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Archive for September, 2012

Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

“Where is our honor? Where is our valor? Where is our sacrifice?” —Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), leading opposition to Veterans Jobs Corps Act

“I care deeply about the veterans. I care deeply about housing and helping the veterans who have fought for their country.” —Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), assisting the opposition

“This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work. Lowering veteran unemployment is something both parties should be able to agree on—even in an election year.”Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

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The next time you hear Republican politicians praising “our brave men and women in uniform,” remember that all but 5 G.O.P. senators voted No on the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012. The bill failed, 58–40, on a procedural vote, just two votes short. This bipartisan bill would have provided $1 billion over five years to help up to 20,000 veterans find work in their communities. All Democrats voted for the bill. The Republicans who voted Aye are Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine; Scott Brown (MA); and Dean Heller (NV). Two Republicans did not vote. (In the Obama years, 51 votes is no longer a majority. Because the G.O.P. filibusters all legislation, 60 votes are needed.) Now the Congress is on recess till after election day—the earliest pre-election vacay since 1960—and Republicans will be busy blaming Obama and the Democrats for the underperforming economy.

Now, in the federal budget, $1 billion is not a large amount, and, in our humble opinion, even as a down payment this would be a pathetically small investment when the unemployment rate of veterans is officially 10.9% (certainly higher in fact). Further, this money would have been “paid for”: it would not have added to the federal debt because Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) ensured that funding would have come in part from Medicare providers and suppliers who are delinquent on their tax bills. Remember also that during the George W. Bush years, the enormous costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were never part of the official budget of the United States, but were routinely allocated through “emergency supplementals”. According to the National Priorities Project, costs of these two wars so far total $1.38 trillion (with Iraq at $807.4 and Afghanistan at $570.9 billion). But $1 billion for job training that would help 20,000 veterans, said Republican senator Tom Coburn, was a mere “political exercise” and a waste of time, as the House of Representatives would not pass it anyway.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

In addition to creating jobs for veterans as police officers, firefighters, first responders, and restorative conservationists, the Veterans Job Corps Act would have also extended the critical Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP provides employment, education and entrepreneurship advice for troops separating from the service, and to veterans and their spouses after they’ve left the military. The VJC would also require states to consider military training and experience in granting credentials and licensure for EMTs, nursing assistants and commercial driver’s licenses.

A New York Times editorial in favor of the bill pointed out:

The bill gives priority to those who served on or after 9/11, with good reason: the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan hit 10.9 percent in August, compared with 8.1 percent nationally. This is a time of persistent homelessness and unemployment among veterans, and record suicides among veterans and active-duty service members, many of them stressed by the burdens of two long wars. It makes sense for the 99 percent of Americans to find new ways to pay their debt to the 1 percent who serve in uniform. [LNW’s emphasis]

To most people, Senator Murray’s bill would seem like one decent way to do that. But not if you’re one of those Republicans in Washington who thinks it’s more important in an election year to deny Democrats a success or accomplishment of any kind.

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For the last word here, let’s listen to the occasionally candid and revealing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as he gives away the game just before the 2010 mid-term elections:

The single most important thing we [congressional Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

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See also:

They Need to Do Their Job: Obama Bitch-Slaps G.O.P. Deficit Hardliners, Hell-Bent Extremists” (LNW 7/1/11)

2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began” (LNW 7/20/11)

Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb: Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans” (LNW 7/20/11)

Grinch Wins Plastic Turkey Award: Pentagon Demands Reimbursement of Signing Bonuses from Disabled Vets” (LNW 11/19/07)

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Rising Tide 7 Is Sat. Sept. 22 at Xavier > Register Now!

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone within walking, flying, or hiking distance of the Croissant City is urged to sign up now for the seventh annual Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans. This year’s keynote speakers—why have just one?—are the talented Treme-born writer Lolis Eric Elie, director of the documentary Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, and (just-retired) Tulane professor of history Lawrence N. Powell, author of The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans. (Dr. Powell appears in a previous LNW post here.)

The day-long event at Xavier University in Mid-City, New Orleans, will feature panel discussions on the status and future of local journalism, changes to the education system, environmental impacts of the 2010 BP oil spill, development of cultural economy, parenting, entrepreneurship, and neighborhood activism. Click here for the RT blog, and here for a detailed schedule.

Among the scheduled speakers and panel discussions:

  • Lawrence Powell: “The Accidental History of an Accidental Book”
  • The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana
  • Take This Job and Love It: Owning Your Own Business in NOLA
  • Community or Commodity?
  • Neighborhoods: Shake for Ya ’Hood (If It’s All Good)
  • Lolis Eric Elie: “At War with Ourselves: New Orleans Culture at the Crossroads . . . Again . . . and Again”
  • Oil & Water
  • Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads: A Discussion on Parenting in New Orleans
  • Black and White and Red All Over: The Digital Future of the New Orleans Media Market

Conference registration is open at www.risingtidenola.com, and is only $28 until September 21, with a discount registration of $18 for students with valid ID. Registration at the door is $38. Lunch is included in the price of admission. There will be a pre-conference party on Friday, Sept. 21, from 9 p.m. till, at the Big Top, 1638 Clio Street, New Orleans, featuring the TBC Brass Band.

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As RT7 the press release explains, Rising Tide NOLA, Inc., is a nonprofit organization formed by New Orleans bloggers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federally built levees. After the disaster, the Internet became a vital connection among dispersed New Orleanians, former New Orleanians, and friends of the city and the Gulf Coast region. A surge of new blogs were created, and combined with those that were already online, an online community with a shared interest in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast developed. In the summer of 2006, to mark the anniversary of the flood, the bloggers of New Orleans organized the first Rising Tide Conference, taking their shared interest in technology, the arts, the internet and social media and turning advocacy in the city into action.

Past speakers have included the actor and activist Harry Shearer; David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s Treme and The Wire; N.O. geographer and historian Rich Campanella; authors John Barry, Dave Zirin, and Chris Cooper and Bobby Block; and Mother Jones human rights and environmental reporter (Ms.) Mac McClelland. (See links below for previous RTs.)

Rising Tide 7 is sponsored by The Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Xavier University, The Gambit, VeracityStew.com, InTheNOLA.com, Yelp.com, Cara Jougland Photography, WTUL 91.5 FM, 3 Ring Circus Productions, and The Lens.

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Since 2007, we have been to four of the six Rising Tides. The first conference, which we missed, was on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, in August 2006. We strongly recommend joining this fun and stimulating gathering of bloggers, activists, teachers, writers, techies and other geeks, and all around bright and creative people who care about the present and future of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast. We are sad that 2012 travel budget constraints won’t allow us to attend RT7—though we did get to attend a planning meeting when we visited New Orleans in March. But we’ll be back next year if we have to walk. Be there for us, won’t you? And have a great time! See y’all next time around.

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Click below to read about previous Rising Tides (most recent first):

Dedra Johnson of ‘The G Bitch Spot’ Wins Rising Tide’s Ashley Award (2011)

Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 6 (2011)

Rising Tide 6 Is August 27, So Register Today (2010)

Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 5 in New Orleans (2010)

Come Surf the Rising Tide : Aug. 28 in New Orleans (2008)

Rising Tide 5 Is Aug. 28 in New Orleans: Register Today (2010)

RT4: Sinking to New Heights (2009)

Rising Tide III in New Orleans Aug. 22–24 (2008)

Viva New Orleans—for Art’s Sake! (2007)

Making Blogging Sexy: Rising Tide 2  (2007)

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Bush White House Ignored 9/11 Warnings

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

The Deafness Before the Storm

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Briefly noted, highly recommended:

Kurt Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former reporter for the New York Times, wrote a strong but restrained op-ed piece for the Times yesterday describing in more detail than is generally known how the George W. Bush administration ignored repeated CIA warnings of an imminent attack on the U.S. by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda—an attack expected to be of major proportions. The administration was focused on Saddam Hussein and did not want to hear about Osama bin Laden.

Eichenwald’s account matches the testimony of Richard A. Clarke, chairman of the White House’s Counter-terrorism Security Group (1992–2003), as well as key findings of the 9/11 Commission. As Clarke details in his book Against All Enemies, he tried from Bush’s first days in office till 9/11 itself to get a meeting with the president and vice president Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but was repeatedly rebuffed.

Before we post a few excerpts below, let us note that despite receiving all these increasingly urgent presidential briefings before and throughout August 2001, George W. Bush remained on vacation until September 4. (Just imagine a Democratic president doing this—or not being impeached afterward.)

Let us also point out that Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team is mainly staffed by former Bush administration “neocons.” Mr. Romney, who did not mention the war in Afghanistan even once in his nomination acceptance speech (transcript here), has said that Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” Russia, really? So, how seriously would Romney take similar warnings?

From “The Deafness before the Storm” by Kurt Eichenwald:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible. 

. . . the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else. 

Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And that may be the most agonizing reality of all.

Read “The Deafness before the Storm” in full here.

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Quick question: Would the U.S. be at war today in Afghanistan 11 years later—or ever—if the Supreme Court had not stopped the counting of votes in December 2000? Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and all the other places where the War on Terror(ism) is ongoing? (Richard A. Clarke served as counterterrorism security adviser in the White House from the 1980s to 2003, serving under president Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush.)

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Kurt Eichenwald is also the author of 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, just published. See his Sept. 12 interview with Democracy Now! here.

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More about September 11 at Levees Not War: 

Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11? (9/11/10)

We’re Not Forgetting (9/11/11)

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America: On the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan (Aug. 23, 2010)

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Democrats Grow a Backbone

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

John Kerry, Deval Patrick, and Other DNC Highlights

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My message is this—it is time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe. Quit waiting—quit waiting, quit waiting for pundits or polls or super PACs to tell us who the next president or senator or congressman will be. We are Americans. We shape our own future. —Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

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Before the energetic and well-run Democratic National Convention recedes into the mists of time, overtaken by the 24-hour news cycles and flocks of tweets and counter-tweets, we wanted to point to a few moments from the big show that we think are worth remembering. In these speeches (and there were many others we missed) are some inspiring messages we hope will be carried and used on the way to reelecting President Obama. They’ll also prove useful in the struggles that are sure to continue after the election.

We were delighted with the courageous, fiesty tone in this convention. This time around the Dems weren’t inoffensively “playing it safe” as they so often do. In Charlotte the DNC was facing issues head-on, taking a stand for what we believe in, with such passionate and sharp-focused speakers as Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Warren.  As Charles M. Blow observed, “The Democrats came to the party ready for a fight” (“The Defiant Ones,” NYT 9/6/12).

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John Kerry’s Heavy Artillery

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“So here’s the choice in 2012. Mitt Romney: out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad and out of the mainstream. Or Barack Obama: a president who is giving new life and truth to America’s indispensable role in the world . . .”

“We’ve all learned Mitt Romney doesn’t know much about foreign policy. But he has all ‘neocon advisors’ who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them—after all, he’s the great outsourcer.”

Senator John Kerry was given a prominent speaking position Thursday night, and several days later is still featured on the front page of the convention web site (“Showing a fire indicative of a man resolute in his beliefs . . .”). “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off than he was four years ago.” Kerry used heavy artillery against Mitt Romney on foreign policy, for saying Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe” and for not even mentioning the war in Afghanistan in his RNC acceptance speech. • Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton has made it known that she will be stepping down from the State Department after the election. We hope that Senator Kerry’s prime-time address, with a relatively generous allotment of time, is a sign that the 2004 presidential candidate and chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is at the top of the president’s list to replace Hillary. We wish he had been this tough in 2004!

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Video tribute to Edward Kennedy

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See also:

David Corn, “A Tale of Two Conventions.” The nation is deeply divided, but the gatherings in Charlotte and Tampa show how starkly dissimilar the Democratic and Republican visions of the American experience are.

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Forward: Four More Years for Mr. President

Friday, September 7th, 2012

“When you pick up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation.”

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“. . . the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change. You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that . . .

If you turn away now—if you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible, well, change will not happen . . .

I ask you tonight for your vote. If you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election. . . . if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.”

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Last night in Charlotte, confidently but with some humility and acknowledgment of shortcomings, President Barack Obama asked the American people for more time to continue the job, and we strongly agree he should be reelected.

His accomplishments—domestic and foreign, social and economic—are impressive, especially considering the implacable opposition of the Republicans in Congress, in state legislatures, and the Tea Party and conservative PACs and media around the nation. Despite his repeated efforts to work with them—despite his concessions in the stimulus and health care reform bills, for example—Republicans have spurned him and have given him maybe a total of three votes. He has kept his promises and he has kept his cool—almost a superhuman cool, in fact. He has earned our votes for another term. Did you know that under Obama’s presidency, even in these difficult economic conditions, more jobs have been created (4+ million) than during the previous president’s entire eight years?

And, this has to be said, the alternative is too horrifying to contemplate, but the more you think about it, the more seriously we should take the prospect of a Romney-Ryan administration: a recipe for disaster of every description, social and economic and diplomatic; backward thinking; callous disregard of the middle class and the poor; attention only to the needs of the already wealthy and powerful. (Do we really want an administration whose campaign pollster says, at an RNC breakfast sponsored by ABC News and Yahoo News, “We’re not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers”?)

Although this blog has sometimes been critical of President Obama—not so much for having the wrong policies but for not pushing hard enough for his good policies—we enthusiastically urge our readers and everyone else, too, not only to vote for Obama-Biden 2012 but to actively work for their reelection. As in 2004 and 2008, we will be joining volunteers en route to get out the vote in Pennsylvania, a state whose urban voters are likely to be disenfranchised in large numbers by restrictive new legislation making it more difficult to vote, thanks to a Republican-controlled state legislature and a Republican governor.

Please sign up with Obama-Biden today, or contact your local Democratic Party headquarters, and help with the campaign. You can make phone calls from home, help to contact voters in swing states, write letters to the editors of your local papers, and more! Two months. Let’s keep the good man on the job.

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Also, check out Daily Kos’s “Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: A passionate defense of one term, a vision forward for a second one” for a sampling of newspapers’ responses around the U.S.A.

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The Big Hug

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

 Clinton Wows Dems, Urges 2nd Term for Obama

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In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection . . . went something like this: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”

Listen to me now. No president, no president—not me, not any of my predecessors—no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

Folks, whether the American people believe what I just said or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know that I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it.

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For 45 minutes last night in Charlotte, Bill Clinton explained in plain language why Barack Obama should be reelected—what he has accomplished against nearly impossible odds—and why the Republican attacks against Obama and the Democrats are not to be believed. Following strong speeches by women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Warren, Clinton drew sharp, clear distinctions between the Democrats and the GOP: “We believe ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.'”

In what Talking Points Memo calls an “explano-smackdown,” Clinton methodically took head-on and demolished the GOP’s main lines of attack on President Obama. He set the record straight on the Recovery Act (stimulus); the Affordable Care Act; the so-called $716 million “robbing” of Medicare; the auto industry restructuring; job creation; the smear that Obama is weakening work requirements in the welfare reform bill; and the federal debt. As Slate’s John Dickerson notes, “Clinton’s speech had several parts: an answer to the question ‘Are you better off?,’ a shaming of the modern GOP with the example set by past Republican presidents, and a deeper attempt to tie Obama’s policies to bedrock American values, a job Michelle Obama had begun the night before.”

Charles Blow of the New York Times observes, “the masterful Bill Clinton wrapped the evening up as only he could: delivering a wonky speech with the passion of a southern preacher and keeping the crowd rapt the whole way through.” Clinton also answered quite convincingly, repeatedly, the question “Are we better off now than we were four years ago?” One of our favorite comments was a tweet by Ben Greenman, an editor at The New Yorker, posted on DailyKos: “Bill Clinton should be the Secretary of Explaining Things.”

There were so many lines to love in Bill Clinton’s speech last night. And his were not the sniping personal-attack zingers that swarmed like mosquitoes in Tampa—they delighted because they were true, based in fact. And he had facts by the handful (transcript here).

The Quotable Explainer in Chief

We are here to nominate a president . . . I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside.

We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that “We’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “You’re on your own.”

So who’s right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the job score? Republicans: twenty-four million. Democrats: forty-two. [confirmed by PolitiFact]

Now, . . . there’s a reason for this. It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth.

What works in the real world is cooperation, business and government, foundations and universities. Ask the mayors who are here. Los Angeles is getting green and Chicago is getting an infrastructure bank because Republicans and Democrats are working together to get it. They didn’t check their brains at the door. They didn’t stop disagreeing. But their purpose was to get something done.

Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the president for allegedly “robbing Medicare” of $716 billion. That’s the same attack they leveled against the Congress in 2010, and they got a lot of votes on it. But it’s not true. Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama’s Medicare savings as, quote, “the biggest, coldest power play,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget! You got to give one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did. . . .

In 2010, as the president’s recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around. The Recovery Act saved or created millions of jobs and cut taxes—let me say this again—cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people. And in the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4.5 million private-sector jobs. We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero. . . .

We all know that Governor Romney opposed the plan to save G.M. and Chrysler. So here’s another job score. Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio and across the country? Here—here’s another job score. Obama: 250,000. Romney: zero.

 

Now, people ask me all the time how we got four surplus budgets in a row. What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.

Don’t you ever forget, when you hear them talking about this, that Republican economic policies quadrupled the national debt before I took office, in the 12 years before I took office . . . and doubled the debt in the eight years after I left, because it defied arithmetic.

We simply can’t afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle-down.

My fellow Americans, all of us in this grand hall and everybody watching at home, when we vote in this election, we’ll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in. If you want a winner-take- all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

If you want—if you want America—if you want every American to vote and you think it is wrong to change voting procedures [applause] just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority, and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama.

“For the last five minutes of the speech, everyone in the auditorium stood to let his words fall on their faces,” writes Slate’s John Dickerson. And, as Clinton ended his remarks to joyous applause, from within the Time Warner Cable Arena and beyond (didn’t we hear shouts of “four more hours!”?), Barack Obama walked onstage. Clinton gave a slight bow as the president approached, and they embraced, then turned to face the energized crowd, partners joined in a common cause for a stronger, more perfect union.

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We have been yearning and starving for years to hear this kind of spirited and hard-hitting defense of Democratic priorities and this president’s efforts. It’s not as though Obama has not spoken up for himself—he just hasn’t done it enough, and not with the warmth and good cheer and mastery of the podium that Bill Clinton brings. And, too, it makes a difference when the defense and the case for Four More Years is coming from a popular two-term president of a more-than-successful economy who also endured obstructionism and even impeachment from the opposition party. There is a hard-earned authoritativeness in Clinton’s voice, and the people were lovin’ it. We just pray that millions of independents and those elusive white male voters remember the Better Times of the late 1990s and vote as directed by the Big Dog.

Clinton’s arguments were all the more persuasive, observes The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, because Clinton and Obama are not personally close. Everyone knows this. But their “fraught history,” he says,

“makes [Clinton] the ideal spokesman to appeal to those skeptical former Obama voters that his campaign is trying to win back. . . .  it was exactly their lack of personal chemistry and failure to become ‘close friends’ that gave Clinton’s speech its lift. A subtext of the address was that, just like Bill Clinton, wavering voters need not love Obama to understand that he’s a better choice than Romney. When the two Presidents came together and hugged after the speech was (finally) over, the distance between them made their embrace all the more powerful.”

For more about the warming relationship between Obama and Clinton, read Ryan Lizza’s “Let’s Be Friends” (New Yorker 9/10/12).

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Hurricane Isaac and Tampa’s Blizzard of Lies

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA and Infrastructure?

[ cross-posted at DailyKos ]

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“One of the themes of the Tampa convention will be the failure of government, and the prosperity that will result if it is cut to ribbons. But in a different corner of the television screen, the winds of Isaac are a reminder of the necessity of government—its labor, its expertise, its money—in the nation’s most dire moments. It is hard to forget what happened to New Orleans when that Republican philosophy was followed in 2005, and it will be harder still to explain how it might be allowed to happen again.” —“The Storm, Again,” NYT editorial, Aug. 27, 2012

“We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” —vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, acceptance speech, Republican National Convention, Tampa, Aug. 29, 2012

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If Hurricane Katrina was indeed divine retribution for abortions and tolerance of homosexuality, then how are we to understand God’s twice visiting strong hurricanes upon the U.S. at the exact moment when the Republican National Convention gathers to nominate its presidential candidate, with Gustav in 2008 and now with Isaac, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, the exact 7-year anniversary of Katrina? (Rush Limbaugh has a suspicion.)

Far be it from us to question the wisdom of the true believers, but it’s our view that if hurricanes must come at all, it’s best they blow when the elephants are gathering at the water hole—preferably in Florida, or some other red coastal state. Let the screen be split. Let the images be juxtaposed. Let the nation never forget how the Republican way of governing—staffing disaster relief agencies with inexperienced cronies and then cutting funds—resulted in the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina: immeasurable death, destruction, anguish, financial ruin and impoverishment, dispersal, heartbreak . . . (To be sure, however, blame rests with both parties for the chronic underfunding of the Army Corps of Engineers that left the city’s levees and outflow canals’ floodwalls compromised.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 at the persistent urging of state governors, only functions well when Democrats are in the White House. Democrats take governing and disaster management seriously, and Republicans do not. Bill Clinton’s FEMA director James Lee Witt (1993–2001) and the present director, W. Craig Fugate, are widely respected as disaster response professionals. In Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (2006), Chris Cooper and Bobby Block survey the sad story of Republican disregard for disaster relief. FEMA’s tardy and disorganized response to Hurricane Andrew (shown above) in August 1992 likely cost President George H. W. Bush many votes in Florida, and beyond. Bill Clinton wrote in My Life (2004):

Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don’t chose a President based on how he’ll handle disasters, but if they’re faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

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More Tax Cuts for the Rich, While Disaster Relief Is Held Hostage?

Five, six days after the storm, the lights are just coming back on in Mid-City and other parts of New Orleans. It’s 93 degrees, and thousands are still in the dark, without air conditioning.

While Hurricane Isaac was not as destructive as we feared—the reinforced floodwall system around greater New Orleans held up well—this storm’s timing was a reminder that there is one political party that is not to be trusted with disaster management, or with anything else relating to the social safety net. Mitt Romney’s economic plan would reduce non-discretionary spending by 30 percent.

Others have examined the falsehoods in Paul Ryan’s v.p. nomination acceptance speech and the overall dishonesty of the RNC show in Tampa (see here and here). Many have objected to the Republicans’ hypocrisy in blaming a president for failures ensured by their own blocking of every effort at repairing the economy. They filibustered or voted No on all potential remedies to make the public reject Obama. Many independents as well as Democrats and moderate Republicans are put off by the Mad Tea Party–style conservatives’ insistence that nothing good can come of government.

Many of the lies and evasions that concern us most, however, stem from the GOP’s hostility to spending taxpayers’ dollars on programs of direct help to the public, from Medicare and Social Security to FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.

Paul Ryan sounds reassuring when he says, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves,” but the budgets he has put forth as chair of the House Budget Committee tell another story: You’re on your own.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones in “What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA?” surveys the implications for disaster relief in the Ryan budgets—the same ones that would convert Medicare to a privatized “Vouchercare.” Murphy notes that the Ryan budget does not detail specific cuts (just as Mitt Romney avoids specifics), but “the overall math suggests that [the cuts] would be drastic.” In 2011 there were 14 disasters costing over $1 billion in damages, a record high, and with the intensifying climate change that the Republicans refuse to acknowledge, the disasters’ frequency and destructiveness are only going to get worse.

Murphy writes:

“. . . under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to non-entitlement, non-defense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

“FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured,” the CBPP report explained. ‘This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times.’ ”

Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress describes how Republicans held disaster relief funding hostage several times in 2011, demanding that funding be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. “The GOP pulled the same trick when Missouri was hit by a deadly tornado in May, when Virginia was affected by an earthquake, and when Hurricane Irene struck America’s east coast.” Garofalo quotes David Weigel at Slate:

According to the House Appropriation Committee’s summary of the bill, the [GOP’s 2011 continuing resolution] funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA—its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.

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We won’t pretend to interpret divine intentions in the timing of the recent hurricanes and other disasters, but we can be thankful for the opportunity to point out to the concerned public that there is one slate of candidates who will not be there for you when a tornado rips through your town, or an earthquake splits your streets. We won’t say (though others may) that natural disasters are God’s way of saying “Vote Democratic,” but don’t you want to be on the safe side?

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Photo credits: Hurricane Andrew (1992) by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); downed stop light in New Orleans (2012) by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.