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And Now, a Brief Word About Poor People

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Before we mercifully consign this week’s Republican presidential debate to the dustbin of obscure Google searches, it’s worth noting two brief, but politically significant, moments that slipped by with almost no coverage.

The first came when Newt Gingrich got a chance to ask a question of Mitt Romney; ever concerned about the travail of the uber-wealthy, Newt wanted to know why Mitt’s economic plan imposed a $200,000 upper limit on annual income for his proposed new capital gains tax break, arguing that this is exactly the kind “class warfare” that Obama practices by calling for higher taxes on rich people.  Sigh.

Anyway, this was Mitt’s answer:

Well, the reason for giving a tax break to middle income Americans is that middle income Americans have been the people who have been most hurt by the Obama economy. The reason that you’re seeing protests, as you indicated, on Wall Street and across the country is, middle income Americans are having a hard time making ends meet.

Not only do we have 25 million people out of work, or stopped looking for work, or part-time jobs needing full-time employ, we just saw this week that median income in America has declined by 10 percent during the Obama years. People are having a hard time making ends meet.

And so if I’m going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus on where the people are hurting the most, and that’s the middle class. I’m not worried about rich people. They are doing just fine. The very poor have a safety net, they’re taken care of. But the people in the middle, the hard-working Americans, are the people who need a break, and that is why I focused my tax cut right there.

Two points:

First, we were amazed that Romney, normally the most slippery of panderers, allowed the words, “I’m not worried about rich people” to pass his lips. He’s already viewed as a dangerous liberal by Tea Party types, and this kind of mega squishy statement provides them confirmation, if any was needed, for the belief that he’s a closet advocate for what you like to call your “European-style socialism.”

Which maybe explains why the Great Man immediately uttered remarkable statement #2:

The poor are “taken care of”? Really?

What do you mean you’re hungry – you just ate yesterday: Put aside the fact that the Census Bureau has just reported that more people are now living in poverty than at any time since they began tracking such things back in the 1950s:

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.

And never mind that the federal definition for being poor — $22,314 for a family of four – greatly underestimates the number of people living in what you might call Actual Poverty:

Many experts now agree that families must reach twice the poverty level before achieving any semblance of income security.

By this measure, in 2010, 33.9 percent of Americans — for a total of 103.6 million — could not make ends meet. This is more than twice the number of officially poor. More than four in 10 children are low income, 32.5 million in all.

No, what’s truly astonishing is that a candidate for president of the United States can stand up and say that poor people are “taken care of” because of a “safety net” at the very time when the Tea Party-dominated Congress is systematically targeting food stamps, Head Start, home heating assistance, job training, school lunch programs, Pell Grants, rent subsidies and unemployment insurance, to name just a few tiny threads of the torn-up safety net that Romney cavalierly cites to dismiss the well-being of at least 50 million people he presumes to lead.

Sheesh. And we thought Friend of Mitt Meg Whitman was an out-of-touch, self-entitled elitist. Next to him, eMeg looks like Emma Goldman.

P.S. In California, at least 6.1 million people are living under the poverty line, with a statewide rate of 16.3 percent. The California Budget Project has its usual comprehensive report on the state numbers from the Census.

Charlie quizzes Rick: The second under-reported debate moment worth noting came a few minutes before the event ended, when moderator Charlie (Aren’t I Smart) Rose, stating that he didn’t want to “forget” to ask about wealth disparity, asked Rick Perry if he was concerned that, you know, the U.S. has become a plutocracy. Here’s what Ranger Rick said:

The reason we have that many people living in poverty is because we have got a president of the United States who is a job-killer.

Clearly this man has not been reading Calbuzz. News flash for Ranger Rick, from Bloomberg scribbler David Lynch:

Corrado Gini

Since 1968, incomes in the U.S. have become steadily less equally distributed, according to the standard statistical measure of inequality known as the Gini coefficient. The U.S. Gini score rose from .39 in 1968 to .47 in 2010, meaning that incomes were becoming increasingly unequal.

Developed by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912, the scores represent a kind of distributional thermometer, ranging from 0 (each person enjoying equal shares of income to 1 (one person has all income).

In the 30-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only Turkey and Mexico have more unequal societies than the United States. In the U.S., the rich-poor gap widened by 20 percent since the mid-1980s, more than in most developed countries. “Nowhere has this trend been so stark as in the United States,” the OECD concluded in a 2008 study.

Economic gains in the U.S. have been spread less equally in recent years as a result of factors including globalization, technological change, the decline of labor unions, changing social norms, and government trade and tax policies, say economists such as the World Bank’s [Branko] Milanovic.

What’s interesting about both these debate moments (other than the fact that these were the only times anybody even mentioned either issue) is that the  wealth gap seems to be steadily emerging as a leading issue on the 2012 campaign agenda. Put aside Obama’s election year conversion to taxing millionaires (when it was finally clear to everyone there was zero chance such a proposal could pass) and the burgeoning “Occupy” movement, it’s an issue that has resonance, not just for moral or bleeding heart reasons, but because wealth and income disparity are bad for the economy. Lynch again:

The large and growing gap between the haves and have-nots will tend to undermine growth, both directly and indirectly — including by reducing the marginal propensity to consume and by amplifying the political polarization that has already contributed to poor economic policy making,” says Mohamed El- Erian, chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management Co. in Newport Beach, California…

Expansions — or what [Jonathan David] Ostry and co-author Andrew Berg label “growth spells” — fizzle sooner in less equal societies because they are more vulnerable to both financial crises and political instability. When such countries are hit by external shocks, they often stumble into gridlock rather than agree to tough policies needed to keep growth alive.

Increased inequality is likely to diminish the duration of expansions,” Ostry said in an interview

Some say the wider rich-poor gap is an additional impediment to recovery. “Very high levels of inequality seem to be associated with slower economic growth,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Raghuram Rajan, the IMF’s former chief economist, says countries with high levels of inequality tend to produce ineffective economic policies. Political systems in economically divided countries grow polarized and immobilized by the sort of zero-sum politics now gripping Washington, he said.

As a political matter, Calbuzz views with nostalgic suspicion any movement that includes drum circles, so we’re not exactly over-the-top enamored of “Occupy Wall Street” (better it should grow into a united front Main Street  movement with actual goals, as a counter-balance to the Tea Party.) As a practical matter, however, the spread of its basic message of frustration with massive inequality to cities across the nation, and the increasing coverage the protests are receiving, not to mention the howls of outrage coming from the Tea Party whenever anyone compares the two, suggests that the wealth disparity issue has broken through into public consciousness. It’s going to be hard to put that toothpaste back into the tube, no matter how much the right hollers “class warfare.”

Read of the week:  Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the only major league journalists in the country who has been covering these kinds of issues, year in and year out, for decades. Don’t miss her take on the super-wealthy as America’s latest victimization class.

Top 10 Moments from the 643rd GOP Pres Debate

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Tireless in our unstinting efforts to advance the cause of democracy, Calbuzz sat through the entire two hours of last night’s Charlie Rose-moderated Republican presidential roundtable debate — thereby doubling the size of the TV audience that saw the damn thing.

For reasons that remain elusive, the Washington Post partnered with Bloomberg TV to produce the event at Dartmouth, in Hanover, New Hampshire, which meant, among other things, that anyone who subscribes to Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, could only see it via the WashPost’s webcast.

Which is too bad, because it was a pretty entertaining night.

The winners: 1) Mitt Romney, who yet again outclassed the field, although he blundered by speaking in support of the Wall Street bailout while trashing the one for the auto companies (hello, Michigan!); 2) Herb Herman Cain, because his now-famous “9-9-9 plan” was the focus of roughly, oh say, 86.7 percent of the debate, although his once friendly and funny manner seems recently to have veered seriously into arrogant self-regard territory; 3) Newt Gingrich, who had some great moments in the first and last half hours, but appeared to have gone out for a ham sandwich in between; 4) President Obama, who looks like George Washington compared to most of this crowd.

The losers: 1) Ron Paul’s warmly familiar presentation on the gold standard was visually disrupted by a fake eyebrow that someone applied crookedly onto his face; 2) Rick Santorum suffered anew from the fact that no one in America can help themselves from thinking about what the Google search of his name shows, the instant he opens his mouth; 3) Michele Bachmann finally descended into full SNL parody mode, complete with a new Sarah Palin ‘do; 4) Jon Huntsman once more seemed pretty stoned, and well pleased with himself for getting off a series of zingers that no one else in the hall realized were jokes.

Biggest loser: Rick Perry, who’s about one step away from looking like armadillo road kill out on US 277.

 

Let’s go to the tape for the 10 best moments:

Michele Bachmann accuses Herman Cain of being a spawn of Satan. The candidates, joined by the fabulous Bloomberg reporter Julianna Goldman, took turns demolishing Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, employing the thoroughly unfair tactic of citing Actual Facts.  Herb brazened it out, however, even when Huntsman snarked that he thought 9-9-9 was a “pizza price.” But Cain simply had no answer for Bachmann, who went all Book of Revelation on him by saying, “when you take the 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside down, the devil is in the details.” Yes, she actually said that.

Ronald Reagan calls for taxing the rich. Charlie Rose did a funny by playing an old speech tape of President Reagan saying that taxes should be raised on the wealthy because they don’t pay “their fair share.” But he screwed up by making only Perry respond to the clip, with Ranger Rick mumbling something about Reagan having lived a long time ago. The Gipper would stand zero chance of getting nominated by this electorate of Tea Party thugs.

Julianna Goldman tears Mitt Romney’s face off: The only one to lay a glove on Romney was the aforementioned Ms. Goldman, who asked His Mittness to explain what he would do as president to avert a world economic disaster if Greece defaults on its debt. Romney tried to shine her on with a pat on the head and a now, now, little girl, I don’t answer “hypotheticals,” but she quickly, um, bitch slapped him by noting that Greece is, you know, actually on the precipice of default, which he’d know if he ever tuned into Bloomberg TV, making him look like an utter fool.

The 12th time Rick Perry used the phrase “treasure trove.” The good news for Perry was that this time out, he didn’t tire and fade in the last half of the debate; the bad news was that he tired and faded from the start of the debate. The only thing he had to contribute to the group discussion was a couple of brief talking points about his alleged new jobs plan, which he said he’s not ready to reveal yet, but might be ready to in “the next three days,” which plan appears to be aimed at poking a whole bunch of new holes in the ground and in the ocean to retrieve what Perry kept calling the “treasure trove” of oil and natural gas Obama isn’t man enough to go after.

Newt Gingrich demands Barney Frank be sent to Stony Lonesome.  The WashPost’s Karen Tumulty asked Bachmann why not a single Wall Street scumbag is in jail for tanking the nation’s economy, to which Ms. Needs An Exorcist responded that the financial meltdown was “all the federal government’s fault.” At which point Newt, who spent much of the evening smirking and leaning back in his chair with his hands crossed on his ample belly, bestirred himself to defend Bachmann’s honor by saying that the only ones who should be thrown in jail are Congressman Barney Frank and former Senator Chris Dodd, whose over-regulation of the financial system caused the whole thing. Yes, he actually said that.

Ron Paul buries Keynes and Greenspan. It’s a good thing we’ve heard Paul’s schtick before, because it was extremely distracting to watch the fake thick brown eyebrow dangling at a 45-degree angle off his real, right left eyebrow (the left right one appeared to be firmly affixed in place). The only things that we clearly caught were his riff about the genius of Austrian economist Frederich Hayek compared to the failed ideas of John Maynard Keynes (yeah, why would we want to pump more money into a depressed economy, ferhevvinsakes?) and his opening of a large can of wuppass on Cain, who had just said he would want someone like Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chief. “Alan Greenspan was a disaster,” hooted Paul, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night.

Ron Paul tells the truth. At one point, Paul pointed out that everyone else at the table was a major league panderer for trying to claim that everything wrong with the economy was Obama’s fault: “To say this is all in the last two years is misleading, and that’s why people” are so turned off by politics, he said. At which point, everyone acted like he’d just cut a fart, and Charley moved with dispatch on to the next question.

Rick Santorum blames single moms for the recession. The economy, and only the economy, was supposed to be the sole and exclusive topic of the debate, but a few minutes before it ended, Santorum (ee-yew!) could no longer contain his witch-burning alter ego, which had been bottled up all night, and started ranting that all of the nation’s financial woes can be traced to the “breakdown of the family” because apparently only single parent families are hurting financially while Mom and Dad Cleaver are doing just ducky.

Jon Huntsman plays the Mormon card. Because everyone had agreed that they wouldn’t talk about anything but economic issues, nobody could ask Romney what he thought about Perry’s evangelical minister pal trashing Mormonism as a “cult” and suggesting that Big Mitt doesn’t really believe in Jesus, which, of course, is the one thing Calbuzz really, really wanted to see. So class clown Huntsman decided to try to sneak it in the backdoor when his turn came to ask Romney a question, saying that because it was a debate about economics, “this won’t be about religion, Mitt,” then doing a little heh-heh kind of thing before looking mischievously at Perry (we’re not completely certain but he may actually have winked) to add, “sorry about that, Rick.” At which point, once again, nobody had the slightest idea what the hell Huntsman was talking about.

The pre-and post-game show. To our great surprise, Bloomberg did a terrific job with the production, apparently making an early move to play a serious role in the coverage of the 2012 election.

Network anchors Margaret Brennan and Tom Keene did a first-rate job of advancing and dissecting the debate (despite Keene’s incessant whining about being cold on their outdoor set; Yo, Tom! Next time bring a coat – it’s autumn in New England, dude), along with the color commentary of the smart and insightful political consultant Matthew Dowd; Goldman was by far the biggest star of the show, and Bloomberg put together a 40-person fact-checking team (!) from their newsroom and the Post that started calling the candidates on their lies moments after the debate ended, with a post called “Republican Candidates Stretch Truth in Debate Salvos.” Great stuff.

 

How the CA GOP Could Further Alienate Latino Voters

Monday, October 10th, 2011

All you really need to know about why California Republicans have been so incredibly successful in utterly alienating Latino voters may be found in a dense and obtuse piece offered up over at CalWatchdog last week by John Seiler.

Seiler was responding to a Calbuzz piece, in which we quoted Stu Spencer, Ruben Barrales and Marty Wilson, and pointed to their views as crucially important, at a time when state GOP leaders are making a new effort to end a generation of failure of attracting Latinos to their party.

Rather than dealing with the substance of what these leading Republicans said, however, Seiler chose to treat our piece as an attack, doubling down on the head-in-the-sand perspective that has put the GOP in their current fix, portraying Calbuzz as partisan advocates and acting like a guy with a flamethrower in a field filled with straw men.

At least he wasn’t defensive.

If we were partisan Democrats, we’d strongly encourage Republicans to follow Seiler’s advice to the letter. But we’re not – we’re just committed to the notion that a strong two-party system in California, with intelligent policies engaged in principled struggle, is actually good for democracy. Which is why we feel compelled to respond to Seiler’s rantings, which also got big play at FlashReport.

Seiler, an editorial writer for 19 years at the Orange County Register, begins with this chestnut:

CalBuzz today runs a story about why Latinos supposedly are rebuffing the Republican Party, continuing to vote at least 70 percent Democratic. Their conclusion: Republicans should be a lot more like Democrats. Actually, the opposite is true: Republicans have been too much like Democrats.

Of course, Calbuzz never suggested Republicans should be more like Democrats. We did say that smart Republican strategists believe the California GOP will continue to repel Latino voters until the party comes up with a plan to allow undocumented immigrants living and working here to become legal residents.

But not until Seiler has disgorged himself of 1,540 words does he even mention Stu Spencer, whose illuminating 1997 memo to Republicans was the genesis of our 1,116-word piece. And then Seiler doesn’t even try to respond to Spencer, he merely dismisses him as out of touch with today’s realities.

The reason Republicans are losing standing with the California electorate, Seiler argues is that:

The party was poisoned for seven years by the far-left policies of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took his marching orders from his wife, Maria Shriver, a top-level Democrat from the Kennedy Royal Democratic Family. That was enough to dissuade anyone, Latino or not, from becoming an elephant.

But attacking Schwarzenegger as a Shriver tool is just Seiler’s Loony Tunes warm-up. He goes on to attack practically every major-office candidate the Republicans have run for decades: Dan Lungren, Carly Fiorina, Bill Jones, Matt Fong, John Seymour, Michael Huffington, Tom Campbell, Dick Mountjoy and Meg Whitman – all of whom were either inept, liberal or both.

Seiler spends a lot of time defending the GOP’s stances on English-only (with special emphasis on Canada), a border fence, opposition to higher education for Latino children, and stop-and-question laws (which he seems to oppose on libertarian grounds). But on the central issue raised by Calbuzz – and which lies at the heart of the matter for concerned GOP strategists – a path to citizenship, Seiler has little to say.

CalBuzz: “no path to citizenship for the undocumented.This is the same problem. The U.S. Census Department just reported that from 2006 to 2010, just four years, median incomes crashed in California by a shocking 9 percent. Unemployment remains stuck at 12.1 percent and rising.

With citizens unable to find decent work with good pay, is it surprising that the unemployed and under-employed don’t want more new citizens competing with them for vanishing jobs?

This, obviously, is no response at all – just another dimwit sidestep – leaving unanswered our point that until Republicans offer a means for the undocumented to become legalized, Latinos simply won’t hear any other message the GOP tries to convey.

“I like to be up front with my readers. The fact is that the future is pretty bleak for both America and, especially, California,” Seiler writes. “Stu Spencer was part of the Reagan Revolution. But things are so much different than 31 years ago.”

This is not only NOT up front – since he buried Spencer and never mentioned his advice – but it’s incoherent because Seiler doesn’t deal with the challenges facing the California Republican Party, rather he outlines his rambling apocalyptic vision:

We now have a bipartisan $16 trillion federal deficit, and $1.5 trillion annual deficits. The “Communist” Chinese now are capitalist and are breathing down our necks economically. Their economy soon will surpass ours.  California is mired in a la-la land of thinking that our tiny 1 percent of the global economy somehow can be re-engineered to end global warming — excuse me, the new euphemism is “climate change” — just by destroying our own economy. Even as the evidence keeps showing that global warming, if it even exists, is not caused by humans.

Finally, Seiler is unable to contain his inner Orval Faubus:

“Seen in that context, the problem of Republicans attracting more Latino members is rather small tacos,” he writes.

There you go, that’s a smart approach for attracting Latinos to the Republican Party – suggest they represent little more than 99 cents at Taco Bell.

As we said, if we were partisan Democrats, we’d urge Republicans to throw in with this kind of thinking. But we’re not. And we hope they don’t.