe in the importance of decentralized power structures, checks and balances, and in not placing too much faith in the state – but again, these are positions that are perfectly acceptable on the left in ways that my belief in gay marriage or higher taxes or non-interventionist foreign policy are simply not acceptable on the right.

Perhaps that’s true within the confines of conservative movement institutions and in many conservative media outlets and magazines, but it isn’t true of “the right” as a whole, and this exaggerates how acceptable decentralism really is on the left. There is sympathy for it in some circles, but is it “perfectly acceptable”? It probably depends on what’s being decentralized.

Kain responds at The League:

Perhaps I am still a rather conservative liberal, but at a certain point I just have to stop trying to come up with new contortionist tricks and taxonomical experiments to make my politics fit inside that particular label. If I were more conservative – if my beliefs on immigration or marriage were more to the right, or if my religious beliefs were very traditional in the ways that Daniel’s are, or if I distrusted government more – if any of these things were the case, I wouldn’t give a damn about the inclusiveness of the conservative movement, or the Republican party, or any of that – I would still call myself a conservative. But I am simply not all that conservative. And if the left is too statist, if liberals really do have a deep distrust of free markets or competitive federalism, or any of those other things that I think are important and good for society, well then perhaps they can be convinced otherwise. Perhaps in the end, only the ideas matter. Hopefully Daniel’s ideas about American exceptionalism and the limits of our nation’s power will be accepted by all political stripes. Hopefully good ideas will rise to the top of whatever ideological coalitions exist, and we will all evolve for the better.

As Conor notes in his post on the matter, there are many, many admirable, smart, honest people out there working to reform conservatism. And perhaps they will. One thing I noticed about myself was that I followed the British elections very closely, and was quite enamored with David Cameron’s Toryism – a rather liberal, modernized conservatism. I thought to myself, I could be a conservative like that. But then the coalition with the Liberal Democrats made me think even harder – would I fit in even better with that group? And the answer was yes, I probably would. I’m probably more the liberaltarian Lib-Dem than the modernized Tory.

I have nothing against conservatism the way I understand it, the way I wish it were represented and practiced in this country. I just don’t think that label belongs to me anymore.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Movement, New Media, Politics

Sally Go ‘Round The Want Ads

Michael Fleischer at The Wall Street Journal:

With unemployment just under 10% and companies sitting on their cash, you would think that sooner or later job growth would take off. I think it’s going to be later—much later. Here’s why.

Meet Sally (not her real name; details changed to preserve privacy). Sally is a terrific employee, and she happens to be the median person in terms of base pay among the 83 people at my little company in New Jersey, where we provide audio systems for use in educational, commercial and industrial settings. She’s been with us for over 15 years. She’s a high school graduate with some specialized training. She makes $59,000 a year—on paper. In reality, she makes only $44,000 a year because $15,000 is taken from her thanks to various deductions and taxes, all of which form the steep, sad slope between gross and net pay.

Before that money hits her bank, it is reduced by the $2,376 she pays as her share of the medical and dental insurance that my company provides. And then the government takes its due. She pays $126 for state unemployment insurance, $149 for disability insurance and $856 for Medicare. That’s the small stuff. New Jersey takes $1,893 in income taxes. The federal government gets $3,661 for Social Security and another $6,250 for income tax withholding. The roughly $13,000 taken from her by various government entities means that some 22% of her gross pay goes to Washington or Trenton. She’s lucky she doesn’t live in New York City, where the toll would be even higher.

Employing Sally costs plenty too. My company has to write checks for $74,000 so Sally can receive her nominal $59,000 in base pay. Health insurance is a big, added cost: While Sally pays nearly $2,400 for coverage, my company pays the rest—$9,561 for employee/spouse medical and dental. We also provide company-paid life and other insurance premiums amounting to $153. Altogether, company-paid benefits add $9,714 to the cost of employing Sally.

Then the federal and state governments want a little something extra. They take $56 for federal unemployment coverage, $149 for disability insurance, $300 for workers’ comp and $505 for state unemployment insurance. Finally, the feds make me pay $856 for Sally’s Medicare and $3,661 for her Social Security.

When you add it all up, it costs $74,000 to put $44,000 in Sally’s pocket and to give her $12,000 in benefits. Bottom line: Governments impose a 33% surtax on Sally’s job each year.

Because my company has been conscripted by the government and forced to serve as a tax collector, we have lost control of a big chunk of our cost structure. Tax increases, whether cloaked as changes in unemployment or disability insurance, Medicare increases or in any other form can dramatically alter our financial situation. With government spending and deficits growing as fast as they have been, you know that more tax increases are coming—for my company, and even for Sally too.

Paul Chesser at The American Spectator:

Fleischer doesn’t understand that he needs to wise up, figure out a way to call each new hire a “green job,” and make nice with someone tight with the Obama administration (or in it). Then everything he’s complaining about will be subsidized — maybe for a whole year! Otherwise the unemployed “Sallys” of the world are out of luck.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Here’s where Fleischer is absolutely right: it is ludicrously expensive to add workers. Here’s where he’s not right: the acting government isn’t really adding to that cost. Two-thirds of that $30,000 surcharge isn’t the Obama administration: $12,000 comes from health insurance (for which we pay no taxes), $3,700 comes from Social Security taxes he would not have to pay under the new HIRE Act, and $6,250 comes from income tax withholding at a rate that is lower than at any time in the last 20 years and would not change under the president’s proposed tax plan.

The key item here is the health care premium. It’s been well documented that rising health care costs have eaten away raises and depressed median incomes. That’s one reason why the Obama health care plan tries to push workers off employer-provided plans and pull them onto exchanges. Will the push-pull work? Depends on whom you ask. But I still don’t see how the current administration’s actions are making it prohibitively difficult to add workers.

Logen Penza at The Moderate Voice:

It’s those Evil, Greedy Corporations.

That’s the simple explanation most of the talking heads have for the continuing high unemployment numbers.  Those Evil, Greedy Corporations horde their money and refuse to hire anyone.  When they do hire someone, they don’t pay them enough, don’t offer them enough benefits, don’t pay enough taxes, pollute the planet, steal candy from babies, kick puppies, and make obscene gestures at your auntie.  Evil, Greedy Corporations are offered up as cartoon villains, detestable and vile and without any redeeming value.

The trouble with cartoon villains is that they are fictional.

[…]

The flat truth is no one is going to hire new employees unless there is some reasonable promise that the additional cost of the employee will be recovered through increased profits resulting from the new employee’s work.  That’s not “greed”, it is bare survival in tough economic times.  And all the recent additions to per-employee costs aren’t alone.  There is a seemingly endless well of new possible costs coming, including new environmental regulations, the possibility of a massive new “carbon tax”, and “card check” that promises to raise labor costs even further with exactly zero (at best) increase in productivity. Vague gestures towards a few thousand dollars of tax credits to stimulate job growth don’t even begin to cover the risks.

On top of it all, if you happen to be an oil worker on the Gulf Coast, your job is politicallly verboten.  Sorry about that.  Or not.

Only a crazy person would be eager to start large-scale hiring in this political environment.  Yet many anti-corporation zealots profess themselves outraged that the Evil, Greedy Corporations won’t get with the business of economic recovery.

They just don’t realize that part of the explanation lies in the mirror.  The excesses of anti-corporation policy and rhetoric (which is the harbinger of future policy) is sand in the economic engine.  You can’t be anti-business and then expect business to bail out the economy by expanding and investing.

It doesn’t work that way.

Michael W.:

Well, yeah, but it’s so much easier to blame fictional bogeymen then to address what the real businesses say.

Another argument I’ve seen advanced is that the marketplace is inherently uncertain, and that businesses who can’t cope with changes in the law are simply unfit to survive. There is a certain laissez-faire appeal to this argument, but ultimately it doesn’t make sense.

The fact of the matter is that the types of market risk that businesses can and do adjust to, aside from increased competition, are changes in demand and supply, natural disasters and war. The more savvy, efficient and customer-sensitive businesses do survive these sorts of uncertainties and ultimately enhance the economy when they do.

In contrast, when the government continually raises the costs of doing business in the first place (or threatens to do so), the only ones who really survive are either the politically connected or the very wealthy (yes, they are often the same thing). That doesn’t have anything to do with building a better mousetrap, as it were, or growing the economy. And it certainly doesn’t do anything to raise everyone’s standard of living. Instead, all it does is reward those closest to the rule-makers, thus creating more competition to be closest to the King rather than satisfying the marketplace. It is exactly the sort of crony-capitalism we claim to detest.

James Joyner:

Now, I’m sympathetic to this argument, although not so much to lumping together the cost of government and the cost of providing health insurance, which are only tangentially related.  If each new employee adds extensive marginal overhead costs — much less push the firm over a threshold where they become subject to additional government mandates — then it’s very difficult to get the marginal gain in productivity necessary to justify to hire.

But, presumably, his competitors face exactly the same pressures.  And, surely, there has to come a point when additional hiring pays off despite the marginal costs?

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, The Crisis

Rage Against The C-SPAN Camera Machine

Rage Against The C-SPAN Camera Machine

Jillian Rayfield at TPM:

The House was debating a bill last night that would provide up to $7.4 billion in health care aid to rescue and recovery workers who have faced health problems since their work in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The bill ultimately failed to get the needed two-thirds majority, 255-159, and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was not happy about it. Not one bit.

In a rant that lasted for almost two minutes, a hopping mad Weiner railed against “cowardly” Republicans who claimed they were voting against the bill because of “procedure.” Weiner spat: “It’s Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans, rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes!”

Weiner attacked those who “stand up and say, ‘Oh, if only we had a different process we’d vote yes.’ You vote yes if you believe yes! You vote in favor of something if you believe it’s the right thing! If you believe it’s the wrong thing, you vote no!”

“It is a shame! A shame,” he exclaimed.

Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin’s place:

Yesterday, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner tried to channel Nikita Khrushchev minus the shoe and even some of the dignity, believe it or not. These outbursts aren’t rarities for Weiner, but this hissy fit was especially ‘roid-ragey.

[…]

Democrats are starting to make the Taiwanese Parliament look passive.

Update: Rush discusses the spitting mad Weiner in greater detail.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

Here’s a clip of Representative Anthony Weiner losing his cool. It’s just the kind of civilized discourse and thoughtful engagement with the issues that the public is thirsting for.

I suppose Representative Weiner could be excused for his outburst; perhaps he just read the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, which Jennifer highlighted earlier today. It shows extremely bad disapproval numbers for Obama on the three issues that are shaping up to be the most important of the mid-term elections: The economy (59 percent), the deficit (65 percent), and health care (55 percent). It also shows Republicans with a double-digit lead on the generic Congressional ballot, which is something I can’t recall having occurred before.

It’s also possible that Representative Weiner had just perused the recent Pew survey, which, among other things, shows that 56 percent of Independents see the Democratic Party as more liberal than they themselves are, compared to only 39 percent who see the Republican Party as more conservative than they are. (h/t: William Galston)

It’s also possible that Mr. Weiner just read the results of the most recent CNN poll, which shows. …

Oh, well, you get the point. These are tough, depressing days for liberals and for liberalism. In both Congress and among the commentariat, heads are beginning to explode. They know what awaits them. And be prepared: it’s only going to get worse as they get more desperate.

Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics:

Anthony Weiner does his best Al Pacino imitation. For what it’s worth, I applaud the Congressman’s passion

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason:

I suppose someone should post this video of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) in full meltdown mode, lighting into Republicans and Blue Dogs opposing the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. He’s already being praised from the usual quarters (what calculated passion!), though it seems to me that the Right Honorable Gentleman from Brooklyn might want a refill of his Thorazine

Wonkette:

Haha, he cares about his country and likes calling Republicans on their bullshit sometimes. Yeah, that is probably not going to work, but it is entertaining! The bill in question would have provided $7.4 billion in heath care benefits to 9/11 recovery workers, but it failed. Republicans said they voted against it because of “procedure,” according to Weiner’s tirade, and we always listen to people who are yelling, so let’s assume that is the whole story there. Later, Weiner was on Fox News and yelled at Rep. Peter King through the camera, even though King was standing behind him.

UPDATE: Anthony Weiner at NYT

Jerry Remmers at The Moderate Voice

1 Comment

Filed under Political Figures

We Won’t Have Tony To Kick Around Anymore

Jad Mouawad and Clifford Krauss at NYT:

BP’s board is expected on Monday to name an American, Robert Dudley, as its chief executive, replacing Tony Hayward, whose repeated stumbles during the company’s three-month oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico alienated federal and state officials as well as residents of the Gulf Coast.

The planned appointment of an American to run the London-based company, which was confirmed by a person close to BP’s board, would underscore how vital the United States has become to BP. About one-third of the company’s oil and gas wells, refineries and other business interests are in the United States, and 40 percent of its shareholders are Americans.

The move would also be a recognition by the board that even though the oil has stopped spewing into the gulf, dealing with the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon accident — from tens of billions of dollars in claims to possible criminal charges and new regulations on offshore drilling — is likely to dominate the company’s agenda for years.

Bryan Walsh at Time:

When Tony Hayward became CEO of BP in 2007, replacing a disgraced Lord John Browne, he was taking over a company in turmoil. BP was still recovering from a 2005 fire at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 people—one of the worst industrial accidents in recent memory, and a result of Browne putting profits over safety. Hayward—a skilled geologist and dedicated BP lifer—was meant to be a practical antidote to the flashy, globe-trotting Browne, a professional executive who promised to consolidate the company’s sprawling multinational operations. Most of all, Hayward would change BP’s careless corporate culture; he pledged in an early speech to focus “like a laser” on safety.

It was a line that, like much else, Hayward would come to regret. The Deepwater Horizon accident showed that there was still something deeply wrong with BP, and Hayward’s tone-deaf performance during the early days of the oil spill only made things worse. By mid-June Hayward had stepped back from the oil spill, ceding day-to-day control of the response to the American BP executive Bob Dudley. Now it seems Hayward is gone for good. According to a senior U.S. official speaking to the Associated Press early Sunday afternoon, Hayward will be replaced as BP’s CEO, possibly as early as Monday when the company’s board meets in London.

Though BP was officially denying the rumors, Hayward’s departure has long been considered of when, not if. Since the spill began on April 20, Hayward has been a gaffe machine.

Christopher Helman at Forbes:

The timing of this move is significant for two reasons. First, it coincides with the Tuesday release of BP’s sure-to-be-disastrous second-quarter results. Second, and more importantly, it indicates that BP believes the blowout at the Macondo well has been stopped, that the cap in place now will continue to hold back the gusher until the relief wells can kill it for good.

Image is everything, and the image that BP needs to present is one of a heroic Dudley Do-Right arriving on the scene to rescue Nell from the clutches of Snidely Whiplash. Tall, blondish Robert Dudley even looks kind of like his namesake hero from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, though with none of the bombast. No matter that Dudley has been with BP for a decade, having come over in the 1998 acquisition of Amoco. As we wrote in this piece when he assumed responsibility for oil spill oversight a month ago, Dudley has proven his managerial toughness over the years (especially in tangles with the Russian government when he was head of TNK-BP). And vitally, Americans will find another American a more trustworthy oil spill cleaner than they would another Brit.

Jim White at Firedoglake:

Yes, the twit who famously told us that this pesky spill had been such a nuisance that he wanted his life back is about to get just that.

And what a life it will be. Despite being at the helm as the company’s negligence unleashed the worst oil spill in US history and the subsequent loss of almost half the company’s value, Hayward will still be rich beyond the wildest dreams of almost anyone.

CNN gives us the details on Hayward’s likely exit package and current compensation. First, CNN informs us that Hayward won’t get a huge, American-style Golden Parachute. I don’t know about you, but I certainly would settle for the chrome bungee jump or whatever this is that Hayward is getting:

“He will be lucky to get a single year’s salary,” said Paul Hodgson, a senior researcher at The Corporate Library, a governance group. “And even that could be mitigated in certain circumstances.”

His compensation package — including salary and bonuses — was worth 3.158 million British pounds ($4.87 million), according to the company’s 2009 annual report. He’s also due an annual pension of 584,000 pounds ($901,000).

Additionally, he held more than 535,000 shares in the company as of December 31, which would currently be worth about 212 millon pounds (about $327 million).

That’s right, Hayward will be “lucky” to get an extra lump of almost $5 million to go away, while pulling in a pension of almost a million dollars a year on top of his stock worth $327 million.

Poor thing, I sure hope he doesn’t feel insulted by that paltry package.

If Hayward’s exit package, pension and stock ownership are indeed as reported by CNN, I’d like to nominate his life as the ultimate definition of moral hazard. He will have destroyed the Gulf of Mexico, made billions of dollars worth of stock held around the world go poof and still will walk away with riches beyond imagination. If he is to suffer nothing more uncomfortable than the “humiliation” of losing his job, then there simply is no incentive for other CEO’s to act responsibly in the future.

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

TV and other stand-up comedians had a ball making fun of a CEO could not keep a lid on his enjoyment of his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” lifestyle for even the comparatively fleeting few moments of his life required to do press briefings and who could not put off avoid being photographed in settings that underscored the stark contrast between wealthy him and those who face losing their livelihoods in the Gulf. To wit:

“BP CEO Tony Hayward said recently, ‘No one wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.’ Tony, I’m so sorry you had your summer disrupted. I’d buy you a drink, but you’d probably spill that too … and make me clean it up.” –Craig Ferguson

“This Tony Haywire guy, whatever his name is, he told the BBC on Sunday that he believes the new oil cap that they’ve installed will eventually capture the vast majority of oil spewing from the well. You know, if they could capture half the BS spewing from Tony Hayward, people would be thrilled.” —Jay Leno

“BP CEO Tony Hayward said he would just like to get his life back. He wants to get his life back. You know, I say give him life plus 20.” —Jay Leno

…..”Obama’s not the only one on the hot seat right now. The CEO of BP is taking a lot of flak. His name is Tony Hayward. Today, President Obama had a meeting with Hayward at the White House. It got off to the wrong start. Hayward arrived in a Hummer limo powered by baby seals.” –Craig Ferguson

A Tony Hayward doll was even marketed in the U.S.:

Modelled on BP oil spill hate figure Tony Hayward, it’s the toy no kid wants – Inaction Man.

The 12-inch doll depicts the gaffe-prone boss as jobless with a placard reading: BP Executive Needs Work.

Made by American firm Hero Builders, it sells for £22.75 and describes Hayward’s qualities as “whiny little b*tch”, and an “all around w*****”.

Toy company boss Emil Vicale said: “We don’t expect to sell any. That’s how reviled he is.”

The doll – which does absolutely nothing – is the latest insult to Hayward, 53.

Meanwhile, BP doesn’t seem to want to let go of its image as a company that isn’t above board but will say what it thinks it needs to say in a given moment – even if everyone thinks or knows it’s just saying what it thinks it needs to say:

BP Sunday refused to confirm reports that its embattled chief executive Tony Hayward is on the verge of leaving the oil giant.

“Tony Hayward remains our chief executive and has the full support of the board and senior management,” company spokesman Mark Salt told CNN.

So expect the Tony Hayward spirit to linger on at BP long after Tony Hayward has left the leaking oil well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Energy, Environment

One Is The Loneliest Number

Josh Gerstein at Politico:

Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 13-6 vote Tuesday, with only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) crossing party lines to vote in favor of the nominee.

Before the vote, however, Republicans and a few Democrats criticized Kagan for a lack of candor during her confirmation hearings earlier this month — despite a 1995 article she wrote calling the process vacuous. But Graham said his support for Kagan is a byproduct of his view that “the last election had consequences” and that senators ought to defer to President Barack Obama’s prerogative to pick judges in most circumstances.

“There’s plenty of reasons for conservatives to vote no, plenty of good reasons, but I also think there’s a good reason for conservatives to vote yes, and that’s provided in the Constitution,” Graham said of Kagan’s nomination. “I understood we lost; President Obama won. And I’ve got a lot of opportunity to disagree with him. But the Constitution, in my view, puts a responsibility on me, a senator, not to replace my judgment for his.”

Obama, in a written statement, applauded the committee’s “bipartisan affirmation” of Kagan, his solicitor general. He called her “one of this country’s leading legal minds” who would be “a fair and impartial Supreme Court justice” who understands that the law affects everyone.

Chris Cillizza at WaPo:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham‘s (R) announcement that he will vote in favor of Elena Kagan‘s nomination to the Supreme Court is likely to further incite conservatives already unhappy with him and, according to close observers of the state’s politics, ensures he will face a serious primary challenge in 2014.

“I think there’s a good reason for a conservative to vote yes,” Graham said this morning.

Graham’s apostasy on Kagan comes after other high profile breaks with conservatives in his state (and nationally) over climate change and immigration reform and will likely make him a central target of those tea party Republicans who helped oust Utah Sen. Bob Bennett in his bid for renomination earlier this year.

“It’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘who’ and ‘how many’,” said one South Carolina Republican operative about a Graham primary challenge. The source added that Graham’s approach on high profile issues of late is “putting Lindsey’s friends and supporters in a really tough place.”

Steve Benen:

There wasn’t any doubt that the Senate Judiciary Committee would approve Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court today. There was interest, however, in how the vote would go.

The committee endorsed Kagan on a 13-to-6 vote, with every Democrat supporting the nominee. The surprise came when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), joined with the majority.

The South Carolina conservative delivered a fairly lengthy speech on the nomination, and conceded he could think of “100 reasons” to oppose Kagan. But he would back her anyway, because of her qualifications and character. “At the end of the day, after the hearing, it was not a hard decision for me to make,” Graham explained.

As for what’s next for Kagan, her nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where final confirmation is expected before members break for their summer recess.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

Obama got to the heart of the matter when he added that Kagan’s work as a Justice would reflect that she “understands how decisions made by the Court affect the lives of everyday Americans.” This is Obama’s way of saying that Kagan’s decisions will be just as expansively leftist as Obama’s vision of what’s good for “everyday Americans.”

I’m pretty sure Obama is right. And, given Kagan’s sense of humor, that seems to be just fine with Lindsey Graham, who once again earned his title, “the Arlen Specter of the South.”

Graham is up for re-election in 2014. By then Elena Kagan (and for that matter Sonia Sotomayor) will have a substantial record through which South Carolina Republicans can assess the judgment of their senior Senator, assuming he runs for re-election. In the meantime, let’s hope that Kagan includes some good one-liners in her left-wing opinions.

But perhaps Graham is right in predicting that this whole Tea Party thing will blow over. Perhaps in 2014 South Carolina will return Graham to Washington because he too is funny and the Washington Post likes him.

Allah Pundit:

WaPo’s already gaming out how many primary challengers Graham will face in 2014; among the possibilities is … Mark Sanford. A quote from one of Graham’s consultants: “He’s a thinking person’s conservative. I expect him to do well among voters with IQ’s in triple digits.” Thinking strategically, his vote here is potentially useful to Republicans down the line if/when another vacancy opens on the Court and The One decides to go for broke by appointing a lefty bomb-thrower. Because Graham’s now positioned himself as the principled moderate, willing to vote for both Kagan and Sotomayor in the name of deference to the president, a no vote on some future nominee would be a devastating judgment that he/she really is way out of the mainstream. Kagan’s not going to be filibustered — but the next one might be, especially if Grahamnesty signals to other moderates that it’s okay to do so by opposing him/her, so maybe he’s just keeping his powder dry. And, er, maybe Dick Durbin’s really had a change of heart. Exit question via Pat Leahy: Why does the GOP hate women?

Michael O’Brien at The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he planned a vote on Elena Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court before the August recess.

Reid said he planned to bring Kagan’s nomination up for a vote “before we leave for August recess.”

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

It was originally said by pundits that Kagan would sail through in what they predicted would be yawningly boring hearings with little opposition even from GOPers. Although hearings were relatively low-key, they weren’t boring.

And political skirmishes in the 21st century aren’t political skirmishes without the entry of over the top talk show political culture rhetoric.

In Kagan’s case, it recently came in the assertion of commentor Eric Ericson’s assertion that “Senators would be committing a high act of confirmation treason if they allow this nominee to go on the court without attempting to filibuster her nomination.”

As melodramatic and demonizing as some Supreme Court nominations have been in recent decades, no credible partisan has suggested that not filbustering a nominee named by another party would be an act of treason, no matter how it is argued or described. So now votes come down to treason (not just being RINOs or DINOs) for those who might dare not listen to talk show hosts and commentors?

But, then again, this is 2010 where the gut and the desire for readership or audience often trump the apparently atrophying logical part of the brain.

Leave a comment

Filed under Political Figures, Supreme Court