What’s next? Impeachment!

I sense there is a growing level of frustration among Republican members of Congress.  Their opposition to immigration reform is not playing well with either the public or Republican party elders.  Same for their desire to shut down government to prevent the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare from full implementation.  Some of them have been hammered at town hall meetings and the videos are posted all over YouTube.  The deficit is actually shrinking.  Republican governors like Rick Perry are reversing themselves and asking for Medicaid funds.  And the President and his administration are doing the best they can given that no proposal will pass the House.  So what is left for them.  Impeach Obama!

Steve Breen wrote on MaddowBlog

When fringe figures like Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) talk about impeaching President Obama without cause, it’s a mild curiosity. When U.S. senators push the same idea, it’s more alarming.

“I think those are serious things, but we’re in serious times,” said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn during a town hall in his home state. “And I don’t have the legal background to know if that rises to ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but I think you’re getting perilously close.”

The remark came after an attendee called the Obama administration “lawless” and asked, “who is responsible for enforcing [Obama's] constitutional responsibilities?”

Coburn apparently has given this a fair amount of thought, telling constituents, “What you have to do is you have to establish the criteria that would qualify for proceedings against the president, and that’s called impeachment. That’s not something you take lightly, and you have to use a historical precedent of what that means.” He added that he believes “there’s some intended violation of the law in this administration.”

Official portrait of Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator.

Official portrait of Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But what violation?

And what, pray tell, has the president done that Coburn perceives as possible “high crimes”? In keeping with the recent trend, the Oklahoma Republican never got around to explaining what the grounds for impeachment would be. Coburn mentioned that he’d heard a rumor about the Department of Homeland Security choosing to “ignore” background checks for immigrants, but he did not elaborate.

Meanwhile Sam Stein tweeted David Axelrod’s reaction

“that was his considered legal opinion as an obstetrician”

Maybe it is just wishful thinking on my part, but I think that Americans still want government to fix roads and bridges, regulate our food, water, drugs and financial institutions, and help those you are in need.  Sure, we all wish for new, creative solutions to some of the problems that seem intractable, but on the whole I think Americans just wish that Congress would actually work with the President instead of just voting “no”.  But the fact that even Mitch McConnell has a challenger from the right in the Republican Primary does not make this seem possible.

I’ll give the last word to Steve Breen

And finally, for every Beltway pundit who proclaims with a tear in their eye, “Washington would be more effective if Obama showed leadership by reaching out to Republicans, schmoozing them, and offering to work cooperatively with his critics,” I hope they’re paying very close attention to current events. It is, as a practical matter, awfully difficult for a president to work constructively with radicalized lawmakers who refuse to compromise and cherish the idea of impeachment without cause.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t really expect Republicans to pursue this in a serious way, and my coverage on the issue is intended more as a “look how silly this is” than a “look at this threat to our constitutional system of government.” If for no other reason, GOP lawmakers wouldn’t try impeaching the president because they’d risk motivating the Democratic base to show up in the 2014 midterms.

That said, the recent talk about impeachment is nevertheless unnerving.

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure

One  of my favorite promotional advertisements is an old one.  Rachel Maddow is standing in front of a pile of dirt which could be the beginning of a new highway or of a dam or a bridge abutment.  She points out that the country needs infrastructure and that the private sector does not build it.  And then Elizabeth Warren famously said (quote from Michael Smerconsish on the Huffington Post.)

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” And then she hit her stride:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she says. “But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

As for the tax implications, Warren said, “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” The crowd enthusiastically applauded.

Of course that morphed into the out of context quote used against President Obama:  “You didn’t build it.”

What puzzles me is why the Republicans are so afraid of spending for infrastructure.  And why their fear is making so many Democrats cautious.  Juliette Kayyem tries in her column in today’s Boston Globe to make the link between national security, which every politician is for, and infrastructure.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.” These have had an impact on food supplies and demographic trends. The global population is expected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030. About 60 percent (up from the current 50 percent) of people will live in cities, putting greater pressure on agriculture, energy, transportation, and water supplies.

We are not alone in our concerns. The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.” These have had an impact on food supplies and demographic trends. The global population is expected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030. About 60 percent (up from the current 50 percent) of people will live in cities, putting greater pressure on agriculture, energy, transportation, and water supplies.

We are not alone in our concerns. The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

Protecting against it isn’t just a matter of preserving natural resources; it is about adapting everyday activities to the threat. We are in competition with other nations in this regard: Global investments are linked to cities that can function in bad weather, airports that can lure commerce, ports that can deliver goods. When storms are powerful enough to wipe out electrical grids, our nation’s ability to project power is limited by our powerlessness.

She goes on to say that much of the infrastructure fight is a local one.

And we still must become a more resilient society, one whose basic building blocks cannot be knocked out by threats that are utterly predictable. This effort to construct a society with climate challenges in mind isn’t necessarily new, but it comes at a time when the limits of America’s infrastructure are abundantly clear and entirely visible: We all feel them as we drive to work, head to school, or use the subways.

Local governments are already invested in these national security efforts, whether they know it or not. Such efforts range from a mayor’s desire to fix potholes on residential streets to a governor’s promise to modernize public transportation. More than a lack of commitment or resources, it’s actually our hodge-podge of governance structures — New York City has control over its building codes, while Boston’s are often at the mercy of state approval — that too often become impediments to local ingenuity in preparing for oncoming storms.

At the same time as our intelligence agencies were reminding us that the climate poses as much of a threat as Iran or North Korea, the American Society of Civil Engineers last week gave American infrastructure a pathetic “D+” grade (up from a D!). Delayed maintenance investments and the failure to commit to modernization projects undermine economic progress, global competitiveness, and the sense that we live in a well-functioning society.

Boston Public Works Department employees Aroll Victor and Julio Echemendia clear rocks from a pothole in South Boston on March 12.

Boston Public Works Department employees Aroll Victor and Julio Echemendia clear rocks from a pothole in South Boston on March 12.

So back to my question:  Why are Republicans (and many Democrats) so unwilling to invest in infrastructure?  Until we figure this out, our bridges will crumble, our power grids are subject to blackouts, and many people will be like us and spend thousands on front end work due to driving on crumbling highways.  Wouldn’t the money I am going to spend this spring on my car be better spent paying taxes that will fix the roads and put some people back to work?    Just asking.

That Lady in Red

I think Rachel Maddow and I were feeling the same level of comfort/discomfort and curiosity about Michelle Obama’s dress the night of the Inauguration.  I say this because when she announced the designer as Jason Wu she said something like “I know you want to know” and then giggled a little.  Plus I think both of us were dying of anticipation before Mrs. Obama appeared.  But this morning I read Amy Davidson’s piece about the dress in the New Yorker and the light went on.  Her dress that night and what she wears in public are a political statement and she understands that.

Then there she was, the First Lady in red.

We only got a glimpse before Obama started dancing with his wife, getting in  the way of our view of the dress, but it was clear that she had  succeeded—gathered halter straps, v-shaped back, and all. The worst one could  say was that it was a little flouncy and not as striking as the  dress that Naeem Khan designed for the India state dinner. And then a  greater revelation: Was a journalist ever as unabashedly excited about anything  as CNN’s Alina Cho was about Michelle’s “extraordinary decision” to turn to the  same designer twice—Jason Wu, who had, as an unknown, designed her dress for the  first inaugural. Then, as now, Wu was surprised; the First Lady had a number of  possibilities assembled, whether out of indecision or arranged as decoys. She  had managed to suppress leaks without putting anyone in jail.

Inaugural dresses  are not just casual cultural relics; not for any First Lady, and especially not  for Michelle Obama. If her husband is a transformational figure, so is she. The  dress worn to a first inaugural goes to the Smithsonian, and the one worn to a  second goes to the National Archives. This is unfortunate for Hillary Clinton,  since  the dress she wore in 1993 was less nice than 1997’s, and represented a low  from which the inaugural gown has only slowly made the steep ascent back. It involved  purple lace, and otherwise defies description. (Clinton wore a pants suit on  Monday.) Looking at that dress now makes one wonder about the nineties—or about  how long the eighties lingered. It was worse than the dress that Rosalynn  Carter recycled from a Georgia gubernatorial inaugural ball in 1977: that  one has some retro appeal, a bit of Leia in Cloud City. Laura  Bush, in red lace and then moony sparkles, wasn’t awful, but that’s all.

The dress that Michelle Obama wore last night represented the full return of the  inaugural gown from the realm of oddity—from being the high-necked, political  version of whatever Cher or Jennifer Lopez wear to the Oscars. Her 2009 dress  looked too much like a lesser, puffier version of Nancy  Reagan’s, in 1981, to be a redeemer of the form. (In the spirit of  bipartisanship, Nancy looked great.)

michelle-dress.jpg

And this is why the dress – and everything she wears is political.

And so Michelle Obama’s inaugural dress is an important subject. To disagree  is to dismiss the idea that politics involves theatre. But that is just for a  start: fashion is also a field (and a business) that matters, and one that has  reacted to the First Lady as a force rather than just as a customer. This is why  the choice of Wu was a surprise, and, in some quarters, a disappointment:  Shouldn’t someone else get a chance to attract investors? At the same time,  there was, in the fashion press, something of a thrill at the definitiveness of  it all: she believed in fashion, and she was committed.

Although it can be harder to talk about—if easier to feel—there is also the  question of how she has confronted images of black women in American culture.  Her first term was so successful that, unless one is a regular viewer of Fox  News or a listener of Rush Limbaugh’s show—which still give her regular doses of  hate—one could forget the resistance to having her in the White House. When her  husband ran for President in 2008, there were barely veiled insinuations about  whether the role of First Lady was really right for her—whether she was too  angry, or could really feel comfortable. (One suspects that a sense of the  pressures on her may explain why she is not taken to task as much as she might  be for the price of these clothes.) Once, when she wore a red dress to a state  dinner, she was accused of sympathizing with Communist China. Michelle might  have responded to that, as many women in similar, if less prominent, situations  do, by being flawlessly proper—some unchallenged idea of ladylike, wearing  dresses and suits and jewelry indistinguishable from Cindy McCain’s or Ann  Romney’s. Or she could have affected dowdiness until getting to the point where,  as Justice  Sotomayor put it, ““They just can’t fire me over the earrings anymore.”

Not being a fashionista, when I saw the red dress, I thought she was flaunting victory.  That the color was celebratory and rightly so.  And she looked fabulous!  But I’m still not sure about the bangs.

Roe v. Wade at Forty

Posted this morning on Maddow blog this new chart which includes information from an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

Exactly 40 years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade ruling. In a 7-2 decision, the court majority decided that Americans have a constitutional right to privacy, which includes being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

I think that the Republican efforts to curtail abortion, to close clinics and to subject women who want to terminate an unwanted pregnancy are having an opposite effect than the one they want.  Kinda like voter suppression which just made people angry enough to stand in line for hours.

The high level of support for Roe comes with some underlying issues that we need to work on.  Bryce Covert just posted some interesting charts at the Nation about the economics of having an abortion.  The charts come from the Guttmacher Institute.  Here are two.

Guttmacher poor women

GuttmacherProviders

The support for keeping Roe has been steadily increasing.  Now we have to figure out how to implement the decision so it means something.

About the Republican request for a balanced approach

Ezra Klein posted this today

This is a very sharp point by Josh Barro:

The Republicans’ main problem in this negotiation is that they know President Barack Obama will not agree to cut in the area they want to cut: aid to the poor. The signal Obama has sent is that he is willing to make a deal that cuts old-age entitlements, meaning Medicare and Social Security, and Republicans are internally conflicted over those programs.

He’s right. Think back to Mitt Romney’s proposed budget. Medicare and Social Security were held harmless for at least 10 years. Defense spending got a lift. PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts were on the table, but they cost so little it hardly mattered.

And there is the Ryan budget problem which remains the basic Republican budget outline.  It is what they ran on.

These are, however, classes of cuts the White House won’t even consider. A year ago, they were open to modest cuts in Medicaid, but after the Supreme Court’s health-care decision, even that door has shut. As for discretionary spending cuts, so many of those were made in 2011, there’s just not much left to do.

That leaves Medicare and Social Security. It’s possible that the negotiators will enact a backdoor, but significant, cut to Social Security by changing the government’s measure of inflation. But they’re not going to come at Social Security from the front. It’s too politically potent. Even Ryan’s budget left Social Security alone.

As for Medicare, as Barro says, if “Republicans ask for near-term Medicare cuts, that will mean reversing a position that is popular with a core constituency (old white people) and giving up a cudgel that they feel they have used effectively to beat up the president since 2009.” It’s a pickle.

In addition, as Steve Benen on the Rachel Maddow blog reminds us, the President has already offered spending cuts, of about 1.7 trillion over 10 years.

The White House keeps saying it wants a ‘balanced approach’ but this offer is completely unbalanced and unrealistic,” a Capitol Hill Republican said yesterday. “It calls for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes — all of that upfront — in exchange for only $400 billion in spending cuts that come later.”

Let’s put aside, for now, the irony of hearing Republicans talking about “balanced” debt-reduction plans. Instead, the importance of complaints like these is that they overlook everything that happened a year ago. Jonathan Cohn had a good piece on this.

…As part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, Obama agreed to spending  reductions of about $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. If you count  the interest, the savings is actually $1.7 trillion. Boehner should have  no problem remembering the details of that deal: As Greg Sargent points out, Boehner at the time actually gloated about the fact that the deal was “all spending cuts.”

And now, with this latest offer, Obama is proposing yet more spending  reductions, to the tune of several hundred billion dollars. Add it up  and it’s more than $2 trillion in spending cuts Obama has either signed  into law or is endorsing now. That’s obviously greater than the $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue he’s seeking. (And that doesn’t even take into account automatic cuts  from the 2011 budget sequester, which Obama has proposed to defer, or  savings from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.)

I can understand the temptation to block 2011 from memory, but what transpired is clearly relevant to the current debate. Obama wanted a “balanced” approach last year — some cuts, some new revenue — but didn’t get it. Instead, faced with the prospect of Republicans crashing the economy on purpose, the president accepted a deal with a whole lot of spending cuts.

How much new tax revenue came as the result of last year’s deal? Zero. The entire package came in the form of spending reductions and savings.

So with the new tax revenues and the already proposed budget cuts, President Obama is offering exactly what the Republicans keep asking for:  a balanced approach.  I’m not sure what they are waiting for.  Senator Harry Reid is mystified and so am I.

We need a comprehensive solution that lasts for a couple of years at a minimum because this non-economist doesn’t think the economy will improve as long as we seem to be in a continuous a budget or debt ceiling crisis.

Race in Massachusetts

Who knew that the Massachusetts race for the United States Senate – and maybe for Democratic control of the entire Senate – would come down to race?  When I wrote about this last May I thought this was a one-off remark and since it didn’t move the polls, I figured the whole thing would die.  A lot of people who are part Cherokee didn’t register for many reasons including fear of being targeted if they were open about Native American ancestry.

But now Scott Brown has made Elizabeth Warren’s race the centerpiece of  his campaign.  He has decided that the path to re-election is to question Warren’s family heritage.  He has not produced any proof that her having “checked the box” made any difference in her tenure at Harvard Law School.  On the other hand, Warren has produced people, including Republican Charles Fried, to say either they didn’t know or if they did it made no difference.  Where’s the beef, Senator Brown?

After her initial fumbles at a response, Warren has settled on a great answer and produced a good response advertisement.  But this is not the end for Scott Brown.  This is the opening of this mornings Boston Globe story

In a tough new ad and in his attacks at last week’s debate, Senator Scott Brown has stoked questions about ­Elizabeth Warren’s professed Native American ancestry. But the difficulty of seizing on the controversy without crossing into uncomfortable racial territory became apparent Tuesday with the release of a video showing Republican staff members, including an aide in Brown’s Senate office, performing tomahawk chops and war whoops outside one of his campaign events.

Brown said such behavior is “not something I condone,” but declined to apologize.

“The apologies that need to be made and the offensiveness here is the fact that Professor Warren took advantage of a claim, to be somebody, a Native American, and used that for an advantage, a tactical advantage,” Brown said.

Does he really think this is going to get him re-elected?

Race is a difficult construct and, no, Elizabeth Warren’s family never registered to be members of a tribe.  On the other hand, one cannot simply look at someone’s physical characteristics and say she is obviously no a person of color as Brown did when he opened the last debate.  Melissa Harris-Perry talked about this the other night on the Rachel Maddow Show.

But I actually think that what we need in part is a conversation about what race is.  Race is a social construct, not a biological reality.  So, you know, when we think about blackness, which is the one most can put their finger on, yes, most Americans think they can tell a black person when they see one based on hair texture or how broad your nose is, or how brown your skin is.  But in fact, there`s no clear distinct line that makes one black or outside of black or inside of indigenous identity or outside of it.

It’s not our blood that makes us those things.  It’s our social constructs.   –MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry on Scott Brown’s peculiar racial attack on Elizabeth Warren

Brian McGrory is not quite calling the election yet, but his column in today’s Globe is not kind to Senator Brown.

Go ahead and stick a fork in the image — or, more ­accurately, the illusion — of Scott Brown as the affable everyman, the consummate good guy who folds laundry before pointing his pickup toward the docks to shoot the breeze with his fishermen friends.

It took him less than 30 seconds at last week’s debate to try and claw the eyes out of his opponent by questioning her character, honor, and truthfulness. He summoned the press corps he generally disdains to his office the following morning to distort ­Elizabeth Warren’s work on an asbestos case. He released his first negative ad on statewide TV Monday. His daily schedule on Tuesday included the line that he was “available to the media to address today’s revelation that Professor Warren worked on behalf of LTV Steel Company.”

And then, of course, there are his idiotic underlings filmed making tomahawk chops and reciting ridiculous Indian chants at a Dorchester rally. Nice.

It brings new meaning to being a Scott Brown Republican.

Boston is atwitter with half-cocked pundits wondering whether Brown is taking too big a risk by going too negative too soon. Here’s what they’ve got wrong: It may not be a strategy. It’s probably just who he is. When things went well, when he glided into the Senate on the wings of a short campaign and a hapless opponent, Scott Brown was as charming as they come.

McGrory concludes

I’ll say again what I’ve written before: Campaigns are long for a reason. In this case, Brown isn’t wearing well with time. So much of it comes down to whether ­Warren can rise to the moment, whether she can lift herself above an increasingly ugly fray.

The Mayor with Warren

There are a lot of serious issues to talk about and Scott Brown picks Elizabeth Warren’s heritage?  Give me a break.  Let me end with a quote from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, who threw his valuable political support to Ms. Warren last week, said in an interview on Monday, “When candidates go negative, it means they have nothing to talk about.”

He continued: “Education, public safety, jobs, housing — my God, he won’t talk about any of it. He voted against a jobs extension bill three times.”

Photograph Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Massachusetts Mitt, Jobs Creator?

Just so there is no mistake here:  I didn’t like Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts.  First,  he got the Republican nomination by elbowing out a perfectly good candidate, Acting Governor Jane Swift.  Second, he spent most of his time here not being Governor, but running for President.  Third, getting universal health care was a great achievement showing the country that it can be done, but Mitt wants to forget it ever happened.  Kinda like throwing out your only child with the bath water.  But now Mitt is running again as a jobs creator because only Republicans can create jobs.

Last night Rachel Maddow reminded us of a little fact about Mitt Romney’s job creation:  He didn’t create very many. 

What Romney leaves out of his stump speech, however, is just how bad his state’s job creation statistics were during his four years as governor. Different job creation studies rank Massachusetts in the bottom four states during Romney’s administration. A study by the independent think tank MassINC ranked the state 49th in job creation from 2001-2007, ahead of only Michigan. And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Massachusetts ranked 47th, ahead of only Michigan, Ohio, and Louisiana. Michigan and Ohio, both located in the Rust Belt, faced heavy job losses due to the flight of manufacturing jobs from the Midwest. Louisiana, meanwhile, lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

During Romney’s period as governor, Massachusetts’ job growth was just 0.9 percent, well behind other high-wage, high-skill economies in New York (2.7), California (4.7), and North Carolina (7.6). The national average, meanwhile, was better than 5 percent.

So who does Mitt blame for this poor performance?  The Democrats in the legislature.

Romney blames the poor job numbers on Democrats in the Massachusetts state legislature. But since its economy faltered in 2008 and 2009, Massachusetts has rebounded in the job creation ranks, emerging from the recession with some of the nation’s strongest job numbers. Under current Gov. Deval Patrick (D) — and a legislature still controlled by Democrats — the state experienced 4.2 percent job growth in the first quarter of 2011, better than twice the national average and good enough to rank in the top 10 nationally. That followed a year of solid growth in 2010, when Massachusetts was among the nation’s leaders in job growth.

Mitt, you might have to find something else to run on.